Martyrdom iconongraphy posted by supporters of Sheikh Aifan Sadoun Aifan al-Issawi on Facebook. Sheikh Aifan was assassinated on Jan. 15.
The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), al Qaeda’s political front, today claimed responsibility for the assassination of Iraqi parliamentarian Sheikh Aifan Sadoun Aifan al-Issawi. Aifan was killed by a suicide bomber dressed as a worker when the sheikh stopped to inspect a construction site on Jan. 15.
A translation and summary of the ISI’s statement by the SITE Intelligence Group said the terrorist group took credit for the attack, as well as “other strikes in Anbar province and a ‘third wave’ of attacks throughout the country.” Furthermore, the “ISI … voiced again its support to Sunni protestors in Iraq. Regarding [Aifan] Issawi, the group called him the ‘dog of the Americans’ and the ‘tail’ of the Shi’ites, and about the operations in Anbar, said they came to deter the enemy’s support to the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.”
In an interesting twist, Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, the head of the Sunni Sahwat al Iraq (Awakening) political movement and a sworn enemy of al Qaeda, had attempted to shift the blame for Aifan’s killing away from al Qaeda. In a statement released by Sahwat al Iraq on Jan. 16, Abu Risha accused the Iranian Revolutionary Guard of being responsible for Sheikh Aifan’s assassination, as well as the prior assassination of Sheikh Mohammed Taher Abed Rabbo in Mosul.
“The Revolutionary Guard performs several crimes in Iraq under the cover of Al Qaeda,” he asserted, also warning of “Iran’s continued implementation of assassinations of the largest Sunni symbols, especially those supporting [recent Sunni] demonstrations [against the Shia-led central government].” Further, the sheikh “urged residents of southern provinces, especially the sons of Basra and Amarah to ‘address the malignant Iranian project in Iraq.'” This is a reference to Shia Iraqi political parties that the Sunnis believe are beholden to the Iranian government.
These recent statements by al Qaeda and its historical enemies in the Sunni tribal Awakening movement reflect each group’s attempts to assert its interests amidst the deepening sectarian political crisis between Sunni Arab parties and the Shia-dominated central government headed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Tens of thousands of Sunnis have taken to the streets over the past three weeks and blocked the main road from Iraq to Jordan after several prominent Sunni leaders were arrested by Iraqi security forces. The protesters perceive these arrests as being the latest moves in a concerted campaign of sectarian revenge executed by the Maliki government.
Despite widespread opposition to al Qaeda among the Sunni population in Iraq, the terrorist group is attempting to reestablish itself and take advantage of the recent sectarian unrest, following its largely successful model of integrating itself as a crucial ally to the Sunni rebels fighting the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.
See additional Long War Journal coverage: Suicide bomber kills Iraqi lawmaker who was prominent Awakening leader, and 5 others.