THE LEVANT Exclusive – written by Jassem Mohammad, Translated by Mirvat Sibaii –
Following the US invasion in 2003, the western region in Iraq has turned into an incubator and haven for al-Qaeda organization, and later for the organization of “Islamic State of Iraq” and other “Jihadi Organizations” that mingled too much between the “resistance” and terrorism. In 2005 and 2006, some clans and militant groups have been fighting al-Qaeda Organization and succeeded to expel it temporary from their regions after perceiving that al-Qaeda’s power is increasing higher than the clan’s one, in addition to al-Qaeda‘s breaches of the inviolabilities and its surpasses of the authorities of al-Anbar’s clans. That time and amid the absence of the government’s control, al-Qaeda organization inaugurated Sharia‘ courts and carried out raids at houses of al-Anbar in search for wanted people.
Nevertheless, the western region remained as geographical and social incubator for the “Islamic State” as the results of investigations with al-Qaeda fighters in Iraq revealed that there are military training camps at the Syrian borders from the side of al-Anbar and from the north at the region of al-Bukamal. In 2006, al- Anbar desert has witnessed the killing of Abu Mesaab al-Zarkawi in Baakuba city and the killing of his successor Abu Ayoub as well as the assassination of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi the leader of the “Islamic State” in 2010.
In 2011, The Islamic State “ took advantage of the withdrawal of the US forces from Iraq, and worked to restore its activity in al-Anbar province. Under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the organization succeeded in employing the sectarian discourse and presenting itself as alternative to the Sunni component, making good use of the latter’s differences with the government of Baghdad. Meanwhile, these differences turned from local demands into sectarian confrontation with Baghdad which was referred by the Islamic State as government of „Rafidah“
Although the western region and al-Anbar governorate were excluded from its military operations, the „Islamic State“ has been targeting the ministries, the premises of the Governorate of al-Anbar as well as the premises of the Security and Intelligence Departments. At the same time, it intensified its military operations against the enclosed and weak parts of the Shia‘ areas. Thus, the banners and songs of al-Qaeda organization were displayed on al-Anbar sit-ins‘ podiums, and the leaders of the brotherhood – Islamic Party in Iraq have been dominating the podiums in Iraq.
These practices reflect the extent of the alliance between the „Islamic State“, from one side, and Sunni political-tribunal leaders of al-Anbar from the other side. In 2013, investigations conducted by the Iraqi Minister of Interior revealed the involvement of Tarek al-Hashimi, the leader of the Islamic Party in terrorist acts, as well as, Ahmad al-Olwani who was arrested in 2014. This situation escalated from sit ins into the formation of the „Army of the sons of the tribes“ similar to the „Free Syrian Army“.
It seems that the political process in Iraq was, originally, trapped as these organizations and groups were allied together, and in the next stage they reorganized themselves under the „Islamic State“ forming coalition with the leaders of the tribes who, in turn, supported the „Islamic State“, refusing to expel its foreign fighters, while prefering to host them in their houses in order to use them as a strong arm against the government of Baghdad.
The most prominent Sunni armed groups allied with the „Islamic State“ are as follows:
1- The Islamic Army:
It was founded in 2004; the “Iraqi Islamic Army” is composed of a mix of Baathists and Islamic fighters and owns a military internal system and an intelligence department. While the presence of the “Iraqi Islamic Army” is very intensive in al-Dhuluiya area near Balad district, its presence in Dayali and Kirkuk provinces and in Saladin is considered weak. The Islamic Army is led by Ahmad al-Dabbash, who often and frequently appeared on Arabic Channels from Irbil as the spokesperson of the “Islamic Army” as well as he joined the meetings held in Amman.
2- The Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order
This organization is led by Izzat al-Douri vice-president of the former Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein. The majority of the fighters serving in this army are Baathists and they are soldiers who served in the former regime before 2003. The Men of the Naqshabandi Order bear the Nationalist, Islamic and Sufi characters, avoiding a confrontation with the “Islamic State”.
The organizations have been lately meeting in al-Saadiyya – al-Rabiha village belonging to Dayali province in order to share roles and set priorities, paving the way for attacks against al-Mukdadiyya aimed at isolating it from Hamrin basin. Battles are ongoing in al-Mansuriyya and al-Mukdadiyya as the Army of the Men of the Naqshabandi Order is asserting its control over these area. Meanwhile, the activities of this army are less in areas such as: al-Saadiyya, Jalawla, Mandali and Balad Ruz.
The most important strongholds of al-Dour are al-Hawija and al-Riyadh – Kirkuk. Following the date June 10, 2014, al-Douri gave his Bay’ah [selling one’s self to a spiritual master] to al-Baghdadi, but, recently, there were news reports stating that this organization took position against “ISIS”, following the attacks made against the shrines, domes, and the displacement of Christians. In addition to that there were statements by military groups against the Islamic State but it seems that they are nothing more than an attempt to gain local support.
3- The Military Council of the Tribal Revolutionaries
In June 2014, this organization has been facing a fragmentation problem, when some of the Sheikhs of the al-Kurawiyya clans sought to hold negotiations with the leaders of the Kurdish Peshmerga in Jilawla but it was rejected by other clans’ leaderships who joined later the Organization of “Islamic State”. However, the factions of the council are led by officers of the former Iraqi Army. In addition to that the Council includes tens of Sunni clans allied with the “Islamic State” and its presence is intensive at the west of Iraq in al-Anbar, Khalediyyah, Karma and Fallujah provinces, and in Abu Gharib, al-Youssefiyyah, as well as at Baghdad’s belt in al-Taji, al-Taremiyyah and al-Madaen areas.
4- Jamaat Ansar al-Sunnah (Assembly of the Helpers of Sunnah)
This organization is present in Dayali province to the south of Mandali and near the villages of al-Nadda tribes in addition to other areas at the south of Balad Ruz and Tahwilah area. It’s expansion is, relatively, possible in Kirkuk and Saladin. There are indications pointing to efforts of rapprochement with the Islamic State but without giving the Bay’ah. It is pointed out that “Ansar al-Sunnah” is considered as opponent to the Islamic State, as previously, military confrontations took place between both organizations during 2013 and the beginning of 2014 when the Islamic State asserted its control over al-yahrubiyya crossing border. The most prominent leaders of this organization are kurds such as Mullah Najmeddine Krekar resident in Norway. Until the year 2003, he acted as provider of Arab fighters to Afghanistan.
5- Brigades of Kurdistan (Kataeb Kurdistan)
It is a faction formed of moderate leaders used to work with „Ansar al-Islam“ organization in Iran and Iraq. Currently, it is specialized in recruiting kurdish suicide bombers in the aforesaid countries in favor of the Islamic State. This organization was responsible for the explosion attacks that took place in contested areas such as Jilawla and khanekin, in addition to other attacks against the premises of kurdish political parties in Kurdistan, before the invasion of the city of Mosul in June 10, 2014. It is to mention that one of the strategies adopted by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is to penetrate the Kurdistan region through these battalions which mean through recruiting Kurds suicide bombers.
6-The 1920 Revolution Brigades
While it has a weak presence in Dayali province, it maintained strong presence in Saladin province – Biji, Baghdad and Abu Gharib. It is led by Harith Dhahir who holds the Islamic charcter which is close to the Brotherhood, Islamic Party and the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq which, represented the religious Marja‘ of Sunni component in Iraq.
7- The Jaish al-Mujahideen (or Mujahideen Army)
It exists intensively in Dayali and Kirkuk provinces although the few numbers of its supporters while its activities increases in al-Anbar.
The organizations and terrorist groups, existing in Kirkuk, Dayali, Saladin, Baghdad and Mosul provinces, could be categorized as follows according to its fighting capabilities and the areas controlled by them and the extent of their terrorist activities:
a- Leading Organizations: the Military Council or General Command of the rebel clans –Army of the Men of the Naqshabandi Order. They are groups who are expected to cooperate temporary or for short term with the Islamic State. These groups present itselves as representative for their communities and they lead the other less equipped and inferior factions in both level and power.
b- the organization of „Ansar al-Islam“ in Mosul and Kirkuk and the eastern parts of Saladin province, and the Army of Moujahidin in Falluja, Mosul, Saladin in addition to 1920 Revolution Brigades at the west of Baghdad. Although these groups differ in terms of leadership, ideology and organizational structre, they meet together through operation rooms for coordination, determining targets and drawing plans.
Sources of power at the Armed Sunni Groups
- The social fabric and the unified sectarian component, which is composed of a single Sunni identity, reducing cases of penetration.
- Geographic and Demographic presence at the vicinity – Belt of Baghdad.
- These groups who refused to fight the Islamic State are betting on its relations with „IS“.
- The support of Arabic sides opposing Baghdad’s government and the Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki.
- These groups enjoy military experiences and skills of arms industry, since it joins officers, leaders and Iraqi military commands of staff which have been serving in the former regime before 2003.
- Their adoption of a security strategy this was reflected on the structure of these organizations and military groups, as number of them have been serving in the intelligence department and Iraqi security bodies during the ruling regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
- Arming and Training: these groups get well equipments from light and sophisticated arms and the fighters were subject to training by experts in defense and army staff.
- Through its agents‘ network, these groups get information about the deployment of Iraqi forces on the ground.
- The support of some of Arab media ways
- Beside embracing a salafi ideology or „Jihadi“ extremist ideolgy they also have a military beliefs.
- There is coordination among these groups and they have operation rooms in addition a well organized administration.
The alliances of the Islamic State with tribes and sunni groups at the western area of Iraq are united together against Baghdad‘s central government. The components of this coalition may surpass their differences over secondary issues in order to achieve their mutual target aiming at asserting the control over Baghdad after toppling the central government in Baghdad.
It seems that the chances of acheiving the aforesaid target are weak due to the relevant advances of the Iraqi forces. Moreover, the deployment of the Islamic state along a vast geographic area caused damages to its military forces. That means the Islamic State is going to hole up in Mosul.
While in Saladin province it was reported that the people their refuse to fight together with these groups and that the majority of the clans and people decided to move from their areas in order to avoid being victims of the confronations between the government and these groups. It should be noted that the people of Saladin are weighted toward the peace.
Meanwhile the situation in al-Anbar province will remain divided between tribals‘ leaderships supported by the government and others opposing it. Before its confrontation with the central government of Baghdad, al-Anbar have been witnessing complicated differences among its leaderships. Experiments proved that the Organizations linked to al-Qaeda have always been in disagreement with inhabitants of the land, such as al-Qaeda’s experience in Aghanistan and Yemen. Despite of smiliarities in Salafi-Jihadi ideololgy. Thus, the western and north-western regions will undergo a situation of instability and will witness shortage in its military and organizational capabilities in its confrontation with the central government in Baghdad.
Jassem Mohammad, An Iraqi researcher specialized in Counterterrorism and Intelligence.