Yesterday I noted that the 1920 Revolution Brigades had changes its name to HAMAS-Iraq in what seemed to be a bid to unite the Iraqi mujahideen outside of the Iraqi Islamic State (al-Qaeda). Today, the Islamic Army in Iraq (Jaysh al-Islami) has released a very long, very angry denunciation of the Iraqi Islamic State and al-Qaeda in Iraq (available at the IAI site and on many forums). Jaysh al-Islami is one of the largest and most important of the Sunni insurgency groups, and has been repeatedly mentioned as one engaged in talks with the Iraqi government and with the United States. This statement marks one of the most direct and open confronations with AQI and the IIS that has yet appeared - far more direct and clear than the HAMAS statement which we debated yesterday.
The IAI statement comes in response to a speech by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi which had demanded that all jihadist factions come under the banner of the Iraqi Islamic State. The IAI begins by laying down its principles and its history, comparing its four years of armed resistance to the occupation favorably to what al-Qaeda had managed. It blasts Abu Omar for dividing Muslims and the jihad, spreading internal conflict instead of unifying their efforts: the mujahideen should be responding to the aggression of the Americans and Iranians and Sufis, not fighting against each other. The IAI complains about al-Qaeda's practice of declaring takfir on all those who disagree with it, and of killing people it declares kafir who are perfectly good Muslims. The IAI calls for pragmatism and a level of moderation - for instance, it decries Abu Omar's demands that all Sunni women wear the niqab by pointing out that women wearing the niqab come under greater scrutiny from the American and Iraqi armies and that this imposes unnecessary burdens on them. It complains about al-Qaeda members killing good Muslims, attacking other jihadists, ransacking their homes, and of doctrinal and physical intimidation. Throughout, the statement blasts Abu Omar and al-Qaeda for seeking to impose its control over organizations which have acted independently and successfully for years, and for accusing all who refuse to submit to al-Qaeda of being American agents.
The IAI then responds to a range of criticisms leveled against it. It denies having negotiated with the Americans (and says that it knows of no major jihadist group which has), but keeps the door open: doesn't Abu Omar understand the difference between negotiating to secure the fruits of victory and a surrender? It denies categorically having any relations with the Baath party or Baathists. It admits talking to Yosri Fouda of al-Jazeera for a documentary film, but denied that talking to al-Jazeera means that they are conspiring with the Mossad - pointing out that many al-Qaeda people had also talked to Fouda and to al-Jazeera. It says that the IAI will talk to any media which help it advance the cause of the Iraqi jihad - something which al-Qaeda of all organizations should understand (a less-than-veiled criticism of the publicity seeking of the AQI leaders). Finally, it makes a point of denying that it had received any financial or other support from any Arab government or Iran, only from Muslims supportive of jihad in Iraq.
After all this, it turns to what should be done. It is witheringly critical of Abu Omar's attempt to describe everyone outside of the Iraqi Islamic State as kufr, and to make fighting the armies of Arab governments more of a priority than fighting the Americans. It then calls on the ulema of the Islamic world to issue clear fatwas in support of the jihad in Iraq. It calls on Osama bin Laden to intervene with al-Qaeda in Iraq to stop its divisive rhetoric and actions. And it calls on al-Qaeda in Iraq to review its actions and to correct its mistakes before it is too late.
There's a lot of noise out there about tribes rising up against al-Qaeda, which I take with considerable skepticism, but this statement posted on the IAI website speaks for itself. It's the most concrete evidence I've yet seen of real splits between the IIS/AQI and the other non-AQ parts of the Islamist insurgency. It may or may not be a coincidence that the influential Islamist Hamid al-Ali almost simultanously wrote taht the Iraqi Islamic State should be seen as just one faction among many in the Iraqi jihad and should stop trying to monopolize it. (Both Ali and the IAI have come under pretty heavy fire in the jihadi forums, it's worth noting.) Whether this should be read as a sign of IIS/AQI strength rather than weakness, as suggested by Greg Gause, is an important question... the IAI statement could be seen as a desperate attempt to staunch the flow of support away from itself towards al-Qaeda, rather than as the reaction of a strong, confident movement. I don't know. Nor do I think that this should be read as an indicator of the success (or failure) of the American "surge" - I think it has more to do with the internal politics of the Sunni insurgency than with American efforts. But as with yesterday's post, consider this another data point which deserves attention.
Oh, one more thing. I'm sure this is just an odd quirk of how Arabic script is appearing on my screen, but I just had to reproduce this little bit from early in the statement, which just cracks me up:
God says (frowny face).
I'm fairly sure that "frowny face" is not traditional Quranic calligraphy.