Jihadist Ratings War?
On December 30, 2006, the Ansar al-Sunnah organization released a video under the title ‘Merciful Amongst Themselves’ highlighting celebrations in Iraq around the time of the Muslim holidy Eid al-Fitr at the end of last Ramadhan (October 23-25, 2006).The video commences with Eid prayers and a sermon held at a rural mosque (the name of the mosque on the outside is purposely obscured), and we never get to see the face of the preacher, who is assumed to be one of the leaders of Ansar al-Sunnah. This 21 minute video even comes with an e-mail address (email@example.com) to which commentary about the production can be sent. The rest of the video shows jihadists doing a meet-and-greet in what seems to be a rural town in Diyala Province (…I’m guessing). They stop cars and do spot-interviews with random men who are asked what they think about the jihad and the jihadists, all of whom answer positively and in glowing terms; it is a propaganda video after all. Candy is given out to kids, and in one shot, the main jihadist (all the militants wear ski-masks) gives a 10,000 Iraqi Dinar bill to another man carrying a child in his arms.
The whole point is to show that the regular folk support the jihadists, or more specifically support the Ansar al-Sunnah, and that the jihadists can move around freely.
Yesterday, the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella organization in which Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia holds sway, released a 43 minute video under the title ‘The Joy of Muslims over the Establishment of the State of the Monotheists.’ What is interesting is that Al-Qaeda’s video is very similar in content to the aforementioned Ansar al-Sunnah one. Again, we see vehicle convoys of jihadists parading in the streets and doing a meet-and-greet among the townspeople. Al-Qaeda seems to upstage the Ansar by doing so on some of the main thoroughfares of Baghdad and Ramadi, and the video is interspersed with excerpts from the recent speeches of current Al-Qaeda head Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, as well as the ‘Prince of the Faithful’ Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State of Iraq to whom Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia has pledged allegiance to. Earlier audio excerpts and footage from Zarqawi and Bin Laden, as well as the segment in which Zawahiri calls upon Muslims to support the Islamic State of Iraq, are also shown throughout. There is also footage of similar parading that was covered on al-Sharqiya TV and Aljazeera. Several groups of jihadists are shown (again all are in ski-masks) pledging allegiance to al-Baghdadi, and the group in Salahuddin Province even pledges that “If you want to lead us to Washington, we shall brave the seas with you.”
The Al-Qaeda video also shows kids rejoicing and jumping up and down around a cloth banner heralding the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq, and then in another shot insurgents are shown handing out new clothes to children. At one gathering in Haditha, the face of an elderly woman, in full hijab and abaya, is blotted out because she is insufficiently covered up, I presume.
These two videos seem to be a tit-for-tat among the Ansar al-Sunnah and Al-Qaeda; two groups that have traditionally been rivals in Iraq, but this rivalry had not resulted in a confrontation, so far.
I could be reading too much into the timing and content of these videos, since both could be inadvertent. But what I keep hearing is that Al-Qaeda insists on being the only game in town and that all must submit to its Islamic State, while Ansar al-Sunnah have been basically cast in the role of hold-outs. Al-Muhajir had earlier invited the Ansar to join, and I haven’t seen a negative response from the latter. Yet it is clear that there hasn’t been a positive response either.
The Ansar had always stuck their noses up at Zarqawi, and considered themselves to be more senior in the hierarchy of jihad.
Let’s watch for an imminent split among the two, which may even escalate into clashes as the funds dwindle and insurgent sanctuaries become harder to come by.
On a related note, the Ansar al-Sunnah are claiming that they shot down the Blackwater helicopter in the Fadhel neighborhood of Baghdad yesterday, and to bolster their claims, they showed the ID badges, credit cards and California driver’s license of one of the victims in that crash. However, on the Iraqi Rabita website, the claim goes to three ‘youths’ from that neighborhood who don’t seem to be affiliated with any single organization, and the pro-Ba’athist website suggests that these ‘youths’ have proof for their claim. The Islamic Army of Iraq also claimed responsibility for this attack.