Musings of an Iraqi Brasenostril on Jihad: Interview with the leader of Iraq’s Jaysh al-Mujahideen: Abd al-Hakim al-Nuaimi

NOTE: An archive of the Musings of an Iraqi Brasenostril on Jihad column can be found here.

Interview with the leader of Iraq’s Jaysh al-Mujahideen: Abd al-Hakim al-Nuaimi

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

Jaysh al-Mujahideen- not to be confused with the Ikhwani Islamist/Salafist rebel coalition of the same name in Aleppo province- is one of Iraq’s older insurgent groups, now revived in the face of a renewed Sunni insurgency. The Iraqi Jaysh al-Mujahideen tends not to advertise itself openly on social media. However, like Syria’s Jaysh al-Mujahideen, this group stands out- together with Jamaat Ansar al-Islam- for its known tensions with the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS: I will translate the relevant statement from the group’s Shari’a Committee later). Yet unlike Jamaat Ansar al-Islam, Jaysh al-Mujahideen has kept a low social media profile.

Recently (8 March), in light of the revived activity, some questions were put to Jaysh al-Mujahideen’s media committee, which were then directed to the group’s leader, whose tribal name suggests origins in northern Iraq (my own maternal lineage- from Mosul- is also Banu Nuaim).

Interestingly, ISIS is not mentioned once in the interview, but rather the interview suggests tensions with the Islamic Army of Iraq, even as the ideological outlook here is not unlike that of the mainstream Sunni insurgency in Iraq, such as belief in an Iranian conspiracy- in alliance with the West and/or Jews- against the Sunnis, and expressing solidarity with the rebellion in Syria. In response to this interview, the Islamic Army of Iraq’s media committee put out a statement denouncing Nuaimi’s claims of no Islamic Army of Iraq presence: “The fact that he doesn’t know of their existence means that he is not present in the field.”

Below is my translation of the interview, with some explanatory footnotes.

Q: What is your assessment of the situation in Iraq and the battle with the Safavids?

A: The battle in Iraq is not confined to its borders, for it is part of the battle that the Ummah is waging in defence of its religion and land in the face of the Safavid Majus [derogatory term for Persians] project. The Safavids are allies of the Jews and Crusaders in the war on Islam, and they have exchanged roles and coordinated plans one way or another. Their aim has been to exterminate the Ahl al-Sunna- the people of Islam- by breaking their courage, humiliating them, rendering them subservient, and preventing them from being able to establish the form of rule they want- the Shari’a of God, Mighty and Glorified is He- and this is what we have seen above all in the lands in which its people [the Ahl al-Sunna] have been able to revolt against their oppression and rule at the hands of the corrupt.

Therefore we are in confrontation with a Safavid regime and whatever forces of the East and West inimical to Islam that are behind it.

Our people and our tribes are convinced that there is no choice for them that protects their dignity, recovers their rights and liberates them from servitude to the Majus than to fend off the attacker and confront arms with arms: indeed it is an important issue for which God- Exalted and Mighty is He- has given them His blessing after the suspicious projects and fitna of participation in the political process were thrown upon them with their shadow. Thus the equation in Iraq has changed greatly during the past two months, and since the escalation of the armed confrontation with Maliki’s forces two months ago the Ahl al-Sunna has been able to achieve a lot, for the ranks between the tribes and their sons waging jihad have held together, while previously the enemy was able to fracture them.

And the Ahl al-Sunna has been able to humiliate Maliki’s army and inflict disastrous losses on them. They [the Sunnis] have also been able to organize their ranks such that they have begun fighting in an organized and coordinated manner. They have been able to free wide areas from the Safavid occupation. They have been able to widen the battle in their provinces.

It is impossible to dissociate what is happening in Iraq from the wider region, especially in Syria and other areas that are witnessing Majus aggression. The uprising in Iraq has participated in coordination with the Ahl al-Sunna in other areas, so the widening of the front in Iraq against the Majus has made them totter in Iraq, which was previously a passageway for them, open for their militias that are fighting in Syria, and providing financial support for Assad and others besides him. From the military perspective, the Ahl al-Sunna today is in a far better state than one or two years ago.

Q: How far are you united with the Iraqi Sunni tribes in this war?

A: If God Almighty wills, we will only be pious and sincere sons for our people, striving to protect them and defending their abode, and today we are as close as we can be to the hearts of our people. Our ranks have been nourished- thanks to God Almighty- as our Lord likes (“in a row as though they are one structure joined firmly”- Qur’an 61:4). Indeed we have said on many previous occasions, when we were urging our people to stand as one rank with their sons waging jihad against the Majus project, bear arms, and defend their honour and themselves. We have said to them many times that we want to be swords in your hands, using us to strike the enemy of God and your enemy and using us to defend your honor and land. Today we are carrying our what we promised them: we ask God Almighty to give victory to our people through us.

Q: Where is your activity concentrated?

A: We are present in every place of the battle and its divisions but there is a difference in the extent of the presence from place to another. There is no reason to divulge further details.

Q: Do you support the current shift in the battle from holding land and defending it?

A: The situation differs from one place to another, and we see that in some of the regions where it has been possible to keep hold and expel the enemy from them, [doing so] is an excellent thing, but spreading this state of affairs to other areas where the balances of force differ is a mistake into which we hope not to fall; so the majority has not withdrawn from the areas in a state where it is difficult to retain control and we see that attack and flight in them and exhausting the enemy are the best way to manage the battle in such areas. I ask God to free Iraq- all of it- urgently and not to postpone.

In any case, we must not- on seizing control of a place and expelling the enemy from it- make leaving a place concerning the seizure or the enemy’s seizure of it again be the end of the battle or a standard for victory or defeat. This is what makes us affirm [a policy] of not holding assaulted areas where matters concerning the field are difficult before an improvement in relevant circumstances because the enemy’s seizure of it again will weaken the morale of some people and make them think that we have been defeated and the enemy is victorious.

Q: What is your position on widening the extent of the fronts and battle in the present time and is this within the capabilities of the Sunni civilian people?

A: Widening the extent of confrontation with the Majusi enemy is a matter of utmost importance to reduce the pressure from other areas. In this [approach], we can confuse the enemy and disrupt their efforts especially if we know that they are not fighting from a viable position now except by means of elite brigades and forces as they cannot rely on the capabilities of other forces in their army.

Q: Do you have reservations about working and coordinating with other groups and do you participate in operations in the field with the Islamic Army group?

A: The battle today requires the Ahl al-Sunna to be one hand against their Majusi enemy. The battle today is greater than group and party, greater than clan, tribal and regional interests, but it is also greater than the Iraqi Ahl al-Sunna themselves, for if- God Almighty forbid- their courage were broken, that would be the key for evil against our people not only in ash-Sham and the Gulf, but also in other states that think they are safe from the Majusi project. For what we see from Safavid expansion in the Gulf and Yemen after Iraq and Syria is only the beginning, as expansion does not stop there in the incubation period and without potential for opening military fronts, as is the situation in Egypt, Sudan, the Arab Maghreb and other areas.

So we see a need for coordination among all the Ahl al-Sunna in this war- tribes and groups- and for them to cleanse their ranks of those bartering in their cause from the failure of the politicians and others besides them.

As for the Islamic Army, it saddens us that we have not seen any presence on their part and we had been hoping that they might have corrected the mistakes into which they fell, return from the paths they drifted into, and return to their integrity, but we have not come across that in the field and we don’t know of a presence on their part. There are some groups that originally abandoned working with them years ago and finance themselves from here and there. Perhaps some of their members are among those who are working without disclosing their affiliation for what they know of the lack of their being accepted among the groups and tribes. As for what has been publicized concerning their participation with us in some operations, there is no truth to such claims.

Q: What is your position on the ruling for arms in the conflict among the mujahideen in ash-Sham? And do you have any link with the Jaysh al-Mujahideen in ash-Sham?

A: Truly this matter is among those things that press on the soul of every Muslim zealous in his religion as it affects his Ummah, and God Almighty ordered us to render it to His Shari’a concerning disputation, for He said: “If you have a conflict over something, render it to God and His Messenger if you believe in God and the Last Day: that is best and better in interpretation” [Qur’an 4:59]. The direction of the mujahideen on that matter is a weakening for the Ummah and a free service for its enemies. The Ummah today is waiting for its sons waging jihad to unite their ranks, take vengeance on those who have violated its honor, spilt sacrosanct blood, assaulted the homes of the believers and dispossessed Muslims peoples; and to resist the attack of the hateful Safavids.

It is necessary for anyone who wants to defend himself from oppression with which he is acquainted to restrict himself to self-defense and not to broaden the extent of the conflict as far as he can. Just as it is necessary for all factions to unite in responding to the tyrant’s oppression so that is the most useful [course] for them and all Muslims.

We have no organizational link with any faction in ash-Sham- neither the Jaysh al-Mujahideen in ash-Sham or others besides them- but we have become near to or distant from them according to how far they have become near to or distant from the manhaj of righteousness, and we ask God- Almighty and Exalted is He- to make all agreeable to follow the manhaj of righteousness on which is the salf of the Ummah and to make them agreeable to what He loves and is pleased with.

Q: Why do you insist on your media politics that have made your followers not well-informed regarding your existence, your work in the field and the good deeds of your soldiers?

A: Of course these politics in them are of great harm to us as a group, but they [media politics] have been found to be costly by those seeking to advance claims that we have abandoned arms, or our work has been weakened, or other claims. It is cause for great regret that some of this talk comes from those who know us in the field and from those familiar with our work and the capabilities of our youth, but we have preferred [common] interests to our interest as a group and especially in this circumstance.

Q: What are your expectations and readings for the future of the current battle in Iraq?

A: Our expectations and readings must not be built on conceptions for a defined period, certain areas and apparent data alone. The battle is in its beginning, and an advance or setback here or there does not finish it. At the very least, the battle will not finish in isolation from ash-Sham and not in ash-Sham without Iraq. And the battle does not cease in the stage of broadening and because its sides have proliferated, or the participants in it have become numerous. For events there may happen and have an influence on the role of each side in it, just as events in Ukraine that came as a surprise to most have greatly affected the Russians, and in so far as they evidently support the Safavid regime in Iran and the Nusayri regime in Syria, so indeed the events in this war will have an influence on the Russian regime in this war, whether they like it or not.

We expect that the awareness of the Ahl al-Sunna will increase for their obligation to undertake their role in this war to protect themselves at least. We do not expect but are certain of God Almighty’s victory, but we do not know when from the perspective of time but rather we know when it will be realized from the state we must be in. The Almighty said: “Oh you believe, if you support God, He will support you and strengthen your feet” [Qur’an 47:7]. The Almighty also said: “And God will certainly support whosoever supports Him: indeed God is mighty and powerful” [Qur’an 22:40]. So the victory of God is a divine promise for whosoever support God: the condition for the realization of the divine victory being that we support the religion of God; that our role in this war be victory for God and His religion, not supporting the group, its banner and partisanship.

Victory may be delayed for error within us, or because we are noy ready for what comes next, or for the return of the Ummah to its Lord in a greater and more comprehensive form, for whenever victory has been delayed, we have clung to God and we have taken refuge with Him, and our worship of Him has become great, and our freedom is in entrusting ourselves to and turning for help towards God, and dissociating ourselves from our power and our force and turning to the power and force of God. We have grown in our conviction that we are not granted victory by numbers or equipment, but rather by God alone, so for this reason this generation will be the one that brings out from the womb of this freedom a generation competent to lead the Ummah. And they will be a people for victory and God knows best.

Q: Have your principles and objectives for which you bore arms since the beginning of your jihadi work changed?

A: No; our principles have never changed and will not change by the permission of God Almighty, and whatever may be a source of condemnation against us from the realm politics is in the scope of Shari’a politics and wisdom, and merely the use of reason [ijtihad] that does not affect our principles or objectives that God Almighty has laid down: jihad for its sake.

Q: What do you say to the Sunni tribes?

A: We say to our tribes and our people: Oh our people, we are your sons whom you have come to know in the arena of conflict, in defending you and your honor- which is our honor- it is not a preference or a blessing. And you make trial of us by considering us swords for righteousness in your hands, so you will only see from us- if God Almighty wills- what pleases God Almighty. Your noble stance in this battle will raise memory of you by God Almighty’s permission until the undertaking of the Hour and will raise your place on the Day of Judgment if you have fulfilled your purpose for God. So may God bless you, strengthen you and give you victory.

Q: What do you say to the jihadi groups?

A: Our brothers in the arena of conflict, there is no more appropriate time than this one to abandon group extremism and names, correct past error, for every side to look into what pertains to it concerning error, and to return to God Almighty from every injustice into which we have fallen. For God is God in your Ummah, and by God we see that victory just around the corner and nothing causes separation between our Ummah and it [victory] stronger than our faults and differences.

Notes:

[1] Despite not disclosing much detail, Jaysh al-Mujahideen is most notably operating in Anbar as part of the insurgents’ council that controls Fallujah and includes ISIS.

[2] Though Jaysh al-Mujahideen, like the Islamic Army of Iraq, also lost fighters in light of the rise of the Sahwa movement with the advent of the surge, it was the Islamic Army of Iraq that turned to the political process following the U.S. withdrawal with the establishment of the Sunni Popular Movement. It is this step away from militancy towards politics that the Jaysh al-Mujahideen’s leader is criticizing. In contrast, Jaysh al-Mujahideen never set up a political activist wing.

It should also be noted that despite the revival of the Islamic Army of Iraq, the group’s goals remain limited in that the goal is not to overthrow the central government as ISIS, the Naqshbandi Army and the Jaysh al-Mujahideen hope to achieve (whatever tensions may exist between these three groups). Rather, as an activist based in Baghdad for the Islamic Army of Iraq explained to me in an interview that the Islamic Army “supports the idea of a Sunni region together with the continuation of jihad to relieve oppression from all the Ahl al-Sunna.”

As for ISIS, the activist explained that ISIS suffers from “extremism, error in military operation, misfortune and problems with the majority of the Ahl al-Sunna,” and therefore the Islamic Army of Iraq refuses to have any relations with ISIS. Thus, we have here in the Jaysh al-Mujahideen and the Islamic Army of Iraq two groups sharing hostility towards ISIS but also at odds with each other. Even so, both groups co-exist with ISIS in Fallujah.

[3] Recently some video footage and statements have emerged bearing the Islamic Army of Iraq name and logo, following on from the leader’s call for defensive jihad that I documented in my reference guide to Iraq’s Sunni militant groups (see the link in the above note). On 23 February, the Islamic Army issued a statement claiming coordination on the previous day with the Jaysh al-Mujahideen in fighting government forces in the Albu Alwan area near al-Karma, Anbar province, downing aircraft in the process.