Arrests May Cause Partnership between Ansar al-Sunnah and al-Qaeda in Iraq

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 3 Issue: 38

The month of September was rife with reports detailing the arrests and killings of senior al-Qaeda officials and their associates in Iraq. In September alone, coalition forces arrested one al-Qaeda leader and killed another, arrested the leader of Ansar al-Sunnah and two of his associates, arrested two senior members of the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC) and two senior military commanders of the 1920 Revolution Brigades. Coalition troops hope the string of successes will impact the organizational capabilities of the insurgents. Iraqi National Security Advisor Mowaffak al-Rubaie was quoted as saying, “The al-Qaeda organization in Iraq has been seriously weakened and is now suffering from a leadership vacuum.” Nevertheless, the impact of these arrests was not immediately felt since attacks have continued during the holy month of Ramadan.

The first in the series of arrests was that of Hamed Jumaa Faris Juri al-Saeidi, who some describe as the number two leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Al-Saeidi, a former intelligence officer under Saddam Hussein, is held responsible for ordering the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra that triggered the current era of sectarian conflict. The MSC suffered another blow with the capture of Ali Mahmoud Yahya, a high-ranking regional commander and the “emir” of Mosul. He was captured along with four other terrorists. Just days earlier, Khalid Mahal, the emir of al-Anbar Province, was killed by coalition troops in Tharthar along with one of his aides (Kuwait News Agency, September 26).

In Basra, British troops killed another al-Qaeda senior lieutenant when he attempted to evade arrest. Omar al-Faruq, an Iraqi, was the top al-Qaeda operative in Southeast Asia and is believed to be the link between al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya. Al-Faruq was found in Iraq after he escaped from Bagram airbase in Afghanistan in July 2005. Al-Faruq, who went by the name Mahmoud Ahmed, was in Iraq three months before his killing and was known to be an expert in bomb-making.

Iraqi security forces also captured two leaders of the 1920 Revolution Brigades and seven aides in the village of al-Jazira, north of Baghdad. The 1920 Revolution Brigades have been responsible for a number of attacks against U.S. troops and a spate of kidnappings. Yet, they have also reportedly signaled their willingness to enter into negotiations with the Iraqi government (al-Jazeera, September 27).

Then, on September 23, coalition forces arrested Muntasir Hamoud Ileiwi al-Jubouri, an Ansar al-Sunnah leader and senior member of the group’s decision-making body. Al-Jabouri was arrested in Diyala Governorate, north of Baghdad, where Ansar al-Sunnah is known to be active (al-Arabiya, September 23). Ansar al-Sunnah denied reports of his arrest soon after the news broke. Calling the report a fabrication of the Iraqi government, the group pledged to continue their struggle until they achieved victory of martyrdom. In a statement posted on the web, Ansar al-Sunnah representatives stated: “We deny this report. [The report] indicates clearly to the weakness and bankruptcy of this government. Our jihad continues as well as our operations” (Gulf Today, September 25).

Despite, or perhaps because of, the arrest, it is rumored that Ansar al-Sunnah plans to merge with al-Qaeda sometime during Ramadan. Ansar al-Sunnah is already affiliated with al-Qaeda, but these plans call for a stronger association through the incorporation into the MSC. Although Ansar al-Sunnah is a pro-al-Qaeda organization, disagreements over Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s leadership and methods prevented Ansar al-Sunnah from joining the MSC in the past. Talk in internet jihadi forums indicates that there is a concerted effort by al-Qaeda to moderate its approach after al-Zarqawi’s death and bring Ansar al-Sunnah into the MSC. If Ansar al-Sunnah does indeed decide to join the MSC, this would be a significant development for al-Qaeda. Presently, the MSC is comprised of al-Qaeda and several smaller Iraqi insurgent groups. The inclusion of a capable and more organized group like Ansar al-Sunnah may offset the negative effects of the recent arrests and the turning of al-Anbar tribes against al-Qaeda. On the other hand, the merger of Ansar al-Sunnah into the MSC may have negative long term consequences. If the string of arrests continues, and as coalition forces gather more intelligence on Iraqi and al-Qaeda insurgents through information garnered from these captures, the arrests would have better impact on a more hierarchical and consolidated structure like the MSC than against the now disparate Iraqi insurgent groups.

It will be significant to note which direction Ansar al-Sunnah decides to go. Recent coalition operations have impacted the capabilities of the Iraqi insurgency to carry out a coherent strategy to destabilize the Iraqi government. Recent statements by several al-Anbar tribal leaders pledging their support for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and promising to root out al-Qaeda operatives in their area is evidence of the waning impact of al-Qaeda’s message against the government with Iraqi Sunni tribal elements.

Closer organization and cooperation between the disparate groups, who may be united by their desire to bring about the failure of the current government and drive out foreign troops but are operating independently, may help them regain some lost strength and momentum. On the other hand, the more that al-Qaeda moves away from the successful networking structure that they have used in the past, through the inclusion of groups like Ansar al-Sunnah, the more it will be susceptible to coalition counter-insurgency tactics. This could hurt both Ansar al-Sunnah and al-Qaeda in their efforts in Iraq.