Ansar al Islam claims first attack in Iraq since 2014

Ansar al Islam, a longstanding al Qaeda-linked jihadist group which now mainly operates in Syria, has claimed its first attack in its native Iraq in five years.

Yesterday, Ansar al Islam released a statement of responsibility for an improvised explosive device targeting members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU) in Iraq’s Diyala province on Tuesday.

“Lions of Jamaat Ansar al Islam in the area of Jalawla in Iraq’s Diyala province, placed two IEDs upon the criminals of the Hashd Shaabi [PMUs],” the claim reads. The statement further claims killing one PMU soldier, while wounding another.

This claim appears to be backed up by local reporting. Local Iraqi media outlets reported that three people were indeed killed by an IED in the Jalawla area. Though, the Baghdad Post reported only a “farmer” was killed.

The Islamic State, while claiming attacks near Baqubah and Miqdadiyah, did not claim the Jalawla blast. This gives more veracity to Ansar al Islam’s statement.

Ansar al Islam’s last claimed operation in Iraq was in 2014. That year, the jihadist group took part in the renewed Sunni insurgency in Iraq just prior to the Islamic State’s rampage through large swaths of Iraq and Syria.

The outfit reported a series of operations that summer, posting many photos of its victories in the process.

Though in July 2014, the Iraqi wing of Ansar al Islam suffered mass defections to the Islamic State. Though, the entirety of the organization did not go to IS, as its Syrian wing has remained independent.

And since 2014, the Syrian wing has taken part in numerous offensives and operations in northwestern Syria. Since late 2018, it has also been a member of the “Incite the Believers” operations room with various other al Qaeda-linked groups in Idlib.

Now, however, it appears that Ansar al Islam’s forces in Iraq are signaling they are ready to restart operations in the country. It is so far unclear how well Ansar al Islam could rebound in Iraq; though, a weakened Islamic State could provide more operating spaces for other Sunni insurgent groups.

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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