Ex-Baathists Turn to Naqshbandi Sufis to Legitimize Insurgency

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 5 Issue: 1

The “Men of the Army of al-Naqshbandia Way” (Jaysh Rajal al-Tariqah al-Naqshbandia, or JRTN) is a Sunni jihadi group that first announced insurgency operations against the Coalition in Iraq in December 2006 in response to the hanging of Saddam Hussein (albasrah.net, December 30, 2006). Since then, the Naqshbandi army has claimed numerous attacks against the Coalition, posting links to video clips of these attacks in various jihadi forums. Like some other insurgency groups, JRTN publishes a monthly magazine promoting the group’s ideology and enumerates its operations against Coalition forces while soliciting donations (www.muslm.net, December 28, 2006).

The Naqshbandia, founded in 1389 by Sheikh Muhammad Baha’ al-Naqshbandi, is one of the major Sufi orders of Islam (forums.ikhwan.net, July 5, 2007). The Naqshbandia magazine contains both religious and secular articles promoting Sufism and jihad, such as “A series of facts about Sufism,” “Military lessons derived from the prophet’s migration,” “The Internet in the service of Jihad” and “The American Embassy recommends the use of mice instead of dogs to sniff out explosives.” The magazine includes other articles pertinent to Naqshbandi insurgency operations in Iraq, including a section on religious questions concerning jihad in Iraq sent by adherents of the faith and answered by Naqshbandi religious authorities. Three articles in the latest edition of the magazine help form a better perspective of the extent of JRTN’s insurgency in Iraq:

“Chronology of JRTN’s jihadi operations against the Coalition in November 2007”

The Naqshbandia army claims to have carried out jihadi operations against the Coalition in Baghdad, al-Anbar, Ninawa, Diyala and Salah al-Din provinces, where they launched over 17 rocket attacks using Katyusha, Grad and Iraqi-made Tariq rockets, five mortar attacks, 14 road bombs, four sniper attacks and two massive assaults with light weapons on U.S. military bases. In regular military fashion, the JRTN attributes these attacks to platoons and detachments attached to certain brigades of the JRTN.

“The Big Escape of Collaborators”

With every announcement about the United States’ intention to withdraw forces from Iraq, pro-U.S. Iraqis—whether civilian or military—hastily leave Iraq on long and short visits to neighboring countries in an attempt to flee before U.S. forces withdraw from the country. The Naqshbandia army believes that U.S. forces will be forced to make an undeclared pullout from Iraq as a result of heavy mujahideen strikes. The writer of the article, engineer Hatim al-Isawi, alleges that 2,745 translators from southern Iraq have already fled to the United Kingdom, where they face a grim future as a result of British refusal to grant them refugee status. In the same context, the United States granted refugee status to only 700 Iraqi spies and agents out of over 50,000 applicants. Al-Isawi reiterates: “He who knows America does not deal or ally with it. America is a country of interests with no principles or morals. The tragedy of American agents will recur and that is America’s religion.”

“Guerrilla War of Attrition”

The writer of this article, identified as Major General Ahmad al-Naqshbandi, acknowledges U.S. might and the inability of the mujahideen to directly confront and defeat U.S. forces. Therefore, the mujahideen must aim to wage a war of attrition to wear out U.S. forces through protracted guerrilla tactics. To achieve victory, jihad has to begin with defensive strategies before moving on to a balance of power and a final assault phase. Major General al-Naqshbandi lays out the tactics needed in the first phase as follows:

1. Concentrate on attacking small, soft targets instead of hard targets even if they are attackable in order to avoid heavy casualties. The loss of large numbers of jihadis is unsustainable as it takes a long time to replace them. The preference in this phase is to rocket-attack the enemy from distant points.

2. Exert more effort in training and gradually gain fighting skills while observing the occupiers’ tactics, reactions and weaknesses. The longer jihadis hold their ground, the better the chances are of overcoming the threshold of their fear of the enemy.

3. Widen the jihadi base to prolong resistance operations, consequently prevailing over the enemy.

According to al-Naqshbandi, “When the ummah (Islamic community) sees that jihadis are an equal match to the enemy by prolonging the confrontation, more fighters will start joining the jihadis or forming new jihadi entities.”

Finally, the JRTN calls upon Muslims to donate money to fund jihad operations, asserting that donating money is equal to fighting and fulfilling the religious imperative of jihad.

It is a common perception that Sufism is a non-violent form of Islam, guiding its adherents away from political confrontation toward a more spiritual facet of the religion. Hence, Sufism was tolerated by totalitarian regimes such as in Iraq and—in some cases—practiced by the statesmen in such regimes. It is apparent from the regular military terminology used in the Naqshbandia magazine that ex-Iraqi military officers are the main core of JRTN and are using the Naqshbandia order to legitimize their insurgency. Although Sufism is in stark contrast with Salafism, both sects push their religious differences aside to unite against a non-Muslim enemy. However, any Sufi-Salafi alliance is not expected to survive in the absence of a common enemy, possibly even emerging as a new and bitter conflict in strife-torn Iraq.