'Islamic Army in Iraq' seems to be fragmenting...(Updated)
According to the usually reliable Voices of Iraq website (Arabic), the Islamic Army of Iraq’s branch in Anbar Province has pledged its allegiance to the ‘Islamic State of Iraq’ and vowed to follow the example of Al-Qaeda’s Abu Hamza al-Muhajir. This declaration came about in the form of pamphlets distributed by militants claiming to belong to the IAI-Anbar in the western town of Hit.
To my eyes, it seems like the IAI is fragmenting. They were recently engaged in talks with US officials in Amman.
Al-Muhajir had earlier called upon the Islamic Army to head his call:
The highpoint of the speech is a full and binding pledge of allegiance to the “Qurayshite and Hashemite, descendant of Hussein, the Prince of the Faithful, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi [This is important because in theory, at least, the Caliph must be descended from Banu Hashim, the Prophet Muhammad’s tribe].” He pledges the “12000 fighter” strong “Army of Al-Qaeda” as well as another “10,000” men “whose preparation are still not complete” to fight alongside Abu Omar al-Baghdadi “to the death.”This development comes in the wake of the IAI’s recent call to fight the Shi'as (discussed thoroughly here on the Marc Lynch’s blog). Furthermore, credible news reports were claiming that the IAI’s iconic fighter, Juba the Sniper, had been captured by the Iraqi police—a heavy blow to the IAI’s prestige among insurgents.
Al-Muhajir then addresses the other factions of the jihad in Iraq, namely the “Jaish Ansar Al-Sunna,” the Islamic Army of Iraq, and the Army of the Mujaheddin and extols their bravery and achievements, and calls upon them as Al-Qaeda’s brothers in purpose to unite under al-Baghdadi’s banner.
The Ansar al-Sunna, who were also called upon by al-Muhajir to pledge allegiance to al-Baghdado, are also experiencing a hard time: eleven of their top commanders in Central Iraq were arrested recently, according to the US military.
Here’s a recent Talisman Gate post on the IAI’s ideological migration from Iraq-specific issues to a pan-Middle Eastern jihadist agenda.
UPDATE (Wednesday, December 6, 2006):
The photos, pseudonyms and rankings of the captured Ansar al-Sunna leaders are out. It seems that the Iraqi government has scored a big coup against this group, which was effectively second only to al-Qaeda in its viciousness. Good job!
UPDATE (Thursday, December 7, 2006):
The full names of the Ansar al-Sunna leaders have been released:
-‘Abu Mustafa’: Ramadhan Muhammad Salih Ahmad Bilbas [Identified as one of the founders of the group and responsible for military affairs. Name and face seems Syrian to me.]
-‘Abu Wisam’: Taha Ahmad Pir Daoud Al-Sarkhi [Identified as an al-Qaeda facilitator and Ansar al-Sunna liaise with Al-Qaeda. Probably of Kurdish extraction.]
-‘Abu Ja’afar’: ‘Adnan ‘Abdullah ‘Ileiwi Muhammad al-‘Ithawi [Personal assistant to ‘Abu Mustafa’ and in charge of the groups finances and coordination.]
-‘Abu Taha’: Hatem ‘Abdul-Ghaffar Muslim Muhammad al-Shimmeri [Emir of al-Qa’im and Western Anbar Province. Identified as a former Colonel in the Iraqi Army.]
-‘Abu ‘Assim’: ‘Abdul-Baset ‘Abdul-Razzak Hassan ‘Ali al-‘Abbasi [Emir of Tikrit. Probably originally from Samarra.]
-‘Abu Bandar’: ‘Ali Hussein ‘Ali ‘Abdullah al-Zendi [Emir of Ba’qouba. Probably of Kurdish extraction.]
-‘Abu Nujaila’: Amjed ‘Abdul-Sattar Muhammad ‘Ali al-Ta’i [Emir of Ramadi and Eastern Anbar Province. Interesting that he is not of the Dulaim tribe.]
-‘Abu Saif’: Sa’id Jasim Muhammad Khudhayir al-Jadeed al-Juweinati [Emir of Bayji.]
-‘Abu Hussein’: Hussein Khudhayir ‘Abbas Majed al-Zubeidi [Emir of Bezayiz.]
-‘Abu Sajjad’: Salih Khudhayir Salman Jadi al-Jubouri [Emir of Fallouja.]
Analysis: I think this group could have been rolled-up in two ways: by either following the al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia link to it or after capturing those responsible for killing the Japanese security consultant Akihito Saito. Saito’s killers were shown recently on Iraqi TV. But that lead would have only revealed a small localized portion of the Ansar al-Sunna organization.
No, for this sort of massive blow, the American and Iraqi investigators working on Ansar al-Sunna had to start high-up the chain of terrorist command and work down. The implication of catching the group’s liaise with al-Qaeda is a give-away as to how the lead materialized. A lot of information on al-Qaeda’s leadership was found on Zarqawi and his top lieutenants, and many have been rounded up. It is possible that the identity of the go-between guy to Ansar al-Sunna was also discovered in Al-Qaeda's cache. The go-between guy, ‘Abu Wisam’ probably took the investigators to ‘Abu Ja’afar’ “the secretary” who in turn took them to the top captured guy in charge of military affairs, ‘Abu Mustafa.’ From ‘Abu Mustafa’ the investigators would have followed the orders, money and communications to the various regional Emirs of Ansar al-Sunna.
This operation was meticulously done and patiently pulled-off, and although the Iraqi government has indicated that at least five high value Ansar al-Sunna targets are still on the run and that the top leader of Ansar al-Sunna is in Syria, this blow would have effectively decapitated the group’s leadership. [A source told me that the top guy, last name al-'Ani, may be in Jordan; unconfirmed]
Ansar al-Sunna is second only to Al-Qaeda in its effectiveness, and this capture of its top leaders should have been top news—nearly as important as Zarqawi’s death. Yet, it was only mentioned in passing as part of the ‘daily round-up’ of news from Iraq in the NYT and WaPo. Why is that?