Zarqawi’s declining ideological support among Islamists

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 2 Issue: 14

In the wake of the kidnapping and assassination of the Egyptian ambassador to Baghdad, Ihab al-Sherif, condemnation for the military policies of al-Qaeda in Iraq came from an unexpected source. The two major militant Islamist organizations in Egypt, al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and al-Gihad, launched an attack on Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda group, accusing it of “fighting the Shi’a and the Kurds more than fighting to liberate Iraq.” The statement, published on the jihadi forum al-Sakifa on July 14, noted how “the strategic mistakes committed by al-Qaeda when it followed this path [including the assassination of the ambassador] in combating the occupation are clear to everyone… it is built upon impossible aims and targets.” It lamented how al-Qaeda’s strategy was not limited to removing the occupier, “but an attempt to wipe out the Shi’a or remove them from the political map, despite their numerical majority in Iraq, and similarly for the Kurds.”

The groups’ statement also, in its way, repudiated the connection between al-Qaeda’s targeting strategy and the nationality of the victims, arguing it amounted to little more than killing “those that disagreed with their strategies without distinction…whether or not their governments supported the occupation.” The statement asks where does al-Qaeda’s intelligence lie if it heaps up enemies and their forces around them, and goes on to ask why al-Qaeda “cannot learn from its past mistakes” citing the futility of its previous attacks on Egyptian or American targets, which changed nothing, but rather “lead to the killing and expulsion of members of Islamist groups in general — and of al-Qaeda in particular — to the fall of Muslim Afghanistan and the occupation of Iraq.” It also lamented the result of its actions, which was to “make the average Muslim opposed to Islamist groups and cast doubt upon their credibility in changing their societies for the better” [].

The criticism is of particular importance in that al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya was once closely linked to al-Qaeda, with its leader Abu-Yasir Rifa’i Ahmad Taha putting his name alongside Osama bin Laden, to the 1998 fatwa issued by the International Front for Fighting Jews and Crusaders. While a fissure with al-Qaeda has developed since 1997, with the decision by al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya to end violence, the repudiation by a group whose Islamist credentials and jihadist history can scarcely be impugned, is of great significance, and gives a graphic indication of the declining support al-Zarqawi enjoys, even in jihadist circles.

Almost simultaneously, al-Zarqawi has had to deal with another blow from within the jihadist ideological circle. Between July 3-5 Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, the Jordanian ideologue for the al-Tawhid wal-Jihad movement, issued via television and print media criticisms of the mujahideen in Iraq, including Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, for their targeting of Muslims, arguing that they risked “distorting the true Jihad.” This, combined with the criticisms of the legality of the London bombings by Abu Baseer al-Tartusi [] posted on jihadi forums, given the agreement of British Muslims with the host society, left al-Qaeda and its supporters having to strenuously defend themselves. Refutations duly appeared on the forums, including anonymous material from an ‘Islamic Doctor’ [], where arguments were adduced that “terrorism is part of Islam, and whoever denies it is an infidel”, the distinction of civilians from soldiers has no basis in Islamic law, and that it was the duty of true Muslims “to rejoice at every tragedy that befalls the infidel.” The evident stress that such debates are causing the jihadist supporters of al-Zarqawi’s ‘total’ aggression and takfirism will be worth watching closely, since they may indicate that the pool of experienced, credible ideologues may be draining.