The Faltering Islamic State in Iraq

Baghdad Correspondent

After the declaration of the Islamic State in Iraq, founded by al-Qaeda leader Abu Hamza al-Muhajir in January of this year, several Islamic resistance groups based in the western part of Iraq expressed their support for the new state. The announcement of the establishment of the ISI was made with great fanfare — being made public via an online video that appeared on Sout Al Khilifa (“Voice of the Caliphate”), and posted on the Caliphate Voice Channel blog. The announcement, complete with video, was made by a masked announcer: “In a long awaited step, for which sacrifices were granted and martyrs bloods were shed to achieve its path, the Mujahideen Shura Council in Iraq has announced the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq, the state of Islam that will rule the law of Allah ‘Shaiaah’ on people and lands, that will protect the center of Islam and acts as a shield for the Sunni people in the land of Iraq.”

While the new state quickly gained support from other groups in areas dominated by resistance forces, the ISI started to fall apart within weeks of the “Voice of the Caliphate” announcement. Clashes erupted between ISI militias and other Islamic groups (including some of those that had initially pledged their support), and squabbles broke out between ISI kingpins and the the leadership cadre of several resistance groups. The leadership disagreements revolved around ISI plans to mount attacks on Shias, even at the expense of protecting Sunni populations in Anbar, Gaditha, and Fallujah. Nor were resistance leaders satisfied with the ISI’s open support for al-Qaeda tactics that would amount to a purge of Sunni activists who did not meet al-Qaeda’s political standards. Finally, immediately after the formation of the ISI, al-Qaeda militia leaders began a program of forcibly extracting payments from Sunni families and imposing a conscription quota of young men in ISI areas.

Well-informed sources told one of our contacts in Mosul — where the Islamic State in Iraq first emerged as a political force — that the ISI had lost the support of a number of important resistance groups, including Jaish al-Islami and Mejles Shura al-Mujahadeen. Our contact in Mosul told us that the loss of these two groups, while not fatal, “had caused divisions in the resistance in the Mosul region.” Additionally, we have been told, groups were influenced by the work of the “Al Anbar Wake Up Group” — a movement led by Mahmoud Abu Risha, a Dulaimi tribal leader who is said to have close ties to the Americans. The ISI was forced to flee the Mosul area and have taken refuge in the Himren Mountains, between Kirkuk and Diyala. The group — now a loose al-Qaeda run federation — consists of Ansar al-Sunna, Jund al-Sahaba, and some brigades of al-Jihad wel-Sunna. While weakened, the ISI has successfully mounted operations in Baghdad and the Triangle of Death. “The ISI, or what’s left of it, is mad as hell,” one American military officer confirmed to us. “The split in Mosul back in January leaves them with something to prove.”

That the remnants of the ISI remain strong and are able to mount successful operations throughout the Baghdad region is due to their experienced and dedicated leadership. The Emir of the state, Omar al-Baghdadi — who some American officials claim was killed on May 1 — is known as an effective strategist. Baghdadi, high on America’s list for capture or assassination, is a former Iraqi officer who left Saddam’s military in 1999 for Afghanistan and returned in 2002 through the border with Kurdistan. Our sources in Anbar Province report that Baghdadi had, for many years, close ties with the Saudi intelligence services. In addition to Baghdadi, Abu Abdulrahman al-Falahi and Abu Hamza al-Muhajer form the core leadership — the former as prime minister and the latter as minister of war. Al-Muhajer is the only non-Iraqi in the ISI.

Other ISI leaders have close ties to Iraq’s Baathist and tribal networks, including Abu Osman al-Temimi (the Minister of Sharia Affairs) and Abu Bakir al-Jubori, the Minister of Public Relations. Despite their strong ties to al-Qaeda, ISI has been able to bring together a cross-section of former Baathist leaders and soldiers — whose traditional hatred of the bin Laden network has apparently been eclipsed by their disgust with the Americans. Among these is Abu Abdul Jabbaral Janabi, a former Iraqi army colonel whose real name is Mohammed al-Janaci, who was said to be a rising star in the Republican Guards prior to the American invasion. Janabi was given the security portfolio by Baghdadi, and is responsible for planning and carrying out ISI attacks in the Baghdad region. The cabinet is rounded out by Abu Mohammed al-Mashhadani (Minister of Information), Abu Abdul Qader al-Esawi (Minister of Martyrs), Abu Ahmed al-Janabi (Minister of Oil), Abu Abdullah al-Zubaidi (Minister of Health) and Mustafa al-Araji (Minister of Agriculture). While Americans take credit for chasing the ISI out of Anbar, and some American officials have bragged about “kicking ass” on ISI — the group’s fracturing has actually done more harm to its stature than any American military action (see Pat Dollard’s report).

The ISI story is now typical of attempts to weld Sunni resistance groups together into coherent political organizations. “There are typically divisions inside the leadership over what tactics to follow,” one Iraqi resistance leader told us, “and usually that split is over whether to spend resources in defending Sunnis from the Americans and Shias, or whether to focus on killing the occupying forces.” Another leader — a defector from ISI who remains in the resistance in the Mosul area — told us that ISI has been weakened, but that “its ability to kill is still very strong.” So why have the Americans and the Iraqi government still failed to pacify Anbar and other resistance strongholds? Our Mosul sources shrugs and laughs: “If you think the Sunnis are divided, you need to spend a few days in Baghdad. The Americans and their clients don’t know what they’re doing. Their infighting makes ours look minor.”


  1. The Spate of events in The Middle East brings to fore the issue oif the impact of religion on people.
    Karl MArx has rightly said,Religion is the opium of the masses.
    The bane of global peace is indoctination and misunderstanding of information been disseminated.
    I would quite sympathise with those that are affected, the Sunnis and others,but the fact is do people really know what religion is all about,instead of being indoctrinated.
    A global campaign and orientation is crucial, to dispel all forms of conflict in the globe.
    Should religion be a weapon of victimization or should belief be a deterrent to other peoples survival?

  2. martin cadwell wrote:

    Yes, religion is the opium of the people. But generally, only the most conscious people grasp this truth. More importantly, religion is more than that. It can be provide a language for raising a call for justice and organizational structure for movements which set worldly goals and do not merely confine themselves to providing solace from pain today and dreams of heaven tomorrow in the posited next life. Recent history and contemporary politics show that religious leaders can become important leaders who can greatly advance peoples struggles and consciousness. Reflect, for example, on the role of Martin Luther King and his organization the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference of ministers) and Malcom X, who for most of his political life was a Nation of Islam (“Black Muslims”) minister. Can anyone doubt that King and the SCLC played a crucial role in the struggle to end legal segregation in the US and that King greatly advanced the struggle against the VietNam war before his untimely assassination? Can anyone plausibly argue that Malcom X (despite any limitations based on his religious beliefs) did not advance the consciousness of thousands, if not millions, of African Americans and other progressive Americans with his trenchant, insighful exposures of the hypocrisy and duplicity of American imperialism and its political leaders, including the “Dixiecrats” (a term he popularized and explained)? Today, can anyone deny that Hasran Nazrallah of Hezbollah is the most dynamic and effective leader in the struggle against US imperialism and its ally Israeli Zionism in the Middle East? Nazrallah, who lead the war against Israel which handed the Zionists a serious political and military defeat, and who has declared that anyone who foments and wages civil war in Lebanon “IS an Israeli” agent? And what of Iraq? Is it not the case that the strongest leader with the greatest chance of uniting the Iraqi resistance on the basis of Iraqi nationalism is Muktada Al-Sadr? And what of Iran? Would progressives refrain from supporting Iran in its just struggle against US warmongering and aggression because Iran’s leaders are religious leaders? Progressives, including Marxists, should, of course, put forth their own independant analysis of the causes and nature of the conflict between US imperialism and Israeli Zionism and the peoples and countries of the Middle East and world. They should criticize sectarianism of all types, including religious sectarianism. But they should also unite with religious leaders and movements which are dealing real blows to US imperialism and its Zionist client and ally. And recognize that the best of the religious leaders like Sadr and Nazrallah and their movements are themselves powerful actors in the struggle against the worst aspects of religious sectarianism. (Which by the way, are that of the facsist, ultra nationalist, chauvanist wing of the White Christian right in the US, and the right wing, ultra-nationalist, chauvanist wing of Zionism in the US and Israel). The reality of facts on the ground—-that religious leaders are presently leading some of the most important anti-imperialist struggles in the world—is of much greater practical importance than the facts that, in truth, man made the gods (and not the reverse) (that’s why there are so many different Ones), and that one aspect of religion is that it is an opium of the people (perhaps not “the” opium in today’s world of mass availabilty of a tsunami of credit in the industrialized world, the concommittant lust and worship of material consumption; ubiquitous professional sports, and a virtually infinite variety of other televised distractions ranging from soap operas, celebrity worshipfests, and soft and hard pornography.)

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