Islamist insurgents seek to contain PR disaster: notes of defeatism

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 2 Issue: 13

News of ongoing discussions between the U.S. military and the Iraqi insurgents has rattled the jihadist groups in the country. Reports of such meetings go back to last February, when Time magazine highlighted a meeting between insurgents and two U.S. military officials. This was followed early in June with intimations of indirect negotiations having taken place, and finally confirmation from U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that U.S. officials had met with Iraqi resistance leaders on several occasions.

The talks held in early June, near Balad, some 40 miles north of Baghdad, were brokered by Arab Sunni politician and former electricity minister, Ayham al-Samarrai, and it was reported that representatives from groups such as Ansar al-Sunna, the Islamic Army in Iraq, the Iraqi Liberation Army and Jaish Mohammed attended. While there was no recorded progress in the two sides’ terms of reference for negotiations, the mere report of the negotiations, from the hurried pamphlet traffic on the internet, constituted a potential public relations disaster for the jihadist opposition groups.

The news evoked considerable notes of distress on the jihadi forums. On the al-Qal’a forum one signing himself al-Sharif al-Idrisi, noted, on June 28, the similarity of this potential development with the situation in Afghanistan, “when those fleeing the Tora Bora caves were met by the Pakistanis not intent on helping them but in selling them to the Americans. We pray God that this doesn’t happen to our brothers in Iraq” [].

At the same time strenuous denials were being posted on the internet forums that any such meeting took place, including from groups said to have participated in the talks. One posting on June 30 appeared on the al-Qal’a forum signed by The Islamic Army in Iraq, the Army of the Mujahideen and the Army of Ansar al-Sunna. It expressed exasperation at Ayham al-Samarrai’s “lies and America’s games” and swiftly pointed to the impending peril for the Islamist mujahideen in Iraq: “its intentions are to split the ranks of the mujahideen … to divide the Iraqis from non-Iraqis … to pull the rug from under the mujahideen … How can a heroic mujahid Muslim brother in any country be a foreigner?” With America’s designs being “to return the Baathists to power, in the name of the resistance” the statement accused Iyad Allawi of “giving orders to the Baathist Ayham al-Samarrai to intrigue against the mujahideen and the resistance … So we proscribe the life of Ayham al-Samarrai, and declare him to be a target of the mujahideen in general and in particular of all members of the three groups (The Islamic Army in Iraq, the Army of the Mujahideen and the Army of Ansar al-Sunna). … Anyone who allows himself to be seduced into doing what the fantasist Ayham is doing will share the same fate” [].

But the damage appears to have been done, judging from the tone of the al-Idrisi posting: “Even though the Islamic Army in Iraq and the Army of Ansar al-Sunna have denied [such contacts], it may signify that there are elements wanting to come to an understanding with the Americans. There may be danger here since these are prepared to do anything in order to gain a few crumbs, since they are seeing that the jihad is no longer achieving anything for them, and they are losing the war.” It is a matter, the statement explains, of qualitative difference in the aims of the various insurgent groups, united only in opposition to the Americans: “This is because these are not fighting to achieve death, as is the case of the brothers coming from outside Iraq, rather they are fighting for worldly and sectarian interests.” For these last “are trying to exploit their knowledge of the mujahideen and their methods and the supply routes and the way they maneuver: such information is the most precious things that America could acquire. In return for it America is prepared to give them anything.” The commentator hopes that “our commander Abu Mus’ab [al-Zarqawi] will cut all relations with those except Muslims loyal to their faith and not rely on them even in the smallest matter” since what is happening has potential terminal consequences. The ‘American game’, he concludes, “is just an operation to penetrate these groups and destroy them from within, through infiltrating agents and turning some of the members.” A difficult act, he concedes against a group such as Al-Qaeda, “but to a great extent easy with the Iraqi groups” [].

The immediate impression from these developments is one of increasing disarray, indicated by the evidence of ‘red on red’ firing observed between insurgent groups, as reported in the June 22 edition of the New York Times. The disarray was certainly highlighted in full view of the media over the issue of a ‘spokesman’ for the insurgency.

In an interview with the Qatari satellite channel al-Jazeera on June 28, Ibrahim Yusuf al-Shammari, who claimed to speak for The Islamic Army in Iraq and Jaysh al-Mujahideen (The Army of the Mujahideen), fielded questions on the ongoing talks by demanding that the American Congress first issue an official invitation for negotiations []. Two days earlier a posting appeared from the Ansar al-Sunna Army strenuously denying talks “with any Crusader or apostate”, and re-stating its goals to instate undiluted Islamic rule. The appearance of the spokesman appears to have caught many asleep at the wheel. Al-Shammari’s appointment as spokesman was presented by the Army of the Mujahideen to “silence all those who claim to speak in the name of the Mujahideen.” But a posting on the jihadist al-Qal’a forum on July 4, signed by Abu Jandal al-Shammari, styling himself ‘emir of the Army of the Mujahideen Army’ roundly refuted the appointment: “We do not and shall not appoint any individual or movement to represent us or speak in our name or conduct negotiations with the occupation or its agents”. The statement went on to warn the appointee “not to speak in our name, and to limit himself to representing the Islamic Army who may have appointed him on their own initiative, as a step to block the way to anyone claiming to negotiate or represent the resistance’s groups.” The statement went on to reaffirm their commitment to the military and political methodology, to a unified leadership of the mujahideen and its intent to “settle accounts when the time comes with those who wish to alter the battle-lines … We are not negotiating!” []