Divisions in al Qaeda in Iraq

An al Qaeda in Iraq leader disavows Abu Ayyub al-Masri, exposing the faults between the Zarqawi and al-Masri factions


Abu Ayyub al-Masri.

Al Arabiya television has aired a videotape of a member of al Qaeda in Iraq denouncing the organization’s current leadership, singling out Abu Ayyub al-Masri for undertaking “‘unjustified violations’ such as the killing of prominent sheikhs in Iraq,” according to Reuters. The jihadi’s nom de guerre is Abu Osama al-Mujahid, and he is calling for an Iraqi to lead al Qaeda in Iraq after the death of Abu Musabal-Zarqawi.

Al-Mujahid has shielded his face and altered his voice to mask his identity. Reuters provides the following quotes:

“Just because you don’t know the men in Iraq is not a reason for you to choose anyone who makes himself visible… We urge that the (leadership) be delegated to an Iraqi just as it has been delegated to an Afghani in Afghanistan… We pray to God that you receive our message and that some of those surrounding you don’t hide it from you, so that you can make the appropriate decision and cancel the pledge of allegiance in Iraq. We are your sons and won’t fail in leading the war and jihad.”

The “cancel the pledge of allegiance in Iraq” is referring to the appointment of al-Masri as al Qaeda in Iraq’s commander.

On first glance, this appears to point to serious questions about al-Masri’s leadership capabilities. But this tape reflects the divisions between the Zarqawi faction and the al Qaeda central leadership supported al-Masri faction. The death of Zarqawi provided al Qaeda’s central leadership to push aside Zarqawi’s leaders, and replace the command structure of al Qaeda in Iraq. As the Attyia and Zawahiri letters clearly demonstrate, al Qaeda central has looking to “moderate” and “legitimize” the jihad in Iraq for well over a year. Zarqawi’s death presented the opportunity. As a result, Zarqawi’s lieutenants lost their positions of influence in the organization.

Al-Mujahid is from the Zarqawi faction, and is lamenting over the Zarqawi faction’s loss of power inside al Qaeda in Iraq. He is appealing to the leadership of al Qaeda by projecting two of Attyia and Zawahiri’s criticisms of Zarqawi onto al-Masri. First, the the accusation that al-Masri has been assassinating tribal sheikhs and other jihadi groups is an attempt to show al-Masri has not moderated his behavior. “They also killed leaders from other factions who the Crusaders offered bounties worth hundreds of thousands of dollars so as to either arrest or kill them,” said Al-Mujahid.

“Other mujahidin preferred to fight the organization [the Islamic Army in Iraq], based on fatwas [religious rulings] issued by senior ulema that ordered them to fight back and this was hinted at by Abu-Hamzah al-Muhajir in his speech. In it, he spoke about what happened in Al-Ramadi where armed men attacked leaders of the organization after praying at mosques, isolated them, and killed them in front of people.

Similar incidents took place in various places in Al-Karmah, Al-Khalidiyah, Al-Fallujah, and other places. I here say that they were not deterred by these incidents, but persisted in their deviation. Out of fear for themselves, they began to terrorize people who wanted to go to schools and universities, using statements issued by fake names, such as Mujahidin al-Anbar leaving out the words the Shura Council.

Second, appealing to replace al-Masri with an Iraqi leader furthers the desire to give the leadership an Iraqi face. Al-Masri is an Egyptian, and a protege of Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Al-Mujahid’s plea will likely fall on deaf ears. Al-Masri is Zawahiri’s personal choice to lead al Qaeda in Iraq. He has shown promise by getting six of the Anbar tribes to join the “Mutayibeen Coalition.” Al-Masri has achieved limited success with the tribes while Zarqawi only alienated them. It is for a good reason al-Mujahid shielded his identity. Al-Qaeda leaders have a reputation for ruthlessly removing internal opposition. When a Yemeni al Qaeda faction sent a letter criticizing Saif al-Adel several years ago, he had the authors of the letter murdered. Brutally.

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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