Military Commander of the Islamic Army of Iraq Describes Rift with al-Qaeda

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 5 Issue: 23

In an interview in the May edition of the jihadi al-Fursan magazine of the Islamic Army of Iraq (IAI), the military leader of IAI, Abu al-Abbas al-Baghdadi, discussed the group’s military situation, the reasons for the decline in jihadi operations and current efforts to develop new weapons. Al-Baghdadi also accused al-Qaeda of killing jihadis from other factions (alboraq, June 2). In addition to other forum members’ comments refuting IAI claims, pro-al-Qaeda advocates were quick to respond to IAI accusations (, May 6).

In the interview, al-Baghdadi claimed that IAI is testing high-performance rockets recently developed by the group. The new rocket system, asserts al-Baghdadi, will surprise the enemy and their allies. He insists that the recent decline in jihadi operations in Iraq is a tactical decision due to the tension between the jihadi factions and al-Qaeda because of the latter’s policy of targeting jihadi groups not aligned with it: “Our tactical advantage in fighting the enemy and their allies was that we know them but they don’t recognize us. We don’t have that advantage over al-Qaeda because they know IAI, which is comprised of ex-Iraqi Army officers and fighting back at al-Qaeda compromised our mujahideen with the enemy,” says al-Baghdadi. The accusation and counter-accusations between IAI and al-Qaeda are not a new development, but have intensified recently. Evidence of this is found in video clips the IAI have uploaded onto YouTube of alleged al-Qaeda members killing innocent civilians, forcing women to commit suicide attacks and training children on terror tactics.

The new circumstances have forced IAI to concentrate on quality rather than quantity in its operations. IAI uses special fighting techniques against high profile targets designated by its intelligence apparatus. Sniper units, such as the Baghdad and Fallujah snipers, were part of IAI’s intelligence apparatus, revealed al-Baghdadi, adding that specialist-led IAI intelligence units are operating all over Iraq, monitoring and collecting information on enemy movements. IAI is constantly improving the performance of these units by supplying them with the latest equipment.

Concerning the structure of IAI, al-Baghdadi revealed that IAI is comprised of ex-Iraqi military officers, all adherents of the Sunni creed. IAI is a highly organized military institution, embracing professional military men in all fields with a military training curriculum for new jihadis. Ex-Iraqi military officers train the newcomers in military discipline, guerrilla warfare and the use of different types of weapons and tactics. IAI secures weapons from ex-Iraqi arms depots, set up in anticipation of the occupation, while still exploring other options to procure more weapons. Al-Baghdadi appealed to the Islamic nation to support the mujahideen.

Although the majority of IAI operations are perpetrated by IAI jihadis, there are some small operations IAI carried out in cooperation with other jihadi groups, especially the Jihad and Reform Front (JRF), another Sunni insurgent formation. The JRF was the result of endeavors to bring all Iraqi jihadi factions under a united military command.

Various jihadi forum members posted negative comments on the IAI’s accusations regarding al-Qaeda; however an official-like response came from a forum member nicknamed Abu Anas al-Kurdi (, May 6). Al-Kurdi accused IAI of being part of the pro-government Awakening councils, reminding readers al-Qaeda targets pretenders who are after mundane rewards and personal benefits. IAI never tried to reconcile with al-Qaeda, says al-Kurdi, accusing al-Baghdadi of lying and challenging IAI to release information on their jihadi operations, alleging that al-Qaeda’s attacks are real and numerous while the IAI’s operations only exist on paper. Finally, al-Kurdi asserts that the Islamic State of Iraq—an al-Qaeda-associated insurgent umbrella group—is for all Muslims and jihadis who pursue only one objective—to implement Shari’a law on earth.

Regardless of the many appeals by Islamic forum members to stop the internal fighting between the Sunni jihadi groups and unite under one leadership, the rift between Sunni groups such as the Jihad and Reform Front and the Salafi-Jihadi groups led by al-Qaeda continues to widen. The patronizing response of al-Qaeda to complaints by IAI, Ansar al-Sunna and the 1920 Revolution Brigades and its overwhelming feeling of might has further widened this gap. Therefore, any early U.S. pullout from Iraq could lead to intensive fighting between Sunni groups in the Sunni triangle.