Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’s Fourth Speech: the ‘State of the Union’ is Iffy
The leader of the Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, released his fourth speech yesterday through his organization’s Al-Furqan Institute for Media Productions. The actual speech lasts approximately 35 minutes and is titled 'Harvesting the Years for the State of the Monotheists'—sort of a ‘State of the Union Address’ summing up the last four years of the jihad in Iraq from his perspective.
To my ears, the voice that read the speech sounded very much like the voice that read the three preceding speeches that have been attributed to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi: first speech (December 22, 2006), second speech (February 3, 2007) and third speech (March 13, 2007).
Once again, al-Baghdadi was introduced as ‘our master, Prince of the Faithful, Abu Omar al-Qurayshi al-Hussaini al-Baghdadi’ and, even though the speech was undated, it clearly addressed the recent flare-ups among jihadist groups and was thus recorded recently.
Al-Baghdadi begins by enumerating the gains made by the Sunnis after four years of jihad and at the very top of the list he states that:
The people of Iraq are today one of the greatest nations on the face of the earth in maintaining monotheism, for there is no polytheistic Sufism being propagated, or shrines being visited, or innovated festivals being celebrated, or candles being lit or a pilgrimage being made to a pagan totem, for the people of Iraq have destroyed these shrines with their own hands so that Allah will be worshiped alone…Al-Qaeda has destroyed both Shi’a and Sunni shrines; the Sunnis of Iraq have a very rich Sufi tradition (Islamic mysticism) which is anathema to Al-Qaeda’s Wahhabi and Salafist doctrines.
Al-Baghdadi adds that public morality has been enforced over the last four years:
Go and delve into the country, so that you will see that [there are no longer] places that encourage sordidness or corruption, and no [unveiled women] present to infatuate the young, and to tempt the old, or to be devoured by wolves…Search and you will not find a dance party that angers Allah in His heavens…Al-Baghdadi sees that an affinity to Islam has spread among the youth because of jihad:
Yesterday our mosques would lament the dearth of worshippers, and they would be aged men, but today, [the mosques] are frequented by the youth, the hope of the future…And that the zakat, the Muslim tax, is being collected from everyone, including the herdsmen of the desert who willingly give what is owed to the mujaheddin.
Al-Baghdadi says that the all-important jihadist doctrine of alwala’ wel bara’ (‘Loyalty and Renunciation’) that had gone “forgotten” is now back in vogue due to the actions of the mujaheddin. This doctrine states that a Muslim’s first loyalty is to his faith and its tenets, even at the cost of his blood or national relations: al-Baghdadi marvels that now “a father kills his son, a spy, with his own hand, and a tribe would disown its own son who is a policeman for [Maliki’s government],” and that “a woman would leave her husband” if he supported the central government in Baghdad. Following up that point, al-Baghdadi points out that “the women of Iraq are shedding tears while begging to perform suicide missions, but we deny them that unless men cannot reach certain targets under special circumstances.”
One the battlefield, al-Baghdadi sees that the military successes of the mujaheddin have been epitomized by graduating a class of “officers of the jihad” and that even the aircraft of the “enemy”, which had been the “weapon they terrorized the world with and which brought down the heretical Ba’athist state” have been neutralized by technological advances made by the mujaheddin. Al-Baghdadi also had “good tidings” for the “ummah [global community of Muslims]” that “Al-Quds-1 [Jerusalem-1] missile has entered the phase of manufacture and military production and that—with its high specifications regarding length, fuel, weight, range and accuracy—it would rival what [other] countries of the world had sought [to build].”
Furthermore, when “the mujaheddin speak today they are heard, and if they threaten then they are feared, and if they enter into pacts they are obeyed and such is the logic of politics in our days, for the world only respects those who tread heavily.” And because of the actions of the mujaheddin “the awe held by the nations of the world for the Marines and for American technology has been dropped” and that “the Iraqi jihad has restored vitality to [other] jihadist locations that had fizzled out” and that the jihad conducted in Iraq has “prepared for the raid against the state of the Jews and the retrieval of Jerusalem.” This last snipe seems directed against Osama Bin Laden and the old leadership of Al-Qaeda who were hesitant in supporting Abu Musa’ab al-Zarqawi’s venture in Iraq at first but then they reaped the benefits after the Zarqawists breathed new life into the world of jihad and managed to resurrect Al-Qaeda’s fame after the Taliban debacle.
With regards to the Americans, al-Baghdadi enumerates some of the alleged victories of the jihadists as:
Draining the American budget to the detriment of Social Security and health and education, and even the monies of the collaborative governments of the [Persian] Gulf have failed to cover the American deficits…Al-Baghdadi figures that the “total collapse of the American military institution” is at hand because the morale of the American forces has crumbled and that “it is expected that American strategy would change from volunteer service into the draft to cover the unbalance in fatalities.”
The fall of the pillars of Bush’s government who have ended up in the trash heap of History, to be tormented by the curses of God and the questioning of misled nations, and we may see them in the near future in the dock being tried for their crimes such as Rumsfeld and George Tenet and John Bolton and Richard Perle…
Doesn’t all this sound somewhat familiar to what gets said by some Democrats (...and Chuck Hagel) in Congress?
In addressing the recent rifts and infighting among jihadist groups, al-Baghdadi refrains from using the word ‘recalcitrance’ in describing the refusal of the other jihadists to pledge allegiance to him and to the Islamic State of Iraq as he had done in his second and third speeches. This time he dwells on the importance of jama’a, or community solidarity, which is the very heart of Sunnism whether ideologically, politically or socially.
Al-Baghdadi argues, with numerous citations from the Koran, the Prophet Muhammad and Islamic precedents, that jama’a is the “practical application of the [doctrine] of [Loyalty and Renunciation].”
The technical term for Sunnis is ahlul sunnah wel jama’a [People of the Sunnah and Community Solidarity]—the Sunnah is the oral and practical tradition attributed to the Prophet that is meant to complement the neglected or unclear areas of the Koran. At its simplistic core, it rejects any minority view if it threatened the consensus view, and that political authority can only come through the community of Muslims agreeing on a set of lowest common denominators and by rejecting major points of contention. Islamic (read Sunni) history allowed for much diversity yet still managed to get soaked in blood; modern-day jihadists have far less tolerance for dissent of any kind.
Al-Baghdadi is making a subtle case that the other jihadist groups, in not answering his call for unity under his banner, are acting against the jama’a and thus against Sunnism and Islam. The same could be said (and is said) by these other jihadist groups: al-Baghdadi himself is threatening the jama’a—whereby they all agree on waging jihad against the Americans and the Iraqi government—by forcing the issue of the Islamic State and the pledge of allegiance, and thus he has contradicted community consensus by introducing a schismatic claim for the sole leadership of the jihad.
Al-Baghdadi directs several messages for the Muslims of the world, for the Sunnis of Iraq, for the Sunnis who collaborate with the Iraqi government, and for his own fighters. But the most interesting section is his call for the other jihadist groups, which he refers to by name:
To our brothers in army of the Ansar al-Sunnah and the Army of the Mujaheddin: the affection between us and our bonds of ideology and fondness are larger and stronger and firmer than anything that could harm them. And to my sons in the Islamic Army: you should know that [I would sacrifice] my blood before yours, and my honor before yours, and by Allah you will only hear kind [words] and see kind [deeds] from us; so soothe yourselves for what is between us is stronger than what some people think, may Allah forgive them. And to the soldiers of the 1920 Revolt [Brigades]: yes, the devil has interfered between us and you—the devil of the [Iraqi] Islamic Party and its henchmen—but the wise men of your brigades have addressed this problem and sat down with their brothers in the State of Islam to stamp out the fire of sedition, and to plant the seed of affection…For by Allah, your blood and the blood of every Muslim is sanctified for us unless he perpetrated an unbelieving act or spilt forbidden blood.These niceties didn't do much good for Muhammad al-Azzawi, one of the leaders of Hamas-Iraq (an offshoot of the 1920 Revolt Brigades), who was killed by "the hand of treachery" according to the group's press release two days ago; this is likely a reference to Al-Qaeda.
Notice how al-Baghdadi refers to the Ansar al-Sunnah and the Army of the Mujaheddin as “brothers” while he calls the Islamic Army “my sons”; al-Baghdadi is infantilizing and belittling the IAI. For more on the background of the inter-jihadist feuds, check out the statement made by the Islamic Army of Iraq against Abu Omar al-Baghdadi a few days ago.
In defending why he and his organization created the Islamic State of Iraq, al-Baghdadi says that they did not seek to pick the fruit before its ripened, but that they had simply caught the fruit, midair, as it fell off the tree; in other words, the time for the Islamic State of Iraq had come, with all its implications as the nucleus state for the caliphate. Al-Baghdadi adds that they wanted to prevent the jihad in Iraq from suffering the same fate as that which befell the jihadists in Bosnia and Afghanistan: not having a clear plan for what comes next after the phase of jihad.
At the end, al-Baghdadi is adamant that the ‘State of Islam’ will “persist,” and he gives many flowery reasons for that. But what’s interesting is that he says “we are certain that Allah will not break the hearts of the embattled monotheists and turn us into the object of ridicule by the oppressors.”
I’m afraid that Allah is planning to disappoint al-Baghdadi on this count: conducting state policy according to the perceived will of the Divine usually conflicts with the practicalities of reality.
Al-Baghdadi's overall tone regarding the other jihadist groups is conciliatory, but I wonder if this tone will be read as a sign of weakness by the others, who may be further encouraged to put a stop to Al-Qaeda's menace once and for all by smashing this rival jihadist organization.