Members of Iraq’s Islamist internet forums have been delighted lately to report a possible alliance between al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) and the Ansar al-Islam group of Kurdish Sunni insurgents. A forum participant recently posted details of a joint operation by al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Islam against U.S. forces in Mosul (muslm.net, January 29). In the same context, another forum participant announced the defection of tens of Islamic Army of Iraq (IAI) jihadis to ISI (al-ekhlaas.net, February 8). The shift to ISI follows the earlier pledge of allegiance to ISI from another insurgent group called al-Furqan (paldf.net July 20, 2007).
A forum chatter nicknamed “Bodyguard” posted a message a day after the attack in Mosul on U.S. 4th Division troops from Fort Carson, Colorado. In a posting entitled “Ansar al-Islam claimed responsibility for the operation that annihilated American soldiers in Mosul,” Bodyguard says a detachment of Ansar al-Islam mujahideen—accompanied by ISI fighters—started out on January 28 to execute an operation against “Soldiers of the Cross” and their apostate collaborators in the al-Somar neighborhood in Mosul. The operation started at 2 PM by mining one of the roads passing through the neighborhood while mujahideen—loaded with light and medium weapons—waited in ambush. The mujahideen blew up the first mine against a passing U.S. and Kurdish Peshmerga military convoy, destroying a Humvee and killing its five American occupants. Later, they detonated an additional three mines. Four vehicles of the Peshmerga gathered in a previously mined spot, resulting in the death of many Peshmerga soldiers and the destruction of some of their vehicles when the mine exploded. Thereafter, the mujahideen engaged the enemy from all sides for over an hour, giving the Coalition enemy a very hard lesson and forcing them to call for helicopter support that searched unsuccessfully for the perpetrators. “The U.S. military announced yesterday the death of five U.S. soldiers, but we confirm that the number is a lot higher,” says Bodyguard (for a detailed description of the fight from the American point of view, see the Colorado Springs Gazette, February 11).
Other forum participants commented on the communiqué by stating that it is a strong indication that Ansar al-Islam now supports ISI, largely because the Ansar referred to their new partners as “the Islamic State,” recognizing the organization as the base of a legitimate Islamic caliphate. Negative comments were posted from some forum participants who demanded that Ansar al-Islam pledge formal allegiance to ISI and its leaders: “This is not allegiance, fighting will not succeed until they pay homage to one man,” says one contributor, referring to the amir of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.
In al-ekhlaas, one of al-Qaeda’s media forums, participant Monasir al-Mujahdeen joyously announced that tens of Islamic Army mujahideen had “comprehended the truth” and uncovered the “hidden agenda” of the IAI before joining ISI (al-ekhlaas.net, February 8). The Islamist ISI and the nationalist IAI engaged in a number of armed clashes in 2007.
The defection of Islamic Army fighters to the ISI is the latest in a series of such developments that threaten to weaken the IAI, which is accused by some mujahideen of cooperating with the U.S. occupation. In a relevant incident several months ago, the IAI was forced to play down the importance of the Jaysh al-Furqan, a group that split from the IAI and later joined the ISI. The IAI brushed aside the importance of al-Furqan’s affiliation with the ISI, saying that the group is very small and insignificant compared to the IAI. Shaykh Abu Ahmad al-Smaidai, spokesman for the IAI, said the Islamic Army is holding together solidly and the Jaysh al-Furqan splinter group is a small operation active in only one city. He reiterated that geographic realities forced the group to ally with ISI to fight U.S. and Iraqi forces: “IAI is solid and coherent with no risk of disintegration or division as speculated by some parties,” affirmed al-Smaidai. Leaflets distributed at some mosques in Baghdad by al-Furqan said they seceded from IAI after accusing its leadership of going astray, instigating internal fighting among jihadis that only serves the occupiers, collaborators and occupation-allied militias. Parts of the leaflet read: “We pledge allegiance to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi to fight the occupier until the last drop of blood, without negotiations or liquidation of the jihadist project” (paldf.net, July 20, 2007).
The largest merger among jihadist groups so far was that of al-Qaeda and Egyptian Islamic Jihad in June 2001. That merger proved to be advantageous for the jihadis in many aspects, including the pooling of human resources, funds and expertise. In Iraq, al-Qaeda is trying to lure as many Iraqi jihadist groups as possible into their self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq. Jihadist groups lacking funds may be expected to join al-Qaeda, but unless these groups have the same convictions as the Salafi-jihadis, the unification cannot be expected to last very long.