On January 15 al-Qaeda in Iraq announced that it had set up an umbrella body with five other militant groups in Iraq, called the Mujahideen Shura Council, to coordinate the fight against the U.S.-led forces and confront the “Crusaders and their Rafidi (Shi’ite) and secularist followers who have seized Baghdad.” The following groups are members of the Council and all share the jihadist perspective on the struggle in Iraq: Tanzim al-Qaeda fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (al-Qaeda in Iraq – Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi’s group), the Jaysh al–Taifa al-Mansura, Ansar al-Tawhid, Al-Ghuraba, Al-Jihad al-Islami and Al-Ahwal.
The announcement comes at the end of a period of increasingly open disaffection between the “nationalist” and Islamist groups of the insurgency. Pointed comments in the announcement of the Mujahideen Council’s formation reinforce this division. It described the Council’s purpose to “unify all the Mujahideen’s efforts, planning and decisions to abide by Allah’s command,” for which it has “made a covenant with Allah to fight in His cause until religion becomes Allah’s in its entirety or to die in the process.” The announcement noted with distaste that “other groups of people have surfaced to pull the rug from underneath the Mujahideen, seeking nothing but short-lived material benefits” (www.jihadunspun.com).
Disagreements over tactics, rumors of groups holding discussions with the U.S. military and outright internecine confrontations have progressively destroyed the “enemy of my enemy” consensus within the resistance. Despite similar nomenclature, groups such as al-Jaysh al-Islami fi al-Iraq (Islamic Army in Iraq), which do not share al-Zarqawi’s extreme Islamic jihadist agenda, are excluded from the Council. The Islamic Army in Iraq, in particular, was outraged by the killing at the hands of al-Zarqawi’s group of Iyad al-Azzi, a leading member of the political bureau of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party (see TF Volume III, Issue 1). A December 1 statement on the website of the Islamic Front of Iraqi Resistance (Jami) stated, “we are not surprised that he should have been targeted in this treacherous action from one who has set himself up as a tool in the hands of the occupier to wield in any way they so choose” (www.jami.com).
While the number of resistance activities, compared to other insurgent groups, has always been relatively small (although higher in profile), al-Qaeda has been achieving statistically fewer casualties recently. If this is anything other than a temporary hiatus, the consolidation of forces indicated by this announcement may suggest that al-Qaeda’s room to maneuver is narrowing, and its ability to mount large-scale attacks is being drained by the growing trend toward “red on red” conflicts.