Joining al Qaeda, Declining al Qaeda

The fracturing of Iraq’s insurgency has gained the attention of the media of late, and this is becoming a source of concern in some jihadi circles. ABC News provides an analysis that mirrors one written by ThreatsWatch over a week ago. ABC News quotes Fawaz Gerges, a consultant; “the Sunnis are chasing the al Zarqawi men from all over the al Anbar Province. The implications are tremendous for Iraq, the American military presence in Iraq, and the war against al Qaeda. The tide has seemed to turn against the al Zarqawi network in Iraq.”

Jihad Unspun attempts to counterbalance the news of the divide within the insurgency by promoting the announcement that Jaish Ahlu Al-Sunnah Wa Al-Jama’ah [Army of the People of the Orthodox (Sunni)], a small and relatively unknown Islamist terrorist group, has joined the newly-formed Mujahideen Shura Council. The council consists of al Qaeda and six small Islamist terrorist groups. But buried within the flowery praise of the Mujahideen Shura Council and the nobility of jihad is an explicit call for the remaining Islamist groups to join the council:

So I call on you:

My dear “Sheikh Al-Hakeem” (commander of Al-Jaish Al-Islami)

And you “The First knight Sheikh” (commander of Jaish Ansar Al-Sunnah)

And you my brother “The Leaping Lion” (commander of Jaish Al-Mujahideen)

And you my brother, “Sheikh Al-Rashid” (commander of Jaish Al-Rashideen)

And you my brother, “Sheikh Al-Thair” (commander of The Twentieth Revolution Brigades)

And you my Mujahid brother (commander of Al-Jame’a Brigades)

And to all armies and brigades of Ahlu Al-Sunnah Wa Al-Jama’ah, I appeal to all of you, I appeal to all of you, I appeal to all of you, my people! Answer Allah’s call for unity, consolidation of efforts, and straitening of the array. I swear by the one the people of Tawhid swear by, Allah, the one, you belong to the Party of Tawhid, your status as such is well recognized and will be preserved, your opinion will be taken seriously and you will be listened to.

Well over one week after the formation of the Mujahedeen Shura Council, and the very public announcement of its existence, three of the largest insurgent groups – the Islamic Army of Iraq, Ansar al-Sunnah and the Mujahedeen Army – and three lesser known groups have ignored the call to join al Qaeda’s ranks. At this point, their decision to remain outside the aegis of the council cannot be chalked up delays in receiving communications; they have explicitly decided to remain outside of al Qaeda’s sphere of influence.

While these groups have rejected al Qaeda’s call to join, this does not mean the groups are allies of the Iraqi government or Coalition forces. An example of this can be seen by the calls from the Mujahedeen Army to attack Denmark and Norway for printing editorial cartoons, which, according to a translation provided by counterterrorism expert Evan Kohlmann, are deemed “a harmful blasphemy against the blessed Prophet Mohammed.” The Mujahedeen Army declares the drawing deserve a violent response, as boycotts and other non-violent demonstrations are tepid responses; “boycotting these cowards is a position of weakness that is indicative of a feeble nation that does not stand up in defense of its Prophet and the principles that it believes in… We call upon all our brigades in the Mujahideen Army to attack whatever they possibly can in these two countries specifically, and in other countries who repeat what they have done ”

While it appears there are real differences between the foreign terrorists of al Qaeda [and it should be remembered that Iraqis who work with al Qaeda are often deemed foreign as they are working under a foreign flag], the Islamists do share a common ideology, as the Mujahedeen Army’s reaction to the cartoons clearly shows. al Qaeda and its Mujahedeen Shura Council are attempting to strengthen the common ideological bonds with the outside Islamist groups.

These efforts have so far been rebuffed, which indicate there are political considerations in play. No one likes to join a loser, and the Islamic Army of Iraq, Ansar al-Sunnah and the Mujahedeen Army, while all hostile to the Shiite government and foreign troops on Iraqi soil, are likely hedging their bets.

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

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