Islamic Army of Iraq splits from al Qaeda

The largest Sunni insurgent group has severed ties with al Qaeda and its Islamic State of Iraq; Sunni religious leaders oppose al Qaeda

Banner of the Islamic State of Iraq. Click to view.

The Sunni civil war in Iraq continues to gather steam. The Islamic Army in Iraq, the largest Sunni insurgent group which has previously operated closely with al Qaeda in Iraq, has severed ties with the terror group after several months of infighting, Al Jazeera reported today. Ibrahim al-Shammari, an Islamic Army in Iraq spokesman, "told Al Jazeera on Thursday that the Islamic Army in Iraq had decided to disunite from al Qaeda in Iraq after its members were threatened."

"In the beginning, we were dealing with Tawhid and Jihad organisation, which turned into al Qaeda in Iraq," Al-Shammari explained. Specifically after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi died, the gap between us [and al Qaeda] widened, because [they] started to target our members... They killed about 30 of our people, and we definitely don't recognise their establishment of an Islamic state - we consider it invalid."

Mishan al-Jabouri attacks al Qaeda on al-Zawraa. Click image to view.

Evidence of the split between the Islamic Army in Iraq and al Qaeda began to appear early this year. Mishan al-Jabouri, the owner of Al Zawraa - or Muj TV, which is the propaganda television station for the Islamic Army in Iraq, lashed out against al Qaeda in February of 2007. Jabouri aired a laundry list of complaints against al Qaeda and its puppet Islamic State of Iraq. the grievances included:

• al Qaeda in Iraq has divided the Iraqi people, failed to protect the Sunnis and brought the Shia death squads down on the Sunnis by inciting sectarian violence through mass suicide attacks.
• The Islamic State of Iraq in Iraq wants the Sunni groups to "pledge allegiance" to leaders, ministers and emirs whose identities are unknown, including Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.
• Islamic State of Iraq has continued to conduct an extensive campaign of assassination against rival sheikhs, emirs and insurgent group leaders, and in many cases added insult to injury by failing to give the bodies back to the families. One of al-Jabouri's own messengers was executed.
• The Islamic State of Iraq has no system of law or justice.
• Weapons and ammunition are being confiscated from insurgent groups that do not support the Islamic State.
• al Qaeda in Iraq is intentionally targeting members of the Iraqi Army and police forces, who al-Jabouri and other insurgents believe are acting in the best interest of Iraqis.
• The goal of the Islamic State of Iraq is to serve as a stepping stone to attack other nations, which endangers the Iraqi people.

Earlier this week, Nibras Kazimi noted that the Islamic Army in Iraq, via a press release on its website, launched a "vicious rhetorical counterattack against al Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq and its recent statements and actions."

"This communiqué came a day after Sheikh Hamid al-Ali issued a fatwa (Arabic) casting doubts over the validity of giving allegiance to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and al Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq (ISI)," notes Mr. Kazimi. Prior to this statement al Qaeda had accused the Islamic Army in Iraq of "collaborating with the Mossad, being in Saudi Arabia's pay, and negotiating with the Americans." Al Qaeda also branded "other jihadists who have not pledged allegiance to [Abu Omar al-Baghdadi] as seditionists."

This split between al Qaeda and the Islamic Army in Iraq comes as a grouping of influential Sunni clerics banded together to oppose al Qaeda. "Sheikh Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samarrai told Reuters the 'council of ulama of Iraq', set up by a founding committee of 40 prominent religious scholars in Amman last week, was prompted by a need for balanced fatwas - religious edicts - within his community as violence grew in Iraq."

"It's high time our clerics unify their utterances. Religious scholars have to work on teaching Muslims respect for the others ...," he said referring to radical Islamists with ideological links to al Qaeda...

"Our scholars will meet and issue fatwas and I am full of hope the proper resistance that does not kill fellow Iraqis will heed the views of these scholars,' said al-Samarrai. "The authentic resistance considers the blood of Iraqis as sacrosanct. But those who masquerade as resistance and for whom the lives of Iraqis are cheap - this is not resistance against the occupier, this is terror...," he added.

It should be clear the Islamic Army in Iraq and the council of Sunni scholars are by no means friends of the United States. Both groups view 'resistance against the occupier' as legitimate. And the Islamic Army in Iraq has some preconditions for negotiations that are unrealistic: a time line for U.S. withdrawal and direct negotiations with the U.S. Congress, not the Bush administration.

The reason for their need to classify 'resistance against the occupier' as legitimate, though distasteful to Americans, is key for their withdrawal from the insurgency. The Islamic Army in Iraq and other insurgent Sunni groups need an 'out' to lay down their arms. As long as they are classified as terrorists or their actions are judged as criminal, there is no reason to end the fighting. There are no optimal solutions in ending an insurgency - the most practical solution to end the Sunni insurgency is to cause the it to fracture and turn on itself.

This is essentially what has happened in Anbar province. Significant elements of the 1920s Revolutions Brigades and Jaysh Mohammed formed the Anbar Salvation Council in conjunction with several Sunni tribes, and are now actively hunting al Qaeda in Iraq, with the help of the Iraqi Security Forces and U.S. military.


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