NOTE: ‘The Clairvoyant” will be a new sub-blog of Jihadology.net. It will be written by me the founder of this website for quick hit blog posts or interesting things I come across that might be too short, in the weeds, or random for more mainstream publication.
The Return of Foreign Fighters in the Iraq Jihad
By Aaron Y. Zelin
Earlier today, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham’s (ISIS) official Twitter account for the Wilayah of Northern Baghdad released a series of photos of foreigners who had been killed fighting the ‘safawis’ (a derogatory term for Iran/Shi’a) and the ‘dajal’ (the false messiah in Islamic end times prophecies). While much attention has been given to foreign fighters in Syria due to the unprecedented mobilization over the past two years or so, once again, Iraq also seems to be attracting foreign fighters. While it is likely that it never truly stopped, following the sahwa and surge, there was a lot less enthusiasm for it since the Islamic State of Iraq (prior name to ISIS) appeared in decline. The American withdrawal along with the outbreak of the Syrian war and more recent prison breaks have helped revive ISIS to once again be a spoiler within the Iraqi context.
Although ISIS in the Iraqi arena has gained more of a local flavor from Iraqi recruits over the years, since its inception when it was originally called Jama’at al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad (and all of its later name iterations), foreigners have played an important role as previously documented by Evan Kohlmann as well as recovered from the US Military’s Sinjar Record cache in the organization. Prior to the release of this data on killed foreign members of ISIS fighting in Iraq, between April 2013-March 2014 I personally recorded 15 cases. It is possible that there is overlap. Here is the information from my set:
The information that ISIS released today was about 29 of its members killed between September 2013-March 2014 in northern Baghdad. Some of this data has unknown nationalities such as al-Shami, which could denote anyone in the Levant, or al-Muhajir, just meaning the emigrant, among other non-nation descriptive noms de guerre. Here’s the breakdown:
It is likely this trend will continue and more information will be released in the coming months as ISIS expands its fight in Iraq once more. Whether they make the same mistakes as last decade in Iraq or more recently in Syria remains to be seen (though is likely), but for now, due to the infighting in Syria there has been a lot of discussion within jihadi social media that some foreigners have escaped the internecine fighting and decided (besides returning home or going to other fields of jihad like Egypt or Libya) to move their fight to the Iraq war zone.
NOTE: For prior parts in the Hizballah Cavalcade series you can view an archive of it all here.
Selling Sectarianism: Shia Islamist Groups & Maliki’s Anbar Offensive
By Phillip Smyth
As the Iraqi government offensive in Anbar continues to engage Sunni groups which are protesting the government (some have now taken up arms against the government) and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), sectarian messaging by Shia Islamist groups which support the government and its offensive has also increased.
Coming after the operation against jihadi militants on December 23, 2013 and following protests by Sunni groups (including a number of tribes), on December 25 Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced an offensive against ISIS and “armed groups” in Iraq’s Anbar province. The offensive has been controversial regionally and within Iraq, with some accusing Maliki of engaging in sectarian politics. Analyst Charles Lister even called the coordinated offensive, “one move too far”.
Sectarian language explaining the Iraqi government onslaught has been utilized by all sides. Even Nouri al-Maliki called the operations, “a fierce confrontation between the supporters of Hussain and the supporters of Yazid”. Shia Islamist groups, including Iranian-backed and possibly those claiming to back Iraqi Shia cleric and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr, have taken the opportunity to issue statements, upload photos, and produce music in support for the Iraqi government’s operations. For these groups, the offensive was viewed as a golden opportunity to demonstrate their importance to the Iraqi Shia community and to demonstrate they were assisting the fight against jihadi-type organizations. These groups also played upon sectarian sentiments to promote the Iraqi government’s operations and suggest that the Iraqi Army is a pro-Shia sectarian entity. There were also claims that some Iraqi Shia Islamist forces which had fought in Syria, returned to fight ISIS and other Sunni groups in Iraq.
Statements of Support
On December 28, Ahmed al-Alwani, a Sunni parliamentarian and protest leader, was arrested by Iraqi security forces. The raid against him resulted in the death of Alwani’s brother and a number of guards from his security profile. Alwani was well-known for vitriolic anti-Shi’ite statements. His arrest by Iraqi security forces was immediately praised by some Shia Islamist groups, particularly Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, which praised the raid (see photos below). The day also saw a near simultaneous release of statements by Iranian-backed Shia Islamist organizations which are also fielding armed units in Syria.
Liwa’a Zulfiqar, a Syria-based Shia Islamist armed group, also announced its support for the Iraqi Army in its operations against ISIS and announced they would stand by them against, “racist Zionist terrorism”. This represents a continuance of the narrative that armed Shia Islamist groups (primarily backed by Iran) consider al-Qa’ida and its allied organizations as merely agents of Israel. On the same day, Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, released its second publicly available official communique. The statement stressed their support for the Iraqi Army’s fight in Anbar. Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq also issued their own messages of support for the offensive against ISIS.
Figure 1: An announcement of support for the Iraqi Army’s efforts in Anbar from the official Liwa’a al-Zulfiqar Facebook page.
Figure 2: Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada’s release in support of the Iraqi government’s offensive into Anbar.
Figure 3: Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq’s statement about their support for the Iraqi government and military against ISIS and armed groups in the country.
Main Messaging Themes:
- National Institutions: Shia Islamist groups have claimed to fully support the Iraqi Army and present themselves as integral elements to the Iraqi military and police operations in Anbar. This theme coincides with other Iranian-backed organizations messaging, namely the narrative presented by Lebanese Hizballah and their claims of fully backing the Lebanese Armed Forces.
- One Army, One Sect: Photos and statements implying the Iraqi military and police are engaging in the fight against ISIS to defend Shi’ism. These themes are also combined with photos claiming to show members of the military and/or police showing support for certain Shia political leaders and clerics. This sort of rhetoric had gone on since the spring of 2013 during the initial announcements of foreign Shia fighter involvement in Syria. In one May 2013 photo, a soldier reportedly from the Iraqi Army is shown holding a Shia religious banner on top of what is claimed to be an Iraqi military armored vehicle (see below).
- Two Fronts, One War: Tying the war in Syria to the fighting in Iraq involves extending the “Defense of the Sayyida Zaynab” (the defense of the Sayyida Zaynab shrine in southern Damascus is held as the reason for Shia Islamist fighters are in Syria) narrative which claims Shia Islamist armed groups are present in Syria to protect holy shrines/Shi’ism and stop jihadi-linked fighters. As a result, the engagements within Iraq which claim to also target ISIS and other organizations are grouped together as part of a unified effort to protect Shi’ism.
Figure 4: A photo uploaded in mid-January with the caption, “We will not be defeated”. The photo reportedly shows an Iraqi Army soldier saluting a Shia religious poster.
Figure 5: Photo claims to show an Iraqi soldier saluting a picture of martyred Shia leader, Imam Husayn. The photo was posted onto numerous social media pages catering to Shia Islamist fighters in Syria.
Figure 6: This photo claims to show an Iraqi soldier holding an Imam Husayn flag in front of an armored vehicle. The photo was widely circulated on Shia Islamist social media pages.
Figure 7: Photo purports to show an Iraqi soldier under a Shia banner following the, “Capture of Ramadi”. The photo was posted on Badr Organization and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq social media pages.
Figure 8: This photo claimed to show an Iraqi soldier saluting Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
Figure 9: First uploaded to Shi’a Islamist social media in May 2013, this photo claims to show an Iraqi soldier atop an armored vehicle holding a Shi’a religious banner.
Figure 10: An Iraqi armored personnel carrier (APC) flying flags for Shia Imam Husayn with a sign partially reading, “Welcoming visitors to Imam Husayn [mosque and shrine in Karbala, Iraq]”. While the context of the photo is probably more innocuous—It is likely this APC was simply part of a guard set up in Karbala and was used to welcome pilgrims—ISIS/Sunni Islamist activists and Shia Islamist groups circulated the photograph as proof of the Iraqi Army’s sectarian loyalties.
Figure 11: Top photo: “This is how they kill us”. Bottom photo: “And this is how we treat them”. The top picture shows Iraqi soldiers executed by ISIS. The bottom references reports of Shia Muslims taking in Sunni Muslim refugees from Anbar. The photo was not widely distributed, but could be found on pages and profiles catering to Iranian-backed Shia Islamist organizations (mainly Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq).
Figure 12: This photo, spread on Sadrist and Sadr-splinter group social media, claims to show an Iraqi soldier reaching out to a Muqtada al-Sadr poster.
Figure 13: Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq leader Qais al-Khazali smiles (right) while Iraqi Sunni MP Ahmed al-Alwani is detained by Iraqi security forces (left).
Figure 14: Qais al-Khazali is portrayed as walking on the captured Iraqi Sunni MP Alwani.
Figure 15: “Thus, we support you”. An AAH poster shows AAH leaer Qais al-Khazali looking down on Iraqi army soldiers and an Iraqi helicopter.
Figure 16: Selfie Taunts: On the right an ISIS supporter holds up a picture near the Imam Husayn Mosque/Shrine complex in Karbala. The sign reads, “Qadimoun” (“We are coming”). As a response to the pro-ISIS message, (on the left) “We are waiting for those coming, [we] the young men of sacred Karbala Soldiers of Husayn”.
Figure 17: Right Left (top) An edited photo shows deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Husayn emerging from a dirty sewer. Left (bottom) Alwani is shown following his capture. The photo was spread on Sadrist and Iranian-backed Shia Islamist pages. The image promotes a theme of “how the mighty have fallen.”
Figure 18: Another photo released on social media claiming to show Iraqi APCs flying Shia religious flags. The photos were shared online by ISIS sympathizers and Shia Islamist groups. The latter used the photos as a subtle way to suggest the Iraqi Army had Shia Islamic sectarian loyalties.
Figure 19: Shia Islamist and Sunni supporters of the protests and of ISIS circulated this photo on social media (including Twitter and Facebook). The photo purports to show an Iraqi Special Forces/SWAT member wearing epaulettes reading, “Labayk ya Husayn” (“At your service, O Husayn”), a Shia slogan used to show support for the Shi’ism’s first Imam.
One video uploaded claimed to show Iraqi units assembling before heading into Anbar and flying Shia religious flags. Due to the lower quality of the images in the video, the claim could not be confirmed. Accounts affiliated with Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq also uploaded a response to the offensive against ISIS. In their clip, a man sets up a system for a unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) which then spots what can assumed to be ISIS positions. The ISIS positions are then destroyed. The clip was entitled, “A message from Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq to Da’sh” (note: Da’sh is the Arabic acronym for ISIS).
Redeployments from Syria?
The charge that Iraqi Shia Islamist fighters who were initially placed in Syria, and that have returned to Iraq in order to fight ISIS and other Sunni groups, has been a reoccurring theme among fighters aligned with Shia Islamist groups, ISIS supporters, and those who back local Sunni groups. On social media a number of hints were left in posted images. One Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq profile claimed that an Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq had sent fighters (possibly those who had fought in Syria and rotated back to Iraq) to battle ISIS and other groups in Fallujah. Another image claimed fighters from the Rapid Reaction Force (a group of Iraqi Shia fighters who were some of the first trained units of Shia foreign fighters in Syria) were also redeployed to Anbar after operating around the Sayyida Zaynab mosque and shrine in Damascus.
Figure 20: A January 8 post claiming AAH was deploying to Fallujah and wished for quick recovery (due to an injury) for one of AAH’s fighters.
Figure 21: A January 28 post claiming the Rapid Reaction Forces which have been involved in fighting in Syria were returning to Iraq to fight ISIS in Anbar.
A Da’sh of Music
Musicians who could broadly be described as “Sadrist” and those who have supported Iranian-backed organizations have produced a number of songs with content calling out ISIS and demonstrating their support for the Iraqi government. These musicians have acted as additional amplifiers for the uploaded imagery, videos, and other material available online. Since their work is already known and exposed to those familiar with it, the circulation of the released material is at least guaranteed among a certain subset of Shia Islamists in Iraq and possibly those fighting in Syria.
Usama al-Salihi, a Sadrist performer, released a song called “Ya Da’sh” or “O Da’sh” in early January.
Ali Delfi, Ahmed Sa’adi, Ghassan al-Shami, Fadhl Hasan, and Malik al-Asadi teamed-up to create the “Operetta for [Our] Master and Precious One”, a song full of praise for Muqtada al-Sadr, which mocks ISIS. Fadhl Hasan, a poet/lyricist, claims to be a Sadrist and has published material supportive of Kata’ib Hizballah, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Liwa’a al-Yum al-Mawud, and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada on his Facebook page. Al-Asadi is known for his religious songs. Delfi and Sa’adi (who have performed together) have a long history of making songs for Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and praise the group’s actions in Syria. Their music video featured Liwa’a al-Yum al-Mawud attacks against Coalition vehicles during the Iraq War (2003), footage of the Iraqi Army, and praise for Muqtada al-Sadr.
Figure 22: A post for Fadhl Hasan’s page with Grand Ayatollah Muhammed Muhammed Sadiq Sadr in the center. The logos for Liwa’a al-Yum al-Mawud (top left), Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (top right), Kata’ib Hizballah (bottom left), and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (bottom right) are in the background.
Issa al-Fareeji, a Sadrist singer who has performed songs praising Liwa’a al-Yum al-Mawud (The Promised Day Brigades, a Sadrist successor group to Jaysh al-Mahdi which received assistance from Iran), released one piece with relative Hussam al-Fareeji. Their song, “La Da’sh” or “No ISIS”, was released onto YouTube in late January 2014.
Figure 23: Usama Salihi posing with a picture of Muqtada al-Sadr (center), Grand Ayatollah Muhammed Baqir al-Sadr (left), Grand Ayatollah Muhammed Muhammed Sadiq al-Sadr (right).
Their song was one of a small wave of songs performed by artists who affiliate with Liwa’a al-Yum al-Mawud, Muqtada al-Sadr, and Iranian-backed organizations. Since January 25, 2014 around ten songs praising the Iraqi Army and criticizing ISIS have been released online. Some songs have music videos while others are simply audio releases. All of the artists have had links with Liwa’a al-Yum al-Mawud or other Iranian-backed organizations.
Another song produced by a Shia Islamist performer and gaining in popularity on social media was performed by Ahmed Zarkani. Zarkani’s song, “Minu Da’sh” (“He is not Da’sh”—Note: This is Iraqi slang) also laces into ISIS and praises the Iraqi Army.
Zarkani is best known for his overtly sectarian latmiyat-type performances which have included a portion of tatbir, or the period of mourning which includes ritualistic self-flagellation for Imam Husayn ibn Ali. At times during this mourning ritual there is the ceremonial cutting of one’s head with a sword (zanjeer zani). The cutting of one’s head is used to represent suffering by the martyred Imam Husayn. Latmiyat, or sad spoken word poems are meant to commemorate loss (during Ashura many latmiyat are about Imam Husayn). These themes have found its way into a number of Zarkani’s works and underline the Shia-oriented messaging. His releases have often included the rhythmic sounds self-flagellation (often from hands slapping the chest) and have been popularized (and also been used for more militant and political uses) in recent years as an intrinsic piece of Shia identity (Islamist and non-Islamist). Zarkani’s material has also praised efforts by Shia Islamist fighters in Syria and is often found as background music for propaganda videos showcasing the “Defense of Sayyida Zaynab” in Damascus.
Figure 24: Zarkani (right) having his head cut with a sword during the practice of zanjeer zani.
 See: http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/malikis-war-on-al-qaeda-is-tainted-by-sectarian-politics. Yazid, the first Ummayad leader is despised by Shia and is viewed as a representation of deceitfulness and oppression. On the other hand, Husayn, who was martyred by Yazid’s forces during the 7th century Battle of Karbala, is considered by Shia to be the first Imam and is a symbol of justness and martyrdom.
 It’s important to note that Muqtada al-Sadr issued statements of support for Sunnis protesting the government in January 2013. See: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/138838/eli-sugarman-and-omar-al-nidawi/back-in-black?page=1.
 In 2014 Lebanese Hizballah began promoting the so-called “Army, Resistance, People formula” in terms of dealing with the Lebanese state and the military. See: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2014/Jan-15/244096-berri-says-committed-to-army-resistance-people.ashx#axzz2rxbrVjdG. In October 2013, Lebanese Hizballah also publicized the handover of their checkpoints to the Lebanese military. See: http://www.voanews.com/content/hezbollah-hands-over-checkpoints-in-lebanon-to-avoid-strife/1762098.html During the June 2013 battles in Saida, Lebanon it was claimed by reporters and commentators that Lebanese Hizballah actually fought alongside the Lebanese Army against fighters aligned with radical Sunni Salafi Sheikh Assir. See: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/06/28/195327/lebanese-army-threatens-media.html#.UflE1I2TiSo and http://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/commentaryanalysis/hezbollah-using-laf-to-further-its-own-ends.
 This ritual is often performed during Ashura which takes place during the holy month of Muharram. Still, the ritual has been morphed into a form of identity expression.
 See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54PomCU9Txw. It is important to note that from 0.52-1.12 there is a segment in the music video showing a person dressed (and sporting a similar beard) to appear as a Sunni Salafi. The music video then shows the performers acting out their killing of him. This performance attempts to show the Sunni Salafi interrupting an important Shia ritual, but he is then struck down by a strong Shia Islamic hand. See also: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJC0Ro44KX4. This is another version of one of al-Zarkani performing a latmiya-type piece with zanjeer zani.
Musings of an Iraqi Brasenostril on Jihad: Comprehensive Reference Guide to Sunni Militant Groups in Iraq
NOTE: An archive of the Musings of an Iraqi Brasenostril on Jihad column can be found here.
Comprehensive Reference Guide to Sunni Militant Groups in Iraq
By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
As the overall Sunni insurgency has gained ground in Iraq, much discussion will naturally revolve around the question of which groups are the main actors in the insurgency. Here I will discuss those groups in-depth, and the relations between them.
Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS)
Intro: An al-Qa’ida affiliate?
By far the most prominent group in terms of wider media attention, ISIS in Iraq is almost universally described as an “al-Qa’ida affiliate.” However, it should be emphasized that the evidence for this characterization can only be described as ambiguous at best, and in truth, points to ISIS not being al-Qa’ida’s branch in Iraq.
Now, it is true that one can find evidence that may suggest ISIS is an al-Qa’ida affiliate. Most notably, in his interview with al-Jazeera Arabic, Sheikh Abu Mohammed al-Jowlani of Jabhat al-Nusra- al-Qa’ida’s official Syrian affiliate- likened the existence of his group and that of ISIS to being members of “one house,” and that the issue of the disagreement over Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s announcement of ISIS had been raised with “our amir and their amir: Aymenn al-Zawahiri, may God protect him.” There is no reason to doubt that Sheikh Jowlani sincerely believes ISIS is part of the same al-Qa’ida family.
However, ISIS originated as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI): an umbrella group formed in October 2006 and composed of a number of insurgent groups, whose main component was probably the original al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI) organization, but this AQI component was quickly absorbed into ISI. When new members joined ISI, the pledge of allegiance- bay’ah- was given to the commander of ISI, not necessarily requiring one to al-Qa’ida central’s leadership as well.
Indeed, by 2007, Sheikh Zawahiri of al-Qa’ida central declared: “First, I want to clarify that there is nothing in Iraq now by the name of al-Qa’ida, but Tanzim al-Qa’ida fi Bilad al-Rafidayn joined- by Allah’s preference- other jihadi groups in the Islamic State of Iraq.” While it would seem that in his ruling last year for the dissolution of ISIS, Sheikh Zawahiri assumed that Sheikh Baghdadi would defer to his authority, likely on account of Sheikh Baghdadi’s apparent history as a leading member in AQI who would not have forgotten his bay’ah to the central organization (just like Sheikh Jowlani, who was an AQI and ISI veteran), Sheikh Baghdadi’s rejection of the ruling indicates the true break between ISIS and al-Qa’ida central.
On the ground, some ISIS mujahideen accept this break as reality, and thus members in Syria like the British mujahid Abu Qaa’qaa explicitly reject identification as al-Qa’ida. Others I know express ambivalence: thus one native Syrian member of ISIS in Ghouta, Damascus province, said to me that he had pledged bay’ah to Sheikh Baghdadi but did not know if in turn Sheikh Baghdadi had pledged allegiance to Sheikh Zawahiri.
Also of relevance here is how ISIS’ commander projects himself and how the group projects its goals. Although the amir of ISIS for Idlib province has denied that ISIS’ overall amir considers himself a caliph, it is hard not to draw that conclusion from the title assumed: “amir al-mu’mineen” (“commander of the believers”- a traditional title of caliphs) in addition to claimed descent from the family of the Prophet Mohammed (“al-Husseini”) and the tribe of the Prophet (“al-Quraishi”). In addition, more so than any other group, ISIS places particular emphasis on the imminent establishment of a Caliphate (e.g. with the slogan “the promised project of the Caliphate”), and images of the world under the iSIS banner regularly appear in pro-ISIS social media circles.
Figure 1: ISIS signboard from Azaz area: “The promised project of the Caliphate.”
Figure 2: The entire world under the ISIS banner.
It should be noted that these aspirations of Caliphate and world domination are not so openly projected by ISIS within Iraq, as I have outlined before. However, that does not mean ISIS in Iraq has abandoned these goals. It is simply a matter of trying to take advantage of growing Sunni Arab disillusionment with the government and portraying itself as the upholder of their interests.
Perhaps the most explicit distancing yet of al-Qa’ida central from ISIS on the part of a senior jihadi comes from Sheikh Abu Khalid al-Suri: a supposed Ahrar ash-Sham official and al-Qa’ida central member who was appointed by Sheikh Zawahiri to mediate between ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra. In light of the ongoing fighting between ISIS and various rebel groups in Syria, Sheikh Abu Khalid released a statement condemning ISIS’ conduct and decrying ISIS’ “crimes” being committed “in the name of jihad and the establishment of an Islamic state, and being attributed to” figures like Sheikh Zawahiri and Sheikh Osama bin Laden [i.e. on account of media coverage calling ISIS an al-Qa’ida affiliate]. His statement added that these al-Qa’ida figures are “innocent of what is being attributed to them, just as the wolf was innocent of spilling the blood of Ibn Yaqub.” He concludes with a call for ISIS members to repent for their conduct.
Figure 3: Statement from Sheikh Abu Khalid condemning ISIS.
Operations and Activities
Of all the militant groups in Iraq, ISIS stands out for having the most extensive financial resources (in large part deriving from the fact that in Mosul, from which the government ultimately failed to dislodge the group even during the surge, ISIS is the Mafia), manpower and range of operations, with the occasional ability to conduct attacks in the predominantly Shi’a areas of the soutb (e.g. Najaf, Karbala, Kut and Wasit). Similarly, coordinated bomb attacks in Baghdad can be reliably traced to ISIS: something other insurgent groups have so far proven themselves incapable of carrying out.
By province, ISIS is by far strongest in Anbar province, where the group operates clandestine training camps and has until this month maintained a rather shadowy existence, conducting some hard-hitting attacks over the past few months including a string of several suicide bomb attacks in a single day targeting local police in the town of Rawa.
Currently, the group remains in control of parts of Ramadi and Fallujah, following on from their entry with the withdrawal of the Iraqi army in the face of widespread Sunni anger at Maliki’s attempt to dismantle the Ramadi camp protest site. Some of the more recent operations in Anbar include firing mortar rounds at Sahwa leader Abu Risha’s estate and heavy fighting with security forces in a number of urban Anbar locations including Street 60 and al-Mal’ab quarter in Ramadi as well as the al-Khaldiya area near Fallujah.
To a limited extent, the group in Anbar has had a boost in manpower provided from eastern Syria, both with influx of muhajireen (as related on the testimony of Abu Qaa’qaa) and the fact that Jabhat al-Nusra’s leadership in the Deir az-Zor border town of Albukamal/Abu Kamal, along with Liwa al-Qadisiya al-Islamiya’s overall leader, entered into Iraq for much of 2013 to aid ISIS in the fight against government forces. The latter points were related to me by a Liwa al-Qadisiya al-Islamiya fighter, who also told me that his group like ISIS supports a Caliphate stretching first over Iraq and Bilad ash-Sham.
Outside of Anbar, the group has regularly conducted attacks on the Iraqi army in various districts of Mosul, has targeted the Shi’a Turkmen of Tuz Kharmuto with bomb attacks, and has various pinpoints of activity including the Baiji area of Salah ad-Din province, Jurf al-Sakhr in northern Babil province (just south of Baghdad), and the Tarmiya area of northern Baghdad province, where assaults have been regularly launched on “Sahwa” forces, culminating in a mass execution of 18 Sunnis suspected of being “Sahwa” in November.
Last year also saw the significant development of ISIS operations within Iraqi Kurdistan with the Arbil bombings in September, claimed by ISIS in retaliation for the Kurdistan Regional Government’s supposed support for the “PKK” in Syria. Indeed, ISIS in Syria has seen an infusion of some Iraqi Kurdish manpower that appears to be alternating back and forth between Syria and Iraq. In a major assault launched by ISIS on security forces in Kirkuk in early December, it emerged from ISIS sources that the leaders of the operation- all eventually killed- were Kurdish.
Figure 4: Aftermath of car bombing by ISIS in Kirkuk as part of assault operation on intelligence HQ in early December.
Figure 5: Two men from local security forces slain by ISIS in the Kirkuk assault.
Figure 6: Abu al-Maqdisi al-Kurdi, one of the Kurdish commandoes behind the ISIS assault on Kirkuk.
Figure 7: Abu Abdullah al-Kurdi, another of the ISIS Kurdish commandoes behind the operation.
As security has continued to deteriorate in Iraq and ISIS has increased its strength, ISIS is advertising its presence more openly with social media output, in particular from Salah ad-Din, Anbar, Ninawa and Diyala provinces.
Figure 8: ISIS convoy in Salah ad-Din province. Photo released in late December.
Figure 9: ISIS Toyota in Salah ad-Din province.
Figure 10: ISIS mujahid detonates a bomb in Salah ad-Din province.
Figure 11: ISIS mujahideen in Salah ad-Din province. Photo released earlier this month.
Figure 12: ISIS mujahideen who assaulted the Iraqi security forces’ SWAT team HQ in Baiji, Salah ad-Din province, in December. They were all subsequently killed.
Figure 13: Ahmad Hatem al-Bazi: a security official in Samarra- Salah ad-Din province- assassinated by ISIS.
Figure 14: Moatesem Ahmad Khadr- a Sahwa leader in Salah ad-Din province executed by ISIS.
Figure 15: Captain Marwan al-Qaisi: an assistant to SWAT team leader in Salah ad-Din province assassinated by ISIS, who killed him by blowing up his house (a common way ISIS targets those who work in the security forces).
Figure 16: ISIS convoy in Mosul area, Ninawa province. Early January.
Figure 17: Ninawa province is strategically important to ISIS as a base for extending operations from Iraq into Syria. This is an ISIS convoy heading into Hasakah province from Ninawa.
Figure 18: ISIS mujahideen in the Abu Talha al-Ansari training camp in the Mosul area.
Figure 19: Another photo from the Abu Talha al-Ansari training camp.
Figure 20: Abu Mus’ab al-Maghrebi, a Moroccan martyr for ISIS, preparing bread in the Abu Talha al-Ansari training camp.
Figure 21: Abu Mus’ab al-Maghrebi trains with his fellow ISIS mujahideen.
Figure 22: ISIS mujahideen in the Anbar desert as part of “Operation cutting of heads: “The lions advance to roll down the skulls of the apostates.”
Figure 23: The Abu Ibrahim training camp in Anbar, led by “Abu Waheeb,” the renowned “Nusayri hunter” who executed three Alawites on the Anbar highway in the summer of last year. Abu Waheeb’s real name is Shaker Waheeb al-Fahdawi, and he appeared in a Fallujah demonstration in March 2013 reciting a poem.
Figure 24: Abu Waheeb with ISIS mujahideen in the Anbar desert in the fall, advertising operation “Revenge of the Companions.”
Figure 25: Abu Waheeb with burning vehicles of the security forces in Rutba, Anbar province. ISIS operations in these areas- including the assassination of army generals- led to the government announcing the wider operations against ISIS in December, which Maliki then used as a reason to target the Ramadi protest site even as the protests were dying down thanks to negotiations with Osama al-Nujayfi’s Muttahidun party.
Figure 26: ISIS convoys with captured Iraqi army Humvee vehicles entered into Ramadi from the Anbar desert following the withdrawal of the Iraqi army in the New Year. ISIS fighters on Street 60 in Ramadi.
Figure 27: Vehicle in ISIS convoy- hailed by the MSC pro-uprising activist network as the “Lions of the Desert”- entering into Ramadi in the New Year.
Figure 28: Footage of ISIS convoy arriving in Ramadi on 1 January.
Figure 29: As part of the ongoing campaign in Anbar, ISIS has been attempting to show how it can operate with impunity. Here is Abu Waheeb on Street 60 in Ramadi. The caption reads: “Be patient, o imprisoned Baghdad. For the sons of the Sadiqa Aisha- may God be pleased with her- have come.”
Figure 30: Abu Waheeb reads government intelligence documents in Ramadi.
Figure 31: ISIS attacks security patrols on Diyala province’s highways.
Figure 32: Unofficial video footage of ISIS’ capture of al-Jowlan police station in Fallujah, with at least a dozen captured “apostates” of the local police force.
Figure 33: Video footage from Ramadi’s protest square site in mid-November of ISIS mujahideen holding a parade. Initially during the Sunni protests of last year in Anbar, ISIS supporters tended to congregate in the Fallujah protest site, which became ‘extremists’ corner’ in Anbar. With the decline of protests during the course of the year, armed ISIS fighters would occasionally show up in Ramadi while the protest site was largely empty and hold parades to advertise their messages. However, this does not prove the government’s narrative that the sit-in square was a base for ISIS.
Figure 34: ISIS supporters/members at a “Burning of Demands” demonstration in Fallujah in April.
Figure 35: ISIS outreach in Anbar, as part of a new series entitled “The Greatest Epic Battles of Anbar.”
Figure 36: Showing support from children has been a key part of ISIS messaging in Syria. This is also the case to a more limited extent in Anbar province, as here.
Figure 37: Pamphlets distributed by ISIS in Anbar explaining the group’s ideology and political program. Note also in this context local Iraqi news reports of setting up of committees in Fallujah to enforce Islamic values.
Figure 38: Indicative of its growing power, ISIS in Iraq is now using social media to demonstrate the same kind of outreach to locals it has practiced in Syria. Here, ISIS mujahideen in Ninawa province provide gifts and handouts of money for local children.
Figure 39: ISIS outreach to locals in Ninawa province.
Figure 40: ISIS statement in Fallujah refuting rumors that ISIS supposedly called for reinstatement of the district governor and local police under the authority of Maliki.
Figure 41: ISIS in Fallujah establishing an Islamic virtue and vice committee.
Jamaat Ansar al-Islam (JAI)
Figure 42: Flag of JAI
Active since at least 2007, this group is the latest incarnation of Ansar al-Islam, which was an al-Qa’ida-linked group in Iraqi Kurdistan dismantled after the U.S. invasion, and Ansar al-Sunna, most active during the height of the insurgency in Iraq (2003-6). JAI- almost entirely Sunni Arab with perhaps a small remnant of the original Kurdish Ansar al-Islam component (hence JAI messages released in Kurdish on special occasions)- is primarily based in Kirkuk and Ninawa provinces, having put out a special video for Eid al-Fitr last year on “Protection of the Abode” in Ninawa.
Further, when it comes to military operations, JAI frequently claims attacks in Ninawa (the Mosul area in particular)- normally targeting the Iraqi security services- and Kirkuk. JAI has also carried out operations in Salah ad-Din and Diyala provinces and even in the Baghdad area, but no major points south. In addition, the group lacks a substantial presence in Anbar province. Also, despite the ultimate Iraqi Kurdistan origin in the Ansar al-Islam predecessor, it should be noted that the group claims no meaningful presence or operations in Iraqi Kurdistan, in contrast to the tendency for Kurdish media to initially blame “Ansar al-Islam” for any attacks that occur within the autonomous region.
Figure 43: Formation of new JAI battalion in Ninawa plains: Abu Bakr al-Sadiq Battalion.
|Date of Operation||Location||Type of Attack|
|2nd June 2013||Mosul||IED attack on army; 2 officers, 1 soldier killed.|
|9th August 2013||Al-Ma’mun Quarter, Mosul||Assault on the home of an “apostate” working for intelligence services (Mohammed Atiyeh al-Bajari): target assassinated.|
|19th August 2013||Al-Ma’mun Quarter, Mosul||Assassination of “apostate” Mohammed Ayoub, working for intelligence services.|
|21st August 2013||New Mosul||Assassination of member of federal police|
|18th September 2013||Al-Rashad Quarter, Kirkuk||Assassinating army officer with machine gun fire|
|28th September 2013||Kirkuk-Tikrit Road||3 army soldiers killed in an ambush|
|9th October 2013||Al-Sakak Quarter, Samarra, Salah ad-Din Province||IED attack on federal police|
|28th October 2013||Kirkuk-Tikrit Road||IED attack, precise target unclear|
|28th November 2013||Near al-Daba’ airport, Kirkuk||IED attack targeting army|
|29th November 2013||Al-Dujail, Salah ad-Din Province||IED attack on local police (“Rafidite police”- Dujail being a Shi’i area).|
|1st December 2013||Samarra||IED attack on “Rafidite police.”|
|6th December 2013||Kirkuk||Bomb attack targeting “abode of Rafidites”|
|7th December 2013||Kirkuk||Bomb attacks targeting “three abodes of an officer in the Rafidite army.”|
|8th December 2013||Al-Qadisiya Quarter, Kirkuk||Bomb attack targeting a “Rafidite abode.”|
|9th December 2013||Jawla, Diyala Province||Assassination of a Shi’i militia leader.|
|12th December 2013||New Baghdad, Baghdad||Assassination of a member of “the Rafidite militias”|
|13th December 2013||Baiji, Salah ad-Din Province||Targeting “cars belonging to the Nusayri regime” and carrying fuel.|
|5th January 2014||Al-Tanak Quarter, Mosul||Targeting electrical company base affiliated with “Rafidite army” with 60mm mortar rounds.|
|7th January 2014||Mosul||IED attack on a Humvee vehicle. “3 apostates” killed.|
|11th January 2014||Mosul||Heavy clashes with the army at 10:45-11:00 p.m.|
Figure 44: Table showing some operations claimed by JAI sources since June 2013.
While these operations are not insignificant, in frequency and scale they are simply dwarfed by ISIS’ capabilities for just one province in a single month. For example, see this list of ISIS Anbar operations for Sha’aban 1434 AH (11th June-9th July 2013), counting just over 100 operations. See also this list of ISIS Ninawa operations for Rabi’ al-Akhir 1434 AH (11th February-12th March 2013), counting 171 operations, and this list of 15 ISIS Ninawa operations over just three days this month.
Ideologically, there is little to separate JAI and ISIS. Like ISIS in Iraq, JAI projects an image of being the protector of the country’s Sunnis. Thus, in the “Protection of the Abode” video from Ninawa referenced above, the speaker makes clear that the Abu Bakr al-Sadiq battalion was formed “at this time to protect/support our Muslim brothers from the Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jamaat…we ask God to bless our work, to bless our jihad, in support of our Muslim brothers oppressed in every place.”
The group’s discourse, like that of ISIS, is also strongly anti-Shi’i. As can be observed above, the references to the Shi’a as “Rafidites” is quite normal for JAI, and in the video, the speaker mentions: “And we [the Ahl al-Sunna] tell you [the Rafidites], we are advancing on you.” JAI is also quite willing to declare takfir on Sunnis who work in the security forces or otherwise cooperate with the government, as can be ascertained from Figure 44.
Most importantly, there is a transnational aspect to the group’s rhetoric and aims, tying the struggle against the Maliki government to the Syrian rebels’ fight against the Assad regime and accusing both of waging war on the Ahl al-Sunna. As for JAI’s long-term aim, both JAI supporters within Iraq and members have affirmed to me that JAI supports the establishment of a Caliphate, though JAI is not an al-Qa’ida affiliate.
The ideological similarities with ISIS notwithstanding, JAI is noteworthy for its tensions with ISIS. When I asked one ISIS fighter within Iraq how were relations between ISIS and JAI, he affirmed to me that while ISIS appreciates JAI’s efforts to overthrow the Shi’i-led government in Iraq, ISIS has a problem with the fact that JAI apparently does not support the “project of a Caliphate.” To be sure, not all ISIS members think of JAI in the same way: another fighter based in the Fallujah area in contrast simply thought that JAI had pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2009.
Conversely, all JAI supporters and members I know use the derogatory acronym da3esh (which has gained currency among Syrian rebels opposed to ISIS) to refer to ISIS. One member of JAI explained the problem thus: namely, that while ISIS are brothers who share the same creed as that of JAI, the fact that ISIS considers itself a “state” and behaves as such- rather than accepting that it is only a “group” like others- is problematic.
It should be noted that such a complaint is identical to what Syrian rebel leaders and fighters have said. Indeed, in reaction to the ISIS fighter’s claim that JAI does not support a Caliphate, a JAI supporter based in Mosul told me on 27 December: “Brother, this talk of da3esh has been applied to all jihadi groups in Iraq, and now they [ISIS] are doing the same thing in Syria” [emphasis my own].
For instance, Ahrar ash-Sham’s leader Hassan Abboud in an interview with al-Jazeera Arabic complained of the fact that ISIS does not accept that it is a “faction among factions” and accordingly does not submit to higher independent authority in resolution of disputes. Similarly, note this statement issued by Revolutionary Military Council and other factions in the Aleppo provincial town of Manbij in late August (when ISIS was one of many groups in the town): “To our brothers in the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham….First: the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham in Manbij is to be considered a military faction like the rest of the factions.”
The statement goes on to make clear that ISIS should therefore not interfere in civil matters or the running of services, and should submit to the authority of the town’s Shari’a Committee (for example, on the question of detaining rival fighters: forbidden from doing so unless with the committee’s authority). For ISIS’ consideration of itself as a “state” predetermined to be sole rulers meant that the group had tried to seize a monopoly on services like bread production and had detained rivals arbitrarily.
The result of the tensions between JAI and ISIS has been frequent clashes, primarily in the Kirkuk and Mosul areas. For example, see this report relying on a local Kirkuk police source in September and published by an Iraqi outlet tied to Shi’a Kurds: though the report speaks of “Ansar al-Sunna,” it is actually JAI. Later that month, the National Iraqi News Agency reported that two ISIS members were killed just west of Kirkuk by unidentified gunmen, suspected of being JAI. In a similar vein, my pro-JAI contact reported to me on 27 December that over the past nine months, ISIS had killed around 40 members of JAI, including on that very day two members of the group, of whom one was a preacher and imam in a Mosul mosque.
To be sure, on occasion JAI has tried to downplay tensions with ISIS, such as in a JAI Mosul statement from June 2013 denying media claims that JAI had announced war on ISIS: “We- JAI’s Mosul leadership- announce officially that no decision has been issued by the JAI leadership on the organization of Jamaat Dawlat al-Iraq al-Islamiya in Mosul. Period…[The claim of war declaration] is completely divorced from the truth.” However, last month JAI’s leadership released a message of appeal to Sheikh Zawahiri, calling on him to restrain the excesses of his “division (Jamaat Dawlat al-Iraq al-Islamiya)” that were hindering potential cooperation between JAI and ISIS, including problems of detainees of JAI being held in ISIS prisons, and threats of fighting and takfir.
Note in particular the language of these official JAI statements. They refuse to refer to ISIS by the latter’s own name, but instead put it on an equal with JAI by calling it a ‘Jamaat’ (‘group/organization’) and align with Sheikh Zawahiri not only in rejecting the notion of ISIS extending itself into Syria but also in assuming ISIS as subordinate to Sheikh Zawahiri’s authority.
For the future, tensions remain set to continue, and JAI supporters and members have expressed to me pessimism about the ultimate course of the current renewal of the Sunni insurgency, not only in the belief that there are too many Sunni collaborators with the government, but also that ISIS will ruin it through its excessive conduct.
Figure 45: Following target practice on Ariel Sharon’s photo, among others, JAI members have a picnic in the Ninawa plains, including shawarma on a rotisserie.
Figure 46: Last year, JAI established a new training camp in Ninawa province, named after Sheikh Abdul Rashid Ghazi, a Pakistani Islamist cleric who ran the Lal Masjid mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan, before the Pakistani security forces took it by storm in 2007.
Figure 47: JAI members training in the Sheikh Ghazi training camp. Sheikh Ghazi’s photo in the top left-hand corner.
Figure 48: Another photo from the training camp.
Figure 49: JAI members practice martial arts.
Figure 50: JAI mujahideen spar in martial arts.
Figure 51: JAI mujahideen.
Figure 52: More from the Sheikh Ghazi training camp.
Figure 53: JAI mujahideen in the Sheikh Ghazi training camp.
Figure 54: JAI mujahideen practice on the monkey bars in the Sheikh Ghazi camp.
Figure 55: JAI group photo in the Sheikh Ghazi camp.
Figure 56: JAI knight-rider in the Sheikh Ghazi camp.
Figure 57: Despite JAI’s disapproval of ISIS’ conduct and rejection of the name of ISIS, JAI has nonetheless tied the cause against the Maliki government to the jihad in Syria, and has accordingly deployed fighters in Syria, under the name of “Ansar al-Sham.” Photo from September 2013.
Figure 58: JAI mujahideen operating in Syria.
Figure 59: As above with Figure 54.
Figure 60: JAI fighters in Syria.
The Islamic Army of Iraq (IAI)
Figure 61: IAI logo
One of the older insurgent groups, the IAI’s influence has greatly diminished since the days of the surge as many of its fighters joined the ranks of the Sahwa against ISI. Nonetheless, the group still has active members and claims operations. Below is a recent sample. It should be noted that IAI attacks are claimed as having been carried out in coordination with other groups (“factions of the resistance”- to use their own words; see next paragraph) and “sons of the tribes.” The IAI’s reliance on coordination- unlike both ISIS and JAI, which can generally carry out attacks on their own- illustrates the relative military weakness of the group.
The recent operations- to be found in most Sunni Arab areas- have often occurred during and after moments of new crisis (e.g. the massacre of protestors at the Hawija site in April 2013 etc.). Otherwise, prior to the U.S. withdrawal, most IAI operations- tied in with its membership in the Iraqi Resistance Council- were directed at the “American enemy.”
|Date of Operation||Location||Type of Attack|
|30th December 2013||Makishifa (northern Samarra)||Attack on federal police with light and medium weaponry.|
|30th December 2013||Baiji, Salah ad-Din province||IED attack on government forces.|
|31st December 2013||Ramadi, Anbar province||Attack on Swat forces with light and medium weaponry on Street 17, including assault on governor’s building.|
|4th May 2013||Al-Qadisiya Quarter, Mosul||Clashes with the “Safavid army” with light and medium weaponry|
|26th April 2013||Al-Azim area (between Diyala and Kirkuk provinces)||Attack on “Safavid army” base.|
|26th April 2013||Makishifa||Clash with “Safavid army” convoy|
|26th April 2013||Fallujah, Anbar province||Attack on a federal police base with light and medium weaponry|
|26th April 2013||Al-Taji, Baghdad area||Attack on Iraqi army with 2 RPG7 missiles|
|25th April 2013||Sansal, Diyala province||Attack on army base with 82mm mortar rounds|
Figure 62: Recent IAI operations, all carried out in coordination with other factions
The group’s ideology is Sunni Iraqi nationalist and Salafist- deriving from the growth of Salafism among Iraq’s Sunnis in the 1990s, partly abetted by the Saddam regime’s adoption of a somewhat Islamic face- but nothing indicates support for a transnational project akin to the visions of ISIS and JAI. As can be seen from the above, one of the main overlaps is in the use of the term “Safavid” in opposition to the government and army.
Besides this, the IAI has also appealed to “our people [i.e. the Ahl al-Sunna] in Syria” in a message dated 2nd June 2013 on the Battle of Qusayr between Syrian rebels and Assad forces backed by Hezbollah, advising the rebels how best to conduct warfare in this case. The IAI suggested to the rebels to engage in “dispersed warfare, by striking as far away as you can in all places, in order to disperse the force of your enemy and broaden the arena of the blazing battle.”
The IAI went on to characterize the fight for Qusayr in religious terms, describing it as a “religious battle, as the enemy are only hostile to you for your faith, and only resent you for your aqeeda [creed],” adding that “Iran has truly made from Syria an arena advancing its malice and its criminal enterprises attacking the Ummah of Mohammed (PBUH)…announcing its waging war in Syria with the support of Iraq, which it destroyed, and the militias of Hizb ash-Shaytan, which it trained; it has also recruited for that battle all the despicable elements from the sectarian militias in Iraq, and has sent its elite forces to manage the conflict, so that it will be a Sunni identity battle just as it is in Iraq…so we announced offering support in all forms and without exception to our brothers in Syria.”
The IAI is distinguished from JAI and ISIS in having an official political office and wing, identifying with the old Ba’athist flag of Iraq. Thus, its official media spokesperson is one Sheikh Ahmad Dabbash, who has interacted with the Sunni protest movement that arose at the end of 2012. Specifically, he has been involved in interactions with the Herak Six Provinces Movement, being interviewed in July on a meeting held by the “’ulama of the Ahl al-Sunna” on the situation facing the Sunni community in Iraq.
Also of interest in this context is a statement from the media committee of the IAI put out on the 30th December 2012 (just as the protest movement took off), which states that “the Sunni Popular Movement (al-Hirak ash-Sha’abi as-Sunni, a Salafist subsidiary of the Six Provinces Movement that has primarily had influence in Anbar) represents an extension of what the Iraqi Resistance, which ended the American military occupation, has implemented, just as it represents an anchoring for its vision in change and reform that the commander of the Islamic Army of Iraq- may God protect him- expressed in the speech of victory on 6th January 2012, where he called for work to restore Iraq’s Arab and Islamic identity.”
This is the most explicit evidence for the Sunni Popular Movement as an activist wing of the IAI. The Sunni Popular Movement- established at the beginning of 2012 soon after the American withdrawal- has called for a Sunni federal region in Iraq, indicating in turn the IAI’s national focus in contrast to ISIS and JAI’s support for a Caliphate.
It is therefore apparent that the IAI has tried to exert more influence through politics and protests, but with the renewal of the insurgency, the IAI’s commander issued a new statement at the start of this year praising the mujahideen in general, “the descendants of Omar bin Khattab” (the second caliph and an important figure in Iraqi Sunni Arabs’ expression of identity), and declaring that “defensive jihad is an obligation on all people.”
Even so, the Sunni Popular Movement maintains its existence, and its spokesman- Sheikh Farouq al-Zufuri- gave an interview at the beginning of this month in which he emphasized that Fallujah- where he is currently serving as a member of the governing Majlis al-‘Ulama- is in the hands of local tribesmen and that, contrary to media claims, there are no “terrorists” in the town, later making it clear that by this word he means “da3esh and others.” Note again the derogatory term used for ISIS- the same one used by JAI members- indicating that IAI is at odds with ISIS, and to the extent that IAI is playing a role in insurgent control of Fallujah, it is doing so in coalition with other groups and not ISIS. Further clarification of the ISIS-insurgents relationship in Fallujah will be given later.
Figure 63: Just as the IAI’s amir placed emphasis on Sunnis as the “descendants of Omar bin Khattab,” so too this can be seen in photos released by the Sunni Popular Movement. This is from late December in the protest square in Ramadi: “We are all Omar.”
Figure 64: Sunni Popular Movement leaflets for distribution in Ramadi.
Figure 65: Reflecting the IAI’s message of support to Syrian rebels, the Sunni Popular Movement sometimes emphasized this theme in protests too where its activists played a part. FSA flag in Anbar province demonstration in mid-summer 2013.
Figure 66: Sheikh Ahmad Dabbash on al-Arabiya. Note the identification with Iraq’s old Ba’athist flag, again pointing to IAI’s nationalist-Islamist outlook.
Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqat al-Naqshbandia (JRTN)
Figure 67: JRTN logo. The above reads: “Supreme Command for Jihad and Liberation” [SCJL], which is mostly synonymous with JRTN.
JRTN- whose name translates to “Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order”- has been and remains Iraq’s main Ba’athist insurgent group. It is headed by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, who was Saddam’s right-hand man during the Ba’athist regime. The adherence to the Ba’athist vision, with its ideal of a unified pan-Arab body, is made clear in the logo of Figure 63, featuring countries with Arabic as an official language as one entity, besides the use of the old Ba’athist flag (that said, historically the Iraqi Ba’ath did not actively work to realize such a goal). Douri also heads the SCJL, of which the JRTN is by far the main component.
However, the JRTN also places an emphasis on the language of jihad and, as its name suggests, the Naqshbandi brand of Sufi Islam. Thus, in a statement outlining its aqeeda, the JRTN declares its first principle to be “the definition of tasawwuf [a Sufi principle] and its importance,” pointing out that “tasawwuf has many definitions so the qadi Zakariya al-Ansari who said: ‘Tasawwuf is knowledge by which the circumstances of the purification of souls are known as well as the purification of morals’.”
The second principle is “the Naqshbandi path,” as the JRTN proceeds to outline the origin of this path, concluding that “our aqeeda is derived from the book and the Sunnah with an understanding of Salf and Saleh, so we do not declare takfir on anyone from the Ahl al-Qibla.” Even with judges who do not give precedence to the law of God Almighty, the JRTN affirms it will offer them advice and not declared takfir “unless they abandon the law of God Almighty in disdain and scorn or have disavowed anything from knowledge of the religion by necessity.” The affirmation and explanation of rejection of takfir contrasts somewhat with JAI and ISIS’ willingness to declare takfir.
Coming to the language of jihad, one finds a statement released on 21st April 2013 by JRTN’s military spokesman after the Hawija massacre. The statement begins by citing the Qur’anic verse traditionally invoked as a justification for armed defensive jihad: namely, 22:39. He addresses the “sons of the Iraqi tribes, believing, patient, waging jihad,” but the Ba’athist ideology becomes clear as he also called them “sons of our Arab Islamic Ummah.” He laments the occupation of Iraq over 10 years by a Zionist-Persian-American conspiracy, while attacking the current “sectarian government.”
Figure 68: Renewed call for armed struggle by the JRTN’s military spokesman.
He goes on to speak of the protestors who showed up in the “squares of pride and dignity [the main sit-in squares] to turn towards their capital, Baghdad, demonstrate peacefully and demand the rights of the people…but the sectarian collaborationist government…prevented the people from [attaining] that…and has continued carrying out arrests, executions, followed by attacks on demonstrators and peaceful sit-ins in the demonstration and sit-in squares,” referencing clashes in Fallujah, Mosul, Diyala and Hawija. He cites the government’s actions as “evidence of its sectarianism,” and declares that the “peaceful demonstrations and sit-ins will not continue,” calling for a united front against the government.
It is important to note here that like the IAI, JRTN has maintained a political activist wing: namely, Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq, which existed prior to the outbreak of the protests at the end of 2012. That Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq is a front group for JRTN is demonstrable on numerous counts. For example, Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq’s social media pages routinely advertise new JRTN statements (and of no other militant group) as soon as they are released.
Figure 69: Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq logo.
The discourses of JRTN and Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq reveal several overlaps of themes, most notably the importance of reclaiming Baghdad. Thus in Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq protests, a common slogan has been “Qadimun, ya Baghdad” (“Coming, oh Baghdad!”), which is featured in a February 2013 protest in Diyala celebrating Naqshibandi presence in a village called Jalula. In a similar vein, there is a well-known JRTN nasheed entitled, “Ya Baghdad, jayna juyush jarara!” (“Oh Baghdad, we have come as huge armies!”), a refrain that has often been heard at Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq demonstrations, such as these two in Fallujah and Tikrit in February 2013. These slogans illustrate the revolutionary intentions of both JRTN and Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq.
Also of relevance is the fact that just as JRTN called for an end to peaceful protests after the Hawija massacre, Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq’s official spokesman- Dr. Ghazi Faisal- announced in an interview with the Saudi channel Wesal TV that the group was now abandoning the path of peaceful sit-ins and preparing to commit to armed jihad.
From late May 2013 until the end of December of that year, Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq output almost entirely ceased, likely coinciding with a subsequent JRTN retreat into the shadows after an upsurge in insurgent activity after Hawija, as JRTN and their supporters, who dominated the Hawija protest site, came to regret the clashes with the Iraqi army in light of Kurdish attempts to take advantage of the situation and expand.
Coinciding with JRTN influence, Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq tended to hold demonstrations in Diyala, Salah ad-Din, and Ninawa provinces. In Anbar, the influence was less apparent, and Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq supporters normally congregated in ‘extremists’ corner’ in Fallujah along with the ISIS supporters. One useful advantage of the existence of Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq was that, given its ties to JRTN, its own reports via social media (namely Facebook, though the original page has unfortunately been deleted) could be used to track JRTN-linked militant clashes (all deemed to be the work of “sons of the tribes”) with the Iraqi security forces, primarily tracing to the northern provinces.
This contrasts with the relative scant claimed attacks from JRTN’s official website, which gives occasional videos of missile and mortar strikes on claimed bases belonging to “the American enemy” (on the JRTN’s belief there is still an ongoing U.S. military presence and occupation). On other occasions, JRTN has sought to downplay accusations of conducting certain operations. Given JRTN’s Ba’athist ideology, it is naturally opposed to any notion of Kurdish autonomy, and has been accused by Kurds of planting car bombs in Kirkuk.
However, JRTN’s main official spokesman- Dr. Salah ad-Din al-Ayyubi- denied these allegations in a statement in May commenting on a recent attack in Kirkuk, affirming: “Verily our Iraqi people in all its sects have known our army over the past 10 years for its jihad and resistance to the occupiers, and we are proud of it…and as for the explosions targeting the sons of our people [in Kirkuk] and the killing of them in these savage ways, this is not of our nature….and indeed the sole perpetrator of these explosions and the like is the Safavid sectarian collaborationist government…as it spills the blood of Iraqis and carries out bomb attacks in the south, north and center, against Sunnis, Shi’a, Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen: against all sects and ethnicities of the Iraqi people.”
Figure 70: JRTN statement denying responsibility for car bombings in Kirkuk.
Note the language of this statement in trying to appeal across sectarian divides, even though it is quite apparent that the worldview of the JRTN- and its activist wing Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq- is based on Sunni Arab sectarianism: also adopted by the supreme commander Douri. This dissonance reflects the ideological tension between the Sunni Sufi Naqshbandi religious face and the underlying Ba’athist ideology, which in drawing members of the Ba’ath party did not in theory discriminate between sect and would even draw in non-Arabs to espouse the cause (cf. Taha Yassin Ramadan, the Kurdish vice-president of Iraq under Saddam).
JRTN cross-sectarian messaging has occurred elsewhere. The most recent example is the case of the string of “Military Councils for the Revolutionaries of the Tribes” (MCRTs, though sometimes the word ‘tribes’ is omitted) that have sprung up in multiple areas since the start of this year. The origin of this phenomenon can be traced to the “Military Council for the Revolutionaries of the Tribes of Anbar,” which issued a statement emphasizing a role in defending the tribesmen against government aggression, while also stating “we do not accept any harm against any sect, school of thought or ethnicity.” Though the council, which is currently dominant in Fallujah, does use the old Ba’athist flag of Iraq, it is by no means the case that JRTN is the dominant faction.
Nevertheless, the subsequent military councils that have sprung up elsewhere are primarily a JRTN (or to cover more broadly, SCJL) phenomenon, while JRTN’s official website has since 1st January. Whereas the Anbar MCRT maintains its own Youtube channel, subsequent MCRTs have been announced via Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq’s channel, with social media pages from these other areas sometimes sharing JRTN graphics and others praising Saddam.
Note in particular the case of the announcement via Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq of an MCRT for Karbala province- featuring a portrait of Ali to emphasize a Shi’i identity. A parallel to this JRTN cross-sectarian messaging occurred in May 2013 when Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq featured a photo on its now deleted Facebook page showing a joint Sunni-Shi’i prayer in solidarity against the “Safavid” occupation of Iraq, highlighting for good measure those praying in the Shi’i manner with their arms by their sides.
The downside of the Ba’athist ideology and the cross-sectarian messaging is liability to arouse suspicion from both ISIS and JAI circles about whether the JRTN can ultimately be seen as a true ally for advancing the cause of the Ahl al-Sunna. In turn, JRTN and front components can have differing attitudes about the likes of ISIS.
Thus, while MCRT in Mosul can hail ISIS in Ninawa province- namely, as the “lions of the desert” who represent their “hope” in the fight against the government- JRTN-linked fighters in Fallujah- expressing their hopes to conquer Baghdad (a common JRTN theme)- and emphasize that they are not ISIS, using the derisive acronym da3esh to refer to ISIS. As for ISIS and JAI circles, one ISIS supporter in Iraq told me that “they [JRTN] use words by which you can know what is their manhaj [political program]: ‘nationality, Arab ummah, civilians.’ [So] of course [I have] no trust [in them].” In a similar vein, my JAI-supporting friend in Mosul dismissed the JRTN as a group standing for “mundane things.”
Figure 71: JRTN statement released on 1st January 2014 with a renewed call for uprising, in particular urging local tribesmen in the local police, army and security forces of Anbar to turn against the Safavid sectarian occupation government. From this point onwards, new official JRTN output via its own site has ceased, and is instead being channeled through new partial/complete front groups primarily in the form of MCRTs.
Figure 72: MCRT Anbar statement released on 2nd January 2014.
Figure 73: Example of a pro-JRTN/Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq graphic in non-Anbar MCRT social media (in this case Diyala province), featuring familiar slogan “Qadimun ya Baghdad.”
Figure 74: Another example of JRTN cross-sectarian messaging. Formation of a Turkmen MCRT in Kirkuk area, released via Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq on 22nd January. The speaker begins by citing Qur’an 61:4, then speaks in Turkmen and appeals to all sects- Sunni, Shi’a, Kurds, Arabs etc.- to unite in the uprising.
Figure 75: MCRT for Karbala. Note the portrait of Ali to emphasize a Shi’i identity. Similar appeal as in Figure 70 to all sects.
Figure 76: MCRT for Baiji, Salah ad-Din province, announced via Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq on 18th January. Note the Ba’athist Iraq army uniforms here.
Figure 77: Parallel to the MCRTs is a new “General Leadership for the Regional Defense Forces,” headed by one Ba’athist Iraq army officer called Mustafa al-Zubaydi, whose face is obscured. The distinction between this new group and the JRTN/SCJL is not clear-cut, and I liken the situation to the various Iranian proxy Shi’a militias in Iraq that are really just mirror fronts for one another (cf. ISIS and some muhajireen battalions in Syria).
Figure 78: Older photo of JRTN mujahideen.
Figure 79: JRTN mujahideen training exercises: crossing a deep stream.
Figure 80: Target practice for JRTN members.
Figure 81: JRTN mujahideen practice martial arts.
Figure 82: JRTN mujahideen: incapacitated, yet committed to jihad.
Figure 83: JRTN fighters.
Figure 84: JRTN weaponry on display.
Figure 85: JRTN mujahideen spar in martial arts.
Jaysh al-Izza wa al-Karama (ADP)
Figure 86: Logo of the ADP.
Jaysh al-Izza wa al-Karama, whose name translates to “Army of Pride and Dignity” (hence the “ADP” acronym used above), is a new group that first arose in Anbar at the very end of last year, with subsequent branches claimed in other Sunni areas under a supposed general leadership with an official media spokesman (Dr. Mohammed Naser al-Abdallah). However, it is by no means apparent that this group has a strict formal command structure, but is rather just a banner around which those wishing to take up arms can gather, and it should be noted that this name is not original and was used as a meme several times in the 2012-13 protests.
Here is an excerpt of the ADP’s first statement:
“Oh sons of our Islamic Ummah, oh sons of our great Iraqi people, falsehood has continued in its oppression and darkness, and its [falsehood’s] people have not ceased in what they have obtained from the bloodshed of our youth, forcing our people to emigrate, arresting our men, and violation of our dignity…and they committed aggression on our people in the province of Anbar with killing and violation of our taboos in the ugliest manner that the raiding armies do in another attempt by which they want to dispossess [us] of pride and dignity before dispossessing us of identity, entity and life.”
Figure 87: First ADP statement.
Figure 88: ADP statement claiming mortar round attacks on army bases in Diyala province. Note that it is signed by the “General Leadership.”
The next branch to emerge was in Mosul, with the speaker citing Qur’an 22:39 as a justification for a defensive jihad: “We are mujahideen from the sons of Mosul, we announce the formation Jaysh al-Izza wa al-Karama in Mosul,” while declaring solidarity with their “brothers” in Anbar against the aggression of Maliki and his “militias,” who are also said to be operating in Mosul. Subsequent videos of ADP operations have emerged, including al-Mal’ab quarter in Ramadi, al-Karma in the Fallujah area, Agricultural Reform quarter in Mosul, and Samarra. In terms of the attitudes towards ISIS, there is no evidence of hostility, as the ADP hailed the “heroes of the revolutionaries of the tribes” [i.e. ISIS] for capturing members of the security forces in Ramadi.
Kata’ib Thuwar al-Sunna
Figure 89: Logo of Kata’ib Thuwar al-Sunna
Like ADP, this group also seems to be primarily a banner rather than an organization like ISIS or JAI.
Figure 90: Kata’ib Thuwar al-Sunna operation in al-Jami’a quarter, Baghdad, targeting local police. Video released on 8th January 2014.
Figure 91: Kata’ib Thuwar al-Sunna targeting Iraqi army in al-Doura, Baghdad, with IED device. 12th January 2014.
This year represents a renewal of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq. While 2013 with its upsurge in violence might be seen as analogous to 2003, this year could be seen as analogous to 2004 with the ongoing battle for control of Ramadi and Fallujah, two key cities of the insurgency a decade ago. However, it is clear that ISIS remains by far the most powerful in terms of financial resources and ability to conduct operations.
Further, the insurgency- given that Sunni Arabs remain a demographic minority, the government has established security forces, and the Sunni Arabs lost the Battle for Baghdad in 2006-7- remains unable to overthrow the government. Of the other groups, JRTN and its fronts remain the most viable nationalist alternative to ISIS for those wishing to take up arms, but it is by no means apparent, despite the apparent tensions between ISIS and JAI in particular, that the other groups can pose a viable challenge to ISIS militarily for now, preoccupied as they are with fighting government forces. Attitudes remain too diverse for a Sahwa 2.0, though an attempt at such an initiative may well happen if ISIS overplays its hand again.
Fault for the renewal of the insurgency- rather than fatalistic ‘spillover’ from Syria (in fact, the ‘spillover’ generally goes the other way round) primarily lies with the Shi’a-led government’s policies: not simply Maliki. Many commentators have pointed to the need for de-Ba’athification reform to conciliate the Sunni Arab population, but it is often forgotten that Maliki in cooperation with Sunni deputy premier Saleh al-Mutlaq, who has since turned against the government and denounced the army as “sectarian,” did put de-Ba’athification reform legislation to the parliament last spring, which was then blocked by Sunni opponents of Mutlaq within the highly fragmented Iraqiya bloc and the Sadrists, despite the media narrative of Muqtada al-Sadr as someone who supports Sunni protest demands.
That said, Maliki’s own paranoia and overreactions were behind two key moves that gave boosts to the insurgency: namely, moving in on the Hawija protest site (resulting in a massacre; it is true that acting Defense Minister Sa’adun Dulaimi, a Sunni Arab, also called for move, but he has no real power and is a de facto figurehead for Maliki’s monopoly on security and defense), and the move against the Ramadi protest site. In the case of the latter, a desire to win Shi’a support for the upcoming elections must be part of the explanation, as I observed Shi’a both in Iraq and in exile declaring support for the Ramadi blunder.
The timescale for quelling the current insurgency will require years of work, and not merely months, as the problem is no longer just one one of lack of local Sunni cooperation with the security forces, but people returning to take up arms. Some elements remain irredeemable: above all ISIS. Hence, military force cannot be excluded as a part of the solution. However, ultimately the Shi’a political blocs as a whole must understand the need for security forces- in particular the army- to be less heavy-handed towards Sunni locals and for political reforms to reverse aspects of de-Ba’athification that have essentially been de-Sunnification. In turn, Ayad Allawi of Iraqiya needs to appreciate that his bloc- to the extent that it can even be called a coalition- has been a total failure in trying to advance Sunni Arab interests, as he has spent most of his time in exile and has failed to prevent fragmentation of the bloc.
NOTE: For prior parts in the Hizballah Cavalcade series you can view an archive of it all here.
Faylak Wa’ad al-Sadiq: The Repackaging of an Iraqi “Special Group” for Syria
By Phillip Smyth
Figure 1: Faylak Wa’ad al-Sadiq’s logo. The top line reads: “The Islamic Resistance in Iraq” (“Al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya fi al-Iraq”). The bottom says, “The Truthful Promise Corps” (“Faylaq al-Wa’ad al-Sadiq”). The logo features the map of Iraq in the center with a blackened figure holding an RPG-7.
Officially known as Al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya fi al-Iraq-Faylaq al-Wa’ad al-Sadiq or The Islamic Resistance in Iraq-The Truthful Promise Corps (FWS), this organization has made some waves in Arabic-language media following the discovery of some of its images on social media networks. Led by a Secretary General, FWS’s current leader is Iraqi Shia Sheikh Abu ‘Ammar al-Tamimi (A.K.A. Shiekh ‘Ammar). The organization also claims to be based in the holy city of Najaf, Iraq. It is clear from assessing the trajectory of public statements and their social media presence that the FWS appears to be increasing its public presence in an effort to establish the belief there are further organized Shia Islamist force deployments in Syria.
The group’s name references Lebanese Hizballah’s Secretary General’s long-standing goal to kidnap Israeli soldiers. This “promise” came to fruition in July 2006, when fighters from Lebanese Hizballah attacked an Israeli military convoy and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and killed three. The attack spurred what would turn into the more than a month long 2006 Hizballah-Israel War.
It is unclear whether it was created immediately following the 2006 Hizballah-Israel War or if it was established later in 2010-2011.
Reportedly, the FWS was first established to “fight the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the collaborators [associated with it]”. In January 2012, FWS claimed it had no interest in running for elections or becoming part of the Iraqi government. In August 2012, the FWS’s spokesperson Sheikh ‘Amr al-Lami, claimed the group changed paths and stated it would instead focus on civil projects. One year later, the organization claimed to have sent its first fighters (from a “military wing”) to Syria in order to, “defend shrines”. “Shrine defense” has been the most prevalent narrative used by Iranian-backed Shia Islamist fighting groups which have deployed to Syria.
The group also made its first video and a group musical anthem public in January 2014. Though it appears to have been uploaded in February 2012. It is possible FWS uploaded the clip many months ago, then made it “private”, only to re-release it as part of a ramping-up of their public image. In the short clip, the FWS-subgroup which claims the attack is called Kata’ib Musa al-Khadhim-Sariyya ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir (The Musa al-Khadhim Brigade-‘Ammar Ibn Yasir Unit). Musa al-Khadhim references the seventh Imam in Twelver Shia Islam. The targeted vehicle in the clip appears to be a U.S. armored HMMWV.  The naming of subdivisions after imams is a common form utilized by Iranian-backed Iraqi special groups.
Little was known about the organization during the Iraq War (2003) and it had few announcements. The group also claimed to have its own webpage (since 2011). However, when the page is visited, it does not load. Instead, with public appearances and statements by its leadership, it seems that since the summer of 2013, FWS has been dusted-off and repurposed for a new mission in Syria. September 2013 saw FWS start its initial postings on social media pages it had done little with since opening them in 2011.
This may indicate that the FWS was little more than a front-type group during the Iraq War (2003) which may now field rebranded fighters from other groups for the fight in Syria. In turn, this helps create perception of broader Iraqi Shia support for the concept of Wilayat al-Faqih and of this ideological grouping’s war in Syria. Comments on the page largely praised the leadership of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq. This mirrors newly created front groups such as Harakat Hizballah al-Nujaba (or Harakat al-Nujaba), which fields fighters from Kata’ib Hizballah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), has a leader from AAH’s ranks, yet is cast as independent organization. Photos of fighters from Harakat al-Nujaba front militias in Syria and those from Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq have found a presence on FWS’s Facebook page and adjoining profiles.
In addition to the organization’s name and links to other Iraqi Shia “special groups”, another element further cementing its relationship with Iran and its proxy militant groups, was the group claiming adherence to the concept of Wilayat al-Faqih. Wilayat al-Faqih, or the Absolute Guardianship by a Jurisprudent is Iran’s form of radical theocratic governing system. In August of 2013, the reported leader of FWS visited Beirut and confirmed his loyalty to the political-religious ideology. The lead jurisprudent, or Wali al-Faqih, who is followed by FWS is Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. The organization’s imagery also details their loyalty to Khamenei.
Little is known about FWS’s combat abilities, force size, or deployments. In photos released by the group, it has been shown they have what can be considered a normal small-arms accompaniment, ranging from PKM-type machineguns to Kalashnikov pattern rifles. One important detail about deployments in Syria was that the FWS has only claimed (so far) to have specifically fought in one area, Aleppo. This further helps tie the group to Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq’s Harakat al-Nujaba and their Liwa’a ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir (LAIY). LAIY was the first Iraqi Shia Islamist group to announce they were fighting in Aleppo. The announcement also coincided with the December 2013-January 2014 increase in announced Shia Islamist military activities in Rif Aleppo and the city.
Figure 2: These photos, posted in mid-December, claimed to show an FWS fighter in Aleppo, Syria.
Figure 3: The FWS flag flies on a BMP-1 armored personnel carrier. It is unknown whether this flag was placed on an Iranian, Iraqi, or Syrian BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle.
Figure 4: “ma’rkat al-haq dhud al-batl al-wa’ad sadiq qadm” or the “Battle of truth against falsehood, the truthful promise is coming”.
Figure 5: This photo claims these are Faylak Wa’ad al-Sadiq personnel. However, the photo has been posted by other Shi’a Islamist fighting groups.
Figure 6: Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Muhammed Muhammed Sadiq Sadr look from the sky down at burned-out U.S. armored vehicles. An Iraqi flag graphic is flows from the lower-right corner.
Figure 7: Another poster featuring Iranian Surpreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Muhammed Muhammed Sadiq Sadr.
Figure 8: FWS fighters pose in front of a tank.
Figure 9: Uniformed FWS members pose with the group’s flag while flanked by Iraqi flags. Note the FWS patches worn by these 6 members.
Figure 10: The FWS flag.
Figure 11: FWS fighters hold up the group’s flag.
Figure 12: Another piece of FWS symbolism.
 See: http://books.google.com/books?id=8P9-VqpNRv4C&pg=PA37&lpg=PA37&dq=truthful+promise+Hezbollah&source=bl&ots=wYIfw_CuBR&sig=bRTFuFfUKndyNG_lIhiVcmJ8iVY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=GKbTUtbMC9KikQfD9ICwDg&ved=0CEMQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=truthful%20promise%20Hezbollah&f=false
 See: https://now.mmedia.me/lb/ar/10questionsar/%D8%B2%D8%B9%D9%8A%D9%85-%D9%81%D9%8A%D9%84%D9%82-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%88%D8%B9%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%82-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82%D9%8A-%D9%86%D8%AA%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%87%D9%89-%D9%88%D8%AD%D8%B2%D8%A8-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%84%D9%87-%D9%88%D9%86%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%81%D8%B9-%D8%B9%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%82%D8%AF%D8%B3%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A8%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A7
 It’s interesting to note the potential connections between Harakat al-Nujaba’s Liwa’a ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir and the FWS. In this case, the FWS supposedly named one of their units after him too. It is likely this is not a coincidence. See paragraphs below this section.
 See: https://now.mmedia.me/lb/ar/10questionsar/%D8%B2%D8%B9%D9%8A%D9%85-%D9%81%D9%8A%D9%84%D9%82-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%88%D8%B9%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%82-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82%D9%8A-%D9%86%D8%AA%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%87%D9%89-%D9%88%D8%AD%D8%B2%D8%A8-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%84%D9%87-%D9%88%D9%86%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%81%D8%B9-%D8%B9%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%82%D8%AF%D8%B3%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A8%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A7
al-I’tiṣām Media presents a new video message from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shām: “Series of the Life From the Words of the ‘Ulamā’ on the Project of the Islamic State #2: Usāmah Bin Lādin”
NOTE: Click here for the first part in this video series.
NOTE: For prior parts in the Hizballah Cavalcade series you can view an archive of it all here.
Khamenei’s Cannon: .50 Caliber Anti-Material Rifles & Shia Fighters in Syria
By Phillip Smyth
Figure 1: Combatants from Liwa’a ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir. The fighter on the left likely holds an Iranian-copy of the HS.50 rifle.
Since April 2013, around the same time Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas was first gaining broader exposure and name-recognition, another sub-trend started to appear in the photos showing Shia Islamist fighters in Syria. This trend remained minor and occasional. However, starting in October, there have been increasing examples of foreign Shia Islamist fighters being pictured with long range bolt-action anti-material rifles.
It is possible these weapons were the bolt-action HS.50, .50 caliber (12.7x99mm) rifles produced by Austria’s Steyr Mannlicher. According to The Telegraph, 800 of the rifles were shipped to Iran in 2007. However, according to the Brown Moses Blog, it is far more probable that these rifles are actually Iranian copies which were shipped to Syria. Since the winter of 2012, pro-Iranian social media has also praised the Iranian-made copy of the rifle. Still, serial numbers on the weapons are often hidden, making absolute confirmation difficult.
The original Steyr Mannlicher sale of these long-range weapons caused worries among British and U.S. policymakers and military personnel due to the fear they would be supplied to Iranian-created and supplied Shi’a Islamist “special groups” in Iraq. These groups included Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and Kata’ib Hizballah. Both of these organizations are now sending forces to Syria.
Anti-material sniper rifles of this caliber have found a welcome place in Western military services. The U.S. military fields the M107 semi-automatic .50 caliber rifle as do a number of other militaries. In October, 2012 one of these weapons killed a Taliban member in Afghanistan from a distance of 2,475 meters.
Presently in Syria, these types of rifles have been used by both rebels and pro-Assad forces. Nevertheless, the outfitting of highly organized foreign Shia fighter manned organizations may demonstrate a shift in tactics and training.
Groups using the rifle in Syria span the full spectrum of organizations backed by Iran. Lebanese Hizballah has been a primary poster of images with the weapon. Additionally, Iraq-based Harakat Hizballah al-Nujaba’s (a front for Kata’ib Hizballah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq) Syria-based front militias, Liwa’a ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir and Liwa’a al-Hamad have posted photos of their militants with the rifle. Iraq’s Badr Organization’s Quwet Shahid Muhammed Baqir Sadr and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada have posted their own images of their fighters with the HS.50 type rifle. Other Shia fighters from unnamed organizations have also been pictured with the weapon.
Films featuring Shia militia groups using the HS. 50 type rifles in combat in Syria have been extremely rare. Usually only photos are posted.
The first film showing Shia Islamist militias in Syria using the rifle was posted to Facebook and YouTube pages associated with the Badr Organization’s Quwet Shahid Baqir Sadr (BOQSBS), the group’s expeditionary unit in Syria. The BOQSBS has also been a main poster of high-quality images showing their combatants wielding these types of anti-material rifles. Around a minute of footage showing BOQSBS fighters using the weapon was inserted into a much longer film made to demonstrate the group’s activities in Syria (see below at minute markers 1:59-2:23).
Due to the high level of operational security employed by these groups, potential failures or successes of the rifle in combat are often not showcased. Operations using the rifle have also not been detailed on the many social media pages run by Iranian-backed Shia militia groups inside Syria. In fact, the rifle has rarely been named or described by Shia Islamist militia pages. Nevertheless, these rifles have become a regular feature in images featuring fallen fighters.
Such a capability, even if deliberately showcased for propaganda purposes, should be taken seriously by regional and global military forces. Iranian equipped and trained snipers, utilizing smaller caliber rifles, demonstrated a lethal efficiency during the Iraq War (2003). Their utilization of smaller caliber-wielding snipers (particularly using the SVD-type rifles) demonstrates a concentration on sniping tactics.
Some Possible Reasons Why the Rifles Are Appearing More
- Propaganda Purposes: Some of the photos of fighters holding the rifle appear to be posed images meant to showcase the size of the weapon (representing power) in comparison to the fighter. Additionally, since it is probably a copy, showing the rifle in operations overseas is a sign that Iranian-made weapons are of a high quality. Proxy organizations may also see the rifle as a symbol of advancement and as a sign they are comparable to first-world armies. The weapon may also be a sign to rebel groups that Shia militants have more advanced capabilities.
- General Incorporation into the Order of Battle: The rifle could have possibly become more prolific with increased foreign-manned Shia militia operations.
- Offensive Operations: Since the start of main offensives in October and increase in numbers of Shia fighters, it is possible the rifle has found more use and acceptance by fighters.
The Rifle & Its Shia Islamist Users
Figure 2: Lebanese Hizballah’s Ali al-Hadi Nuwn shown holding the weapon on his shoulder. (Left)
Figure 3: Another posed-photo of Lebanese Hizballah’s Ali al-Hadi Nuwn. In this picture he is taking aim with the .50 caliber rifle. (Right)
Figure 4: Hizballah commander Ja’afar Husayn Hashim with the rifle. He was reported to have been killed in Syria on November 1, 2013.
Figure 5: Hizballah’s Khadr Ahmed Matar, declared killed in Syria on December 20, is shown standing in the snow with the rifle.
Figure 6: Qasim Ghamloush is shown holding the .50 caliber rifle. His death was announced by Hizballah on December 7, 2013.
Figure 7: Ali Husayn Salah (A.K.A. Sheikh Hadi) is seen holding the rifle over his Kalashnikov-pattern weapon. Salah was also reported to have been killed in Syria on December 7, 2013.
Figure 8: An October photo of a fighter from Liwa’a al-Hamad taking aim with the HS.50-type rifle.
The Badr Organization – Quwet al-Shahid Muhammed Baqir Sadr
Figure 9: Following the announcement that the Badr Organization had created its own expeditionary force for Syria, this was one of the first photos they posted online.
Figure 10: A Badr Organization-Quwet al-Shahid Muhammed Baqir al-Sadr is shown holding the HS. 50 type rifle.
Liwa’a ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir:
Figure 11: A commander from Liwa’a Ammar Ibn Yasir is seen holding the .50 caliber rifle.
Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada:
Fighters from Other Groups:
Figure 12: The Shia militia effort’s “first African martyr” (Muhammed Suleiman al-Kuwni) is shown holding the rifle.
Figure 13: A fighter from an unnamed Shia Islamist militia (likely Liwa’a ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir) take aim with his rifle.
Figure 14: Alla’ Ibrahim (possibly from Liwa’a Zulfiqar), an Iraqi Shi’a fighter buried on November 30, 2013 holds the rifle over his shoulder.
Figure 15: An edited shot of Alla’ Ibrahim shows him posting with the rifle.
Figure 16: A Shia fighter from an unnamed militia group is shown with the HS. 50-type rifle.
 The Oryx Blog has an excellent post on HS. 50-type rifles in Syria: http://spioenkop.blogspot.com/2013/04/syria-and-her-hs50s.html. The post is from April 27, 2013 and pictures of Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas members with the rifle.
 See: http://brown-moses.blogspot.com/2013/04/anti-material-rifles-in-syria.html. See also: http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2012/07/16/mysterious-iranian-50-cals-part-3/. This post by The Firearms Blog should also be read when assessing the rifle in question.
al-Ma’sadat Media Foundation presents new research from Abū al-Khaṭāb al-Maqdisī: “The Demise of the Jewish State From Iraq”
Click the following link for a safe PDF copy: Abū al-Khaṭāb al-Maqdisī — “The Demise of the Jewish State From Iraq”
To inquire about a translation for this article for a fee email: email@example.com
al-Ma’sadat Media Foundation presents new research from Qalim Mūwaḥid: “The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shām: Insight Into the Reality of the March”
Click the following link for a safe PDF copy: Qalim Mūwaḥid — “The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shām- Insight Into the Reality of the March”
To inquire about a translation for this research for a fee email: firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTE: For prior parts in the Hizballah Cavalcade series you can view an archive of it all here.
Sariyya al-Tali’a al-Khurasani: A New Combat-Tested Shia Militia in Syria
By Phillip Smyth (email@example.com)
Figure 1: The STK’s logo (left) and flag (right). The logo includes Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s symbol. A verse from the Quran, Quran 29:69 meaning, “And those who strive for us [in jihad] we will surely guide them to our [Islamic] ways”. Over the rifle the phrase reads, “The Islamic Resistance”.
Figure 2: Another logo used by the STK.
In late September, Sariyya al-Tali’a al-Khurasani (STK or The Vanguards of Khurasani Unit), also referred to as the Khurasani Unit, first made itself known to the world via Facebook. The group may draw their name from Abu Muslim al-Khurasani (A.K.A. Abu Muslim), an 8th century military leader who helped depose the Sunni Umayyad dynasty’s rule over the early Islamic caliphate. The STK also claims to be based out of Arbil, Iraq, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. According to the Khurasani Unit’s own releases, it appears to exclusively operate in a military function in rural areas outside of Damascus, Syria.
Technically, the STK was first announced on September 24, 2013 on Facebook. However, it is possible the group’s first page was made “private” and another mirror page was setup in its stead. Thus, the initial announcement of the group’s existence was hidden. The mirror page which first helped formally announce STK’s creation was made on October 8, 2013. Both pages hold unique images from the group and promote the same general messages. As with other Shia militias in Syria, the group claims to defend the Sayyida Zaynab shrine and promotes general pro-Iranian pan-Shia narratives. The promotion of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and of their own Shia identity through the posting of photos showing Shia clerics in their ranks is a regular theme.
Most of the STK’s imagery was posted in October. In fact, there were days when eight new images were posted on both of their Facebook sites. STK has also released extensive footage showing its fighters in combat inside Syria. This footage has included numerous photos of its fighters, including those of wounded members, and videos of the group engaged in combat. A particular feature of STK propaganda has been images showing the fighters posing with the group’s flag. Only the Badr Organization’s Syria unit, Quwet Shahid Baqir al-Sadr, has also engaged in extensive posting of images featuring their organization’s flag with their fighters in Syria.
While Shia Islamist organizations fighting in and contributing fighters to Syria have done little to hide their connections to Iran, STK went the extra step and actually repackaged Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ logo as their own. Their blatant promotion of Iran’s Supreme Leader in many of their posts leaves no illusions to which Shia clerical leader or ideology to which the group swears loyalty.
Unlike other Shia militias (E.G. Liwa’a ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir, Liwa’a al-Imam al-Hasan al-Mujtaba, and Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas) fighting in Syria, the STK has not stated which (if any) Iraqi Shia organizations have contributed fighters to the group.
The number of fighters in STK’s ranks is unknown, though their leadership has been identified. STK, has been reported to be fighting around Damascus’s Sayyida Zaynab Shrine and in the rural area near Damascus called Ghouta. Videos showing engagements featuring their fighters went viral among Syrian rebel supporters and Shia militia supporters online. In part, this has been due to the fact that their videos appear less staged (e.g. Shia militiamen firing a few rounds from a sniper rifle) and are much longer than others produced.
Figure 3: Two STK fighters pose in front of a truck holding the organization’s flag.
Ali al-Yasiri: The STK’s Commander
The immediate announcement of commanders for specific Shia fighting units in Syria is usually not a common theme. Less than two weeks after the first Facebook post made by the STK, it was announced by the group that their commander was named Ali al-Yasiri. Yasiri is shown in many photographs posted by the organization on its Facebook pages. Yasiri was also shown in photographs featuring Sayyid Muhammed Jawad al-Madrasi, a Shia cleric.
Figure 4: Ali Yasiri is shown with Sayyid Jawad al-Madrasi. On Facebook, the group identified the cleric as, “Ajwad Madrasi”.
Figure 5: Yasiri and another unnamed STK fighter pose at Zaynab’s tomb.
Figure 6: Yasiri and an unnamed fighter pose with an unnamed cleric at Zaynab’s tomb. All three figures have been featured in other photos released by STK.
Figure 7: Yasiri (left) and the same unnamed fighter pose together for a photo. The fighter on the right holds an SVD type sniper rifle.
STK’s Fighters & Equipment
Little information is available on the numbers of fighters STK has operating in the field. Judging from their photographs, the group has over twenty members. The arms the group uses mimic the varieties used by other Shia militias. Most of these weapons are Kalashnikov-type rifles, SVD-type sniper rifles, RPG-7s, and the PKM-type machine guns. The group has also been recorded using light mortars in clashes in rural areas outside of Damascus.
In addition to their small-arms, the militia’s uniforms appear to include types of U.S.-style digitized camouflage. Some of the group’s uniforms include M81-type woodland camouflage and Desert Camouflage Uniform-type patterns. Also, other unidentified types of camouflage patterns have been seen on the STK’s fighters.
Interestingly, many of the same faces are featured in photographs of STK fighters. In fact, one in particular, that of a Shia Islamic cleric wearing a black turban, can be spotted in many photos of STK militiamen. His inclusion may be a way the group demonstrates their Shia Islamic identity. The Badr Organization has also included clerics in their militia photos in a similar effort.
Figure 8: STK fighters pose for a photo in East Ghouta, Syria.
Figure 9: STK fighters pose with the group’s flag and light weapons.
Figure 10: STK fighters pose in their uniforms and headbands.
Figure 11: An STK machine gunner.
Figure 12: An STK fighter holds his rifle as he stands with other members of his organization.
Figure 13: STK fighters pose around an RPG-7 and the group’s banner.
Figure 14: STK militiamen pose for the camera. The fighter on the right holds an RPG-7.
Figure 15: STK fighters stand and kneel together with their weapons as they pose for photographs.
Figure 16: Older and younger fighters sitting together in Rif Dimashq.
Figure 17: STK fighters take a break during fighting. The photo appears to be taken in the same area where some videos of STK combat engagements occurred.
Figure 18: STK fighters, one appearing to be a Shia cleric, hold a mixture of small-arms.
Figure 19: STK militiamen and a fighter in a black turban (signifying clerical status and descent from the Islamic Prophet Muhammed) relax in Rif Dimashq.
Figure 20: STK fighters at prayer time.
Figure 21: STK fighters. The fighter on the left has an SVD-type sniper rifle.
Figure 22: An injured fighter is shown with his compatriots and a Shia cleric.
Figure 23: The same injured fighter flashes a “V for victory” symbol from his bed.
STK on Film
STK’s combat videos were first released in October and were quickly disseminated on Shia militia social media. When Syrian rebels came across the films in the weeks after their release, often the fighters were incorrectly branded as members of Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas.
The first of the videos STK released shows the group fighting from a structure in Rif Dimashq. Save for the caption and titles on the videos posted, there was nothing which identified the fighters in the film as members of STK. In two other combat videos it show STK militiamen operating in East Ghouta section of Rif Dimashq, firing mortars, RPGs, rifles, and other weapons.
 Matthew S. Gordon, The Rise of Islam, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), Pp. 47-48.
 See al-Madrasi’s Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%AF-%D9%85%D8%AD%D9%85%D8%AF-%D8%AC%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%AF%D8%B1%D8%B3%D9%8A/178591738857323 The page has not been updated since 2012 and little information is available about the cleric online.