Faultlines in Iraq’s Islamist Insurgency

The location of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al Qaeda in Iraq’s commander, and the state of the Islamist insurgency have been recent topics of conversation. Late last year, ThreatsWatch stated the focal point of the insurgency has shifted from Anbar province to the regions north of Baghdad. Today, Coalition forces believe Zarqawi is currently operating “in Diyala province near Baghdad…If his presence in Diyala is confirmed, it will reinforce the belief that violence follows him around Iraq.”

The Sunday Times: reports that, according to “a leading insurgent who met [Zarqawi] two weeks ago”, Zarqawi “goes to sleep every night wearing a suicide belt packed with explosives,” and provides clues as to Zarqawi’s questionable status in relation to other insurgency groups. During a meeting designed to forge alliances with other Islamist insurgency groups, Zarqawi is reported to have “put on a show of humility at a two-day meeting to secure the co-operation of the Army of the Victorious Sect and other groups with Al-Qaeda in Iraq.”

Zarqawi is said to have personally attended to the needs of his guests, led prayer sessions and washed the insurgent leaders prior to prayer. While the acts committed by Zarqawi are not uncommon in the Muslim world, they are not the actions of a confident man secure in his position vis-a-vis the insurgent groups. Zarqawi is attempting to demonstrate his piousness in an attempt to convince the groups his commitment to Islam is sincere.

al Qaeda in Iraq has recently issued a statement claiming to “have set up an umbrella body to coordinate their fight against U.S.-led forces and the Iraqi government.” Notably excluded from this body of insurgent groups are Ansar al-Sunnah and the Iraq Islamic Army.

Zarqawi was able to secure the commitment of a little known Islamist group called The Victorious Sect and five small organization, however he was unable to reach out to two largest groups, Ansar al-Sunnah and the Islamic Army in Iraq, two groups that have worked with al Qaeda in the past.

Ansar al-Sunnah’s decision is curious, as its goals are nearly identical to al Qaeda: the ejection of the “occupation Armies” and the establishment of an Islamist state. There are obviously enough differences between the groups. And Ansar al-Sunnah may be keeping its distance from al Qaeda based on the increased unpopularity of the group, and keeping the door open for future political maneuvers. The decision of the Islamic Army in Iraq is understandable, as this is a largely nationalist organization which resents al Qaeda’s foreign leadership and slaughter of Iraqi civilians.

But the Islamic Army in Iraq hasn’t just turned down al Qaeda’s invitation, it has, along with five other insurgent groups, including the Anbar Martyr’s Brigade and the 1920 Revolution Brigades, openly declared war against al Qaeda, according to Mohammed at Iraq the Model. This is a clear indication these grous have tired of al Qaeda’s bloody tactics and recognize their goals will not be reached by opposing the government.

Mohammed wisely points out that while using militias to fight al Qaeda is not ideal, bringing the insurgency into closer ties with the government; “Although those militant groups have a bad history of violence and terrorizing the population, the positive new changes that they are expected to coordinate their work with city councils which gives a feeling that they are not very far away from the government’s sight and that they meet with the government on the need for fighting foreign terrorists. But, this service will not be for free and the battle is going to be fierce as al Qaeda realizes that the new enemy is very well informed this time.”

The defection of insurgent groups and Sunni support is a continuing trend which must give Zarqawi and al Qaeda’s high command pause. The refocus of al Qaeda efforts towards Afghanistan becomes understandable as more information on the fractionalization of Iraqi’s insurgency is released.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram