The List: The Future of the Insurgency
Before the U.S. military killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq was the face of the insurgency. Yet his group was probably responsible for only 5–10 percent of the insurgent attacks. What about the other 90 percent? FP takes a look at the other major insurgent groups in Iraq—who they are, what they are trying to accomplish, and which ones are more likely to negotiate than fight to the death.
Ansar Al Islam
Ansar Al Islam
Ansar Al Islam fighters
First surfaced: In December 2001, before the war.
Ideology: Ansar Al Islam is a violent group of extreme Islamist fundamentalists, not unlike the Taliban in Afghanistan. With close ties to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, the group fervently opposes the U.S. presence in Iraq. More specifically, it rejects the U.S.-backed Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Party, which favors Kurdish self-determination and is led by the prominent Iraqi politician Jalal Talabani.
Recruits: These insurgents have been among the most active in attracting members from outside Iraq. One of their known methods has been to recruit radical, like-minded Islamists from Europe (Germany in particular) and smuggle them into Iraq. Like al Qaeda, Ansar Al Islam seeks foreign recruits not only for sheer manpower, but to demonstrate to the world that theres a steady flow of fighters willing to make the trek to Iraq to fight the coalition. However, multiple reports indicate that its makeup is overwhelmingly drawn from Kurds inside Iraq who reject the Patriotic Union.
Tactics: The group, which predominantly operates in the relatively peaceful north, is likely responsible for multiple attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. But unlike other insurgent organizations, its also attempted to murder high-profile Kurdish politicians. Its rumored that Ansar Al Islam even tried to assassinate then Prime Minister Ayad Allawi during a trip to Berlin in 2004.
Whats next: Even though some analysts have pointed to Ansar Al Islam for recent attacks in Fallujah, the group hasnt been as active as it was before. That could be good news for the coalition, as it indicates a weakened ability to recruit fighters from abroad. The group enjoyed close ties with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In fact, he even belonged to this organization before his incorporation into al Qaeda. So much so, that the treasure trove of documents apparently uncovered by U.S. troops in the wake of his death is likely to reveal the extent of its organization and tactical secrets. Ansar Al Sunna
First surfaced: September 2003
Ideology: Ansar Al Sunna, originally an offshoot of Ansar Al Islam, is a highly feared and violent terrorist group whose worldview is most in line with al Qaedas. Because of the similar ideological stance, the group is said to be competing with al Qaeda for new recruits, territory, and funding. The Sunni extremists reject Western influence and interference in Muslim lands and claim to fight U.S. and coalition troops in the hope of establishing an Islamic caliphate throughout the Middle East. Virulently opposed to Shiites, Ansar Al Sunna is one of the leading contributors to the sectarian violence in recent months.
Recruits: Its ranks are largely Iraqi, predominantly Kurds, with some foreign fighters from Afghanistan, Iran, and elsewhere. As Ansar Al Islam loses strength along with al Qaeda, Ansar Al Sunna may pick up some of its leftover insurgents.
Tactics: If youve seen a beheading on the Internet or watched news coverage of a large attack on coalition troops, chances are youve seen their work. Some of the highly publicized attacks include the murder of 12 Nepalese hostages in August 2004, and the killing of 17 Iraqi workers in December of that year. Ansar Al Sunna claimed responsibility for the December 2004 explosion at a U.S. mess hall in Mosul, which killed 22 people. As recently as June 10, the group is believed to have interrogated and executed three Iraqi police commandos. The video of their grisly deaths was posted on an Islamist Web site shortly after.
Whats next: Bad news for the cut-and-run crowd: Most reports about this terrorist group paint it as less concerned about killing every last American than it is about remaining intact until the coalition leaves. At that point, Ansar Al Sunna assumes it will finally have the chance to cement Islamic law into Iraqi society. Even worse news for the peaceniks: U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad recently stated that Ansar Al Sunna maintains a base in northwest Iran. Islamic Resistance Movement in Iraq (1920 Revolution Brigades)
First surfaced: July 2003
Ideology: In a reference to the 1920 uprising against British colonial occupation, the 1920 Revolution Brigades is the military wing of the group once known as the Iraqi National Islamic Resistance. Like other insurgent groups, the 1920 Brigades fights to remove coalition troops from Iraq.
Recruits: According to most reports, they recruit new members by handing out statements to prospective recruits at the gates of mosques after Friday prayers. The media-savvy organization has even sent tapes to Al Jazeera calling on foreign fighters to do combat in Iraq.
Tactics: Most of the 1920 Revolution Brigades attacks have focused on the area west of Baghdad, in the so-called Sunni Triangle, with major assaults on U.S. troops and vehicles. Roadside improvised explosive devices and rocket and mortar attacks are their modus operandi. The August 2004 attacks on two helicopters (one near Abu Ghraib and one near Fallujah) were considered major victories for the brigades. The group also claimed responsibility for the October 2005 bombing of TV station Al Arabiyas Baghdad bureau. It too has an online presence, with statements and video of its carnage transmitted through various Islamist Web sites to potential recruits and enemies.
Whats Next: According to the MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base, the brigades released a statement on Feb. 13 of this year that claimed the group would carry on jihad until the liberation and victory or [until they are] martyred.
Iraqi Resistance Islamic Front (JAMI)
First surfaced: May 2004
Ideology: This relatively new Sunni insurgent group appears to be a coalition of other, smaller groups with the similar political goal of removing U.S. and foreign troops from Iraq. As with many of the insurgent groups, theres plenty of evidence regarding what the group is fighting against, but not much about what it plans to do if and when U.S. troops depart from Iraq. Statements from the group reveal a highly anti-Semitic worldview, with blame attributed to Jews for everything from the occupation to the escalation in violence there.
Recruits: Perhaps more than any other insurgent group, JAMI invokes the Palestinian cause and the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories as a call to arms.
Tactics: Concentrated in Ninawa and Diyala in northern Iraq, JAMI regularly attacks the Mosul and al-Faris airports. Theres also evidence that the group targets suspected U.S. intelligence agents and infrastructure.
Whats next: Typical for the constantly evolving insurgency, the group is believed by several experts to have morphed into a public relations arm of some of the other groups with which it shares common cause. According to the Washington Post, the front maintains and frequently updates its Web site and even publishes a magazine called Jami to distribute to sympathizers and potential recruits.
Islamic Army in Iraq
First surfaced: In 2003, shortly after coalition troops toppled Saddam Husseins regime.
Ideology: The Islamic Army in Iraq (IAI) is one of the deadliest and largest insurgent groups. Despite its name, the IAI apparently fights more for nationalistic reasons (that is, to remove all foreign influence from Iraq) than religious ones.
Recruits: This Sunni resistance group largely draws its ranks from the Baathists and paramilitary loyalists Saddam Fedayeen who lost much of their influence when Saddam fell. According to military expert Ahmed Hashim, whose new book Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Iraq painstakingly details insurgent methods, this violent organization counts as many as 17,000 among its ranks.
Tactics: The Washington Post estimates that as many of 75 percent of the groups attacks target U.S. troops and Iraqi contractors. Multiple reports cite a highly organized system, with different cells of fighters assigned to different tasks. Kidnappings, executions, and bombings are their trademark, and theyre usually videotaped. Although keenly aware of domestic political developments in Western countries, the IAI appears to have an inflated sense of its own ability to effect change in those same countries. As Hashim notes, when the IAI kidnapped two well-known French journalists in August 2004, it demanded that the French law that banned headscarves be repealed. Likewise, when the IAI kidnapped Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni in 2004, the group demanded that Italy pull all its troops from Iraq. Baldoni was executed when Italy refused to comply.
Whats next: Like JAMI, there are reports that IAI publishes a monthly magazine called al-Fursan. Although it (and other insurgent groups) adamantly denies it, rumors have swirled for a few weeks that IAI might be in the process of meeting with Iraqi and U.S. government officials. That, along with the calls the IAI made for nonviolence at polling places, suggests there might be some chance for negotiation. The only problem: It would be difficult for the United States and its allies to convince the rest of the world that the war was worth fighting if Saddam-style Baathists appear victorious.
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