Alliance between ISIS and Old Baʿthists under the Leadership of ʿIzzat Ibrāhīm al-Dūrī? – Some Reflections on the Propaganda during the current Iraqi Crisis:Veröffentlicht: Juni 23, 2014
The Alliance between ISIS and Old Baʿthists under the Leadership of ʿIzzat Ibrāhīm al-Dūrī – Some Reflections on the Propaganda during the current Iraqi Crisis:
After the devastating onslaughts by insurgents of the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham (ISIS) on Mosul one week ago, the International Press started to report, that ISIS might not be the only force fighting against the Iraqi troops of Nūrī al-Mālikī. One of the first articles was an interview with Jürgen Todenhöfer in the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger in which he claimed that the major force behind this attack indeed was a „National, Pan-Arabic, and Islamic Resistance“ (NPIR) under the leadership of the former vice-president and deputy chairman of the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) under Ṣaddām Ḥusayn, ʿIzzat Ibrāhīm al-Dūrī:
He further claims, that ISIS just plays a minor role (about 5%) inside a wider military alliance with NPIR during this Sunni resistance movement against the Shīʿī dominated regime of Mālikī. While ISIS is interested in establishing a Taliban-like Islamic State in accordance with their puritan interpretation of the sharīʿah, NPIR wants, according to Todenhöfers questionable statement, to build up a secular democracy (http://www.ksta.de/politik/-terrororganisation-isis–nur-scheinbar-die-groesste-rolle-,15187246,27499174.html). Meanwhile, further news agencies followed with similar stories about an alleged alignment of ʿIzzat Ibrāhīm al-Dūrī with ISIS and go as far as claiming his secret leadership behind the current events in Iraq. But does this make sense at all? Let us have a closer look at some aspects of the ongoing propaganda of the different fighting factions in Iraq dominating the Iraqi as well as the International Press at the moment:
An Islamist Attack by ISIS or a Sunni Resistance Movement?
The view of the leading shaykh of the Dulaym tribe as well as of the Tribal Revolutionaries’ Council in Anbār province: At the 16th June 2014 Saudi based Al Arabiya broadcasted an interview with shaykh ʿAlī Ḥātim al-Sulaymān from Iraq’s biggest province on the current crisis in Iraq. According to shaykh ʿAlī Ḥātim, the events in Iraq are essentially an outcome of an originally peaceful Sunni tribal resistance against the anti-Sunni policies of the Mālikī government during the last years under the label of a ‘de-Baʿthification’, which then led to a systematic alienation of Sunni parties from the political process. The shaykh clearly accuses the Mālikī government of having labelled this resistance as foreign by claiming the supremacy of ISIS inside the whole movement to get the support of the international community. He assures that it is not revenge or a sectarian conflict but a resistance against the injustice of the current government. He further denies any alliances with ISIS, reminds of the Anbār tribes’ declaration of war on terror under the guidance of the US forces in 2005 and 2006 and considers their influence in the current events about 5 to 7 %. Certainly in line with Saudi interests, he even accuses the Mālikī government for having trained those ISIS insurgents and asserts that the tribes are ready to “purify” the province from them after the success of their resistance. He does not mention any role of the Baʿthists and al-Dūrī in the events (http://ara.tv/5ue7c).
The advance of ISIS in the last weeks must definitely be seen in light of the wider Sunni discontent with and resistance against the Maliki government. This becomes already evident in recordings of the Mosul capture when parts of the Sunni population doesn’t seem to have been frightened by the advancing ISIS insurgents but, instead, chased the withdrawing Iraqi army out of the city with stones:
The Tribal Revolutionaries’ Council certainly plays a central role in this wider Sunni resistance. Starting with peaceful protests and sitins in Anbār province in December 2013, the protests soon turned into heavy fighting with the Iraqi army after ISIS had intruded into this movement with several assassinations and armed attacks in the region (http://www.al-monitor.com/pulseen/originals/2013/12/iraq-army-operation-control-anbar-al-qaeda.html). Following the recent capture of Mosul and other major cities in North West Iraq by ISIS, shaykh ʿAlī Ḥātims statements above hint more at his personal utilisation of the current situation for the Sunni Resistance’s goals. Regarding their aims and the necessary mobilization of tribal allies as well as a wider support among the Iraqi population, the ISIS label clearly constitutes a danger for the success of this movement. No wonder that he tries to play down the actual strength of those Islamist forces.
The General Role of ʿIzzat Ibrāhīm al-Dūrī and the Naqshbandī Army?
The Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Path (djaysh ridjāl al-ṭarīqah al-naqshbandiyyah, also known as JRTN): This group is mainly associated with members of the old Baʿth military leadership and is said to be under the guidance of ʿIzzat Ibrāhīm al-Dūrī. The insurgency group was officially established in 2006 to fight the occupying coalition forces and the Shīʿī dominated and Iranian backed government (although members of it fought against the coalition forces since the fall of the regime in 2003). It’s organization reflects older Baʿth military networks as well as former Baʿth-Sufi connections. The group mixes Pan-Arab Baʿth ideology with Sufi creed and symbols under the label of the Naqshbandiyyah order. The alleged leader of the group is called ʿAbd Allāh Muṣṭafā al-Naqshbandī (certainly a nome de guerre, otherwise he could be identified with the son of a famous Naqshbandi shaykh of Bāmarnī near Erbil). Although researchers and the media assume that al-Dūrī is the direct leader of this group, it is neither proved that he occupies this position nor that he was ever affiliated with the Naqshbandiyyah order before which could explain the Naqshbandī label of the movement (one has to clearly differentiate here between the insurgency group with the label of the Naqshbandiyyah and the Naqshbandiyyah itself)! All traces of al-Dūrīs leadership of JRTN are limited to propaganda videos venerating him and Ṣaddām Ḥusayn. Al-Dūrī is only presented openly as the leader of the High Command For Djihād and Liberation in Iraq (al-qiyādah al-ʿalīyā li-l-djihād wa-l-taḥrīr) of which JRTN is a part. His actual role as a direct leader is, therefore, not at all proven. The only hints at al-Dūrīs Sufi connections lead to a Kurdish Qādiriyyah branch, the Kasnazāniyyah. Additionally, he claims descent from a famous Rifāʿī family (connected to the Rifāʿiyyah order), the Abū Khamrah from the Ḥarb tribe in Baghdad.
Their main areas of influence reach from its alleged centre Mosul (Nīnawā province) to Ḥawīdjah (near Kirkūk), Baʿqūbah (Diyālā province) as well as down to Fallūdjah and Ramādī (Anbār province). The latest activities of the insurgency group JRTN date back to the 25th April 2013 when they temporarily captured the Iraqi city Sulaymān Bek in the course of Sunni tribal protests in and around Ḥawīdjah. In January 2014, the group was also active during the Sunni tribal protests in Ramādī and Fallūdjah that turned into violent clashes with government forces after an involvement of ISIS insurgents (Abbas 2014). Finally, rumour has it that among other insurgency groups JRTN in alliance with ISIS played a central role during the capture of Mosul.
Is an alliance of JRTN with ISIS likely?
JRTN itself is almost silent on the current events. According to a single statement on their official website from the 2nd June 2014, the group denies their involvement in armed fighting with any group other than the “occupation and its followers” (i.e. the Mālikī government) (http://www.alnakshabandia.net/army/index.php/statements-and-declarations/spokesman-declarations/890-00012). The statement itself makes such an alliance, of course, possible. Both JRTN and ISIS share the same basic goal to overthrow Mālikī. So, why not doing it together? A pragmatic alliance between the insurgency groups for a greater goal is not unlikely and obviously, JRTN currently denies any fighting with other insurgency groups. Furthermore, several press releases seem to support such assumptions:
Already in 2009, US military intelligence officers assumed that JRTN tried to coalesce as many insurgency groups under their wings as possible and provided them with financial support. Among them were groups like Anṣār al-Sunnah, 1920 Revolutionary Brigade, Djaysh Islāmiyyah, and the Islamic State of Iraq, the forerunner of ISIS (http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special/2009/06/05/Analysis-Baathists-beat-nationalist-drum/UPI-97551244219425/). Earlier that year, accusations or assumptions of this kind appeared in the media again. On 10th February 2014, a joint attack by JRTN and ISIS was reported in Southern Mosul resulting in the death of 15 Iraqi soldiers (http://www.nahrainnet.net/news/52/ARTICLE/26420/2014-02-11.html).On 31 May 2014 the administrative official of Khāliṣ in Diyālā province, ʿUday al-Khadrān hinted at some evidence via the security forces for an alliance and joint operations of JRTN and ISIS in Diyālā. He additionally names other insurgency groups under al-Durīs guidance in the area like Katāʾib al-Muṣṭafā, Katāʾib al-Mudjāhidīn, and Djaysh al-taḥrīr (http://www.eremnews.com/?id=43793). Finally, Al-Quds Al-Arabi claims to have evidence that beside ISIS several insurgency groups participated in the capture of Mosul one week ago, namely some tribal resistance groups as well as Salafi Djihādist groups like Djaysh al-Mudjāhidīn, Anṣār al-Sunnah, as well as JRTN including former Baʿth military officers. This is, again, a surprising alliance considering the fact that Djaysh al-Mudjāhidīn and Anṣār al-Sunnah are opposed to ISIS and JRTN follows its mentioned Sufi trend that is again a thorn in the former’s flesh. Again, the explanation seems to lie in the shared hostility towards the Shīʿī dominated Mālikī government (http://www.alquds.co.uk/?p=179166). Meanwhile, media reports refer to a Twitter release stating that representatives of al-Dūrī and ISIS leader Abū Bakr al-Baghdādī met near the village al-Qiyārah to form an alliance (http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/iraq-crisis-jihadi-whistleblower-exposes-isis-secrets-twitter-1453321, https://twitter.com/wikibaghdady/status/477461357751590913). Some even claim that the alliance was formed under the leadership of al-Dūrī (http://www.almayadeen.net/ar/news/iraq-s2msQC_MjUGP76NNAEKRNA).
Given such assumptions and claims like the ones above, is the common will of ISIS and JRTN to remove the Mālikī government stronger on the long run than the ideological and religious rift between them? Having a closer look at JRTN’s statements and propaganda, it becomes clear that the group has always laid heavy emphasis on the fight against the foreign coalition forces and the “Iranian backed Safavid” Mālikī government. It regularly denied and condemned any attacks on Iraqi citizens regardless of which denomination or religion and called for the unity of Iraq. Additionally, JRTN is completely in line with the older religious propaganda of the Baʿth Party who mixed their Pan-Arabism with Sunni Sufi traditions including the veneration of the Shīʿī holy figures and their resting places in Iraq. In their video releases it becomes obvious that this group still follows this practice and highly respects Shīʿī sites like the shrines of the Shīʿī Imams ʿAlī bin Abī Ṭālib, al-Ḥusayn, al-ʿAbbās, or Mūsā al-Kāẓim (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOE2S3MVLqk).
In short, JRTN as well as the former Baʿth regime never directed their propaganda against Shīʿism in Iraq but against an Iranian political influence via the religious connection of the Shīʿī Iranian regime to Iraq’s majority Shīʿī population. Therefore, it is simply wrong to state that al-Dūrī often called for a holy war against the Shīʿah as the Tagesschau recently did (http://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/hintergrund-isis-100.html)! From such an ideological perspective, an alliance with ISIS who is known for their attacks on Sufi sites, the crucifixion of resisting citizens in Syria, mass executions of Shīʿī soldiers and civilians in Mosul as well as their will to destroy the Shīʿī holy sites in Iraq makes absolutely no sense. Such an alliance would even weaken JRTN’s support among the Iraqi Sunni population as ISIS is willing to attack and kill Iraqis of all denominations and religions except their own one.
Even if both factions really agreed on a temporary and pragmatic alliance against a greater enemy, there recently appeared evidence that it was not for long:
Al-Muraqib al-Iraqi reported on the 2nd June 2014 several fights and mutual executions between ISIS and JRTN in Baʿqūba (governorate of Diyālā) as well as in Baydjī and Takrīt (governorate of Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn) after each of them refused an oath of allegiance to the other (http://almurakeb-aliraqi.org/index.php/reports/19661.html). According to an article in al-Maṣdar News at the 12th June 2014, eyewitnesses saw JRTN insurgents carrying the pictures of Ṣaddām Ḥusayn and al-Dūrī as well as ISIS fighters with their black flag after the capture of Takrit (http://l-news.net/index.php/policy/50449.html). One day before, it was reported that ISIS called on the JRTN leadership to remove pictures of Ṣaddām and al-Dūrī from the streets of Mosul within 24 hours after they had started to raise them in the Southern parts of the city (http://www.herakiq.com/5855, http://al-akhbar.com/node/208628). Already on the 16th June 2014, Ārāʾ.com reported skirmishes between ISIS and JRTN in Mosul following the quarrel over the proliferation of Ṣaddām and al-Dūrī pictures in Mosul’s district al-Zuhūr (http://www.araa.com/article/94790, http://www.herakiq.com/5855). At the same day, Al-Maṣdar news also reported severe battles between ISIS and al-Dūrī in Mosul and Takrīt. The reasons behind those battles seem to be that al-Dūrī and his group do not allow ISIS to establish a rule in accordance with their puritan interpretation of the Islamic sharīʿah. He is said to have expressed his anger on ISIS and warned “any group who dissents the spiritual authority (wilāyā) of the Commander of the Faithfull (, i.e. Imam ʿAlī bin Abī Ṭālib as rightful heir to the prophet)”. Additionally, al-Dūrī ordered the establishment of a local government in Mosul without the consent of the ISIS leadership (http://l-news.net/index.php/safety/50535.html). Finally, on 21st June 2014, heavy fighting between ISIS and JRTN is reported near Ḥawīdjah to the east of Kirkūk after ISIS had called on JRTN to hand over all weapons to them. During the battle 17 insurgents on both sides died (http://slabnews.com/article/82005/, http://www.abna.ir/arabic/service/iraq/archive/2014/06/21/617761/story.html).
On the perspective of ISIS it is currently hard to find any releases concerning the JRTN issue. No single statement on an alleged alliance with JRTN seems to exist. Just one Twitter post by the ISIS sympathizer Shami Witness speaks for itself: “I talked to a guy close to ISIS, he said ‘just show me one Naqshbandi say that to my face, I’ll have him hung” (https://twitter.com/ShamiWitness/status/478388577240645632).
To sum up: Given the last reports and statements with respect to the ideological and religious differences between JRTN and ISIS, it seems unlikely that both groups are united in an alliance, at least not for long. The current announcements of the Maliki government of such an alliance might be seen as a means to convince the Iraqi and international public of the necessity of foreign intervention in order to prevent a merging of radical Islamists and former Baʿth members.