|Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn
(Organization of Jihad's Base in Mesopotamia)
"Al-Qaeda in Iraq"
|Participant in the Iraq War 2003|
One of the banners featured in the group's propaganda videos
|Leaders||Abu Musab al-Zarqawi†
Abu Ayyub al-Masri
|Headquarters||Formerly Fallujah, Iraq|
|Iraq, limited activity in the broader Middle East|
|Strength||More than 1,000 in 2005|
|Part of||Al-Qaeda (since 2004)
Mujahideen Shura Council (2006)
Islamic State of Iraq (since 2006)
|Originated as||Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (Group of Monotheism and Jihad, 2003-2004)|
|Opponents||Iraq: Multinational force in Iraq, Iraqi security forces, Iraqi awakening movements, Kurdish Party, Shia and some of the Sunni militias; United Nations
Elsewhere: Israel, governments of Egypt and Jordan
Al-Qaeda in Iraq is a division of a Jihadist group which played an active role in the Iraqi insurgency, gaining notoriety due to its ruthless tactics. The group began with an official statement declaring allegiance to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network in October 2004, and was led by the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi until his death in 2006, under the name Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (Arabic: جماعة التوحيد والجهاد, Group of Monotheism and Jihad). AQI is now believed to be led by Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, presumed to be the Egyptian militant Abu Ayyub al-Masri. It is now known as Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (QJBR) ("Organization of Jihad's Base in the Country of the Two Rivers"). Foreign (non-Iraqi) fighters are widely thought to play a key role in its network.
In 2006 AQI announced the creation of the Islamic State of Iraq.
This group's name is usually abbreviated as JTJ or most often shortened to Tawhid and Jihad, Tawhid wal-Jihad and sometimes Tawhid al-Jihad (or just Al Tawhid or Tawhid).
Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad was started by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, other foreigners, and local, mostly Kurdish Islamist sympathizers. Zarqawi was a Jordanian Salafi who had traveled to Afghanistan to fight in the Soviet-Afghan War, but had arrived after the departure of the Soviet troops; instead he busied himself with reporting on the fighting of others. After a trip home, he eventually returned to Afghanistan, running an Islamic militant training camp near Herat in Afghanistan. Zarqawi started the network originally with a focus on overthrowing the kingdom of Jordan, which he considered to be un-Islamic in the fundamentalist sense. Eventually, Zarqawi developed a large number of contacts and affiliates in several countries. His network may have been involved in the late 1999 plot to bomb the Millennium celebrations in the U.S. and Jordan. Zarqawi's operatives have been also responsible for the assassination of the U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley in Jordan in 2002.
Following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, it is believed that Zarqawi moved westward into Iraq, where he may have received medical treatment in Baghdad for an injured leg. It is believed that he developed extensive ties in Iraq with Ansar al-Islam ("Partisans of Islam"), a Kurdish Islamist militant group that was based in the extreme northeast of the country. Ansar had alleged ties to Iraqi Intelligence; Saddam Hussein's motivation would have been to use Ansar as a surrogate force to repress the secular Kurds who wanted a "free Kurdistan". In January 2003 Ansar's founder, Mullah Krekar, had staunchly denied any such contacts with Saddam's regime. The consensus of intelligence officials has since concluded that there were no links whatsoever between Zarqawi and Saddam, and that Saddam viewed Ansar al-Islam "as a threat to the regime" and that Saddam's intelligence officials were spying on the group. The Senate Report on Pre-war Intelligence concluded in 2006, "Postwar information indicates that Saddam Hussein attempted, unsuccessfully, to locate and capture al-Zarqawi and that the regime did not have a relationship with, harbor, or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi."
Following the 2003 U.S-led invasion of Iraq, JTJ was first developed as a militant network composed of the growing number of foreign fighters and the remnants of Ansar al-Islam to resist the coalition occupation forces and their Iraqi allies. In May 2004 JTJ joined forces with another small Islamist organisation, Salafiah al-Mujahidiah. Many foreign fighters were not group members, but once in Iraq they became dependent on Zarqawi's local contacts.
The stated goals of JTJ were to force a withdrawal of U.S-led forces from Iraq, topple the Iraqi interim government and assassinate collaborators with the "occupation," marginalize the Shia Islam population and defeat its militias, and to subsequently establish a pure Islamic state. Presumably, if and when those goals are achieved, the global Jihad would continue to establish a pan-Islamic state and remove Western influence from the Muslim world.
JTJ differed from other Iraqi insurgent groups considerably in its tactics. Rather than just using conventional weapons and guerrilla tactics, it has relied heavily on suicide bombings, mostly with vehicles, targeting a wide variety of groups but most especially Iraqi Security Forces and those facilitating the occupation. U.S and coalition forces, the United Nations (UN), foreign civilians, humanitarian organizations, Iraqi Shia and Kurdish political and religious figures, Iraqi police and security forces, and Iraqi interim officials have also been targeted. The group have assassinated several leading Iraqi politicians of the early post-Saddam era.
Zarqawi's militants have been known to use a wide variety of other tactics, however, including targeted assassinations and kidnappings, the planting of improvised explosive devices, mortar attacks, and beginning in a late June 2004 offensive urban guerilla-style attacks using rocket-propelled grenades and small arms. JTJ was also known for brutal beheadings of Iraqi and foreign hostages, which were then distributed on the Internet in video footage attributed to the group.
JTJ cited various texts from the Qur'an and the Sunnah (traditions) of Muhammad that they perceived to support their tactics. They referred to the tradition of the prophet Muhammad where he said to the people of Mecca when conquering them, "By the one in whose hand the soul of Muhammad is in, I came to you with slaughter" narrated in the books of Hadith (traditions). They also quoted Muhammad saying, "Whoever slaughters a non-Muslim (at war with Islam, i.e. those perceived to be 'enemy occupiers') sincerely for the sake of Allah, Allah will make hellfire prohibited upon him," as well as many verses of the Qur'an calling Muslims to fight invading non-Muslims and even behead them, such where Allah says in the Qur'an, "when you meet the non-Muslim (enemies in battle) strike their necks." The group's spiritual advisor (and deputy leader) was the Palestinian cleric Abu Anas al-Shami.
JTJ claimed credit for a number of attacks targeting Coalition and Iraqi forces, including the October 2004 capture and massacre of 49 unarmed Iraqi National Guard recruits, and humanitarian aid agency targets such as the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The group conducted numerous attacks against U.S. military personnel and Iraqi infrastructure throughout 2004, including suicide attacks inside the Green Zone perimeter in Baghdad.
The group took responsibility or was blamed for many of the early Iraqi insurgent attacks, including the August 2003 series of high-profile bombings which killed 17 people at the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad, 23 people, including the UN's Iraq mission chief Sérgio Vieira de Mello, at the UN headquarters in Baghdad, and at least 86 including Ayatollah Sayed Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim Imam Ali Mosque bombing in Najaf, as well as the November truck bombing which killed 27 people, mostly Italian paramilitary policemen, at the Italian base in Nasiriyah.
The 2004 attacks connected to the group included the series of bombings in Baghdad and Karbala which killed some 178 people during the holy Day of Ashura in March,, the April failed plot to explode chemical bombs in Amman, Jordan (said to be financed by Zarqawi's network), a series of suicide boat bombings of the oil pumping stations in the Persian Gulf in April, for which Zarqawi took responsibility in a statement published by the Muntada al-Ansar Islamist web site, the May car bomb assassination of Iraqi Governing Council president Ezzedine Salim at the entrance to the Green Zone in Baghdad, the June suicide car bombing in Baghdad which killed 35 civilians, and the September car bomb which killed 47 civilians and police recruits on Haifa Street in Baghdad. Foreign civilian hostages abducted by the group in 2004 included American citizens Nick Berg, Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley, Turkish citizens Durmus Kumdereli, Aytullah Gezmen and Murat Yuce, South Korean citizien Kim Sun-il, Bulgarian citizens Georgi Lazov and Ivaylo Kepov, and British citizen Kenneth Bigley. Most of them were beheaded using knives, some by al-Zarqawi personally, but Yuce was shot dead by al-Masri and Gezmen was released after "repenting".
In a July 2005 letter to al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Zarqawi outlined a four-stage plan to expand the Iraq War, which included expelling U.S. forces from Iraq, establishing an Islamic authority (caliphate), spreading the conflict to Iraq's secular neighbors and engaging in battle with Israel. Consistent with their stated plan, the affiliated groups were linked to regional attacks outside Iraq, such as the Sharm al-Sheikh bombings in Egypt which killed some 88 people, including many foreign tourists.
In January 2006, AQI created an umbrella organization, the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC), in an attempt to unify Sunni insurgents in Iraq. However, its efforts to recruit Iraqi Sunni nationalists and secular groups were undermined by its violent tactics against civilians and its extreme Islamic fundamentalist doctrine. Because of these impediments, the attempt was largely unsuccessful.
AQI used to claim its attacks under the MSC, until mid-October 2006 when Abu Ayyub al-Masri declared the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), another front which included the Shura Council factions. The AQI now claims its attacks under the ISI, and claims it's answering to the supreme emir (leader) of the organization, Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi. According to a study compiled by U.S. intelligence agencies, the ISI have plans to seize power and turn the country into a Sunni Islamic state.
The group's strength is unknown, with estimates that have ranged from 850 to several thousand full-time fighters in 2007. In 2006, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research estimated that AQI’s core membership was in a range of "more than 1,000." (These figures do not include the other six AQI-led Salafi groups organized in the Islamic State of Iraq.) The group is said to be suffering high manpower losses (including from its many "martyrdom" operations), but for a long time this appeared to have little effect on its strength and capabilities, implying a constant flow of volunteers from Iraq and abroad.
According to both the July 2007 National Intelligence Estimate and the Defense Intelligence Agency reports AQI accounted for 15 percent of attacks in Iraq. However, the Congressional Research Service noted in its September 2007 report that attacks from al-Qaeda are less than two percent of the violence in Iraq and criticized the Bush administration’s statistics, noting that its false reporting of insurgency attacks as AQI attacks has increased since the "surge" operations began. In March 2007, the U.S.-sponsored Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty analyzed AQI attacks for that month and concluded the group had taken credit for 43 out of 439 attacks on Iraqi security forces and Shiite militias, and 17 out of 357 attacks on U.S. troops. They seemed to favor suicide and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks, typically using cars and other motor vehicles.
According to the 2006 U.S. Government report, this group is most clearly associated with foreign Jihadi cells operating in Iraq and has specifically targeted international forces and Iraqi citizens. According to the report, most of AQI's operatives were not Iraqi, but instead were coming through a series of safe houses, the largest of which is on the Iraq-Syrian border. AQI's operations are predominately Iraq-based, but the United States Department of State alleges that the group maintains an extensive logistical network throughout the Middle East, North Africa, Iran, South Asia, and Europe.
According to the June 2008 CNN special report, al-Qaeda in Iraq is "a well-oiled organization (...) almost as pedantically bureaucratic as was Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party", including collecting new execution videos long after they stopped publicising them, with a network of spies even in American bases. According to the report, Iraqis (many of them former members of Hussein's secret services) now effectively run al-Qaeda in Iraq and "foreign fighters' roles seem mostly relegated to the cannon fodder of suicide attacks." The exception from this is the organization's top leadership, which is still dominated by non-Iraqis.
The group officially pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network in a letter in October 2004. That same month, the group, now popularly referred to as "al-Qaeda in Iraq", kidnapped and murdered the Japanese citizen Shosei Koda. In November, al-Zarqawi's network was the main target of the U.S. Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah, but its leadership managed to escape the American siege and subsequent storming of the city. In December, in two of its many sectarian attacks, al-Qaeda bombed a Shi'ite funeral procession in Najaf and the main bus station in nearby Karbala, killing at least 60 in the holy cities of Shia Islam. The group also reportedly took responsibility for a bombing which killed 41 people, mostly children, in Baghdad.
In 2005, IQI largely focused on executing high-profile and coordinated suicide attacks, claiming responsibility for numerous attacks which were primarily aimed at Iraqi civilians. The group launched attacks against voters during the Iraqi legislative election in January, a combined suicide and conventional attack on the Abu Ghraib prison in April, and the coordinated suicide attacks outside the Sheraton Ishtar and Palestine Hotel in Baghdad in October. In July, Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and execution of Ihab Al-Sherif, Egypt's envoy to Iraq. A July 2005 three-day series of suicide attacks, including Musayyib marketplace bombing, left at least 150 people dead. Al-Zarqawi also claimed responsibility for the September single-day series of more than a dozen bombings in Baghdad, including the massacre of mostly Shi'ite unemployed workers, which killed about 160 people, as well a series of mosque bombings which killed at least 74 people the same month in Khanaqin.
The attacks blamed on or claimed by al-Qaeda in Iraq kept increasing in 2006 (see also the list of major insurgent attacks in Iraq). In one of the incidents, two U.S. soldiers (Thomas Lowell Tucker and Kristian Menchaca) were captured, tortured and beheaded by the ISI; in another, four Russian embassy officials were abducted and subsequently executed. Iraq's al-Qaeda and its umbrella groups were blamed for multiple attacks targeting Iraqi Shiites, some of which AQI claimed responsibility for. The U.S. also claimed the group was at least one of the forces behind the wave of chlorine bombings in Iraq which affected hundreds of people (albeit with few fatalities) through the series of crude chemical warfare attacks between late 2006 and mid-2007. During 2006, several key members of the AQI were killed or captured by American and allied forces, including al-Zarqawi himself, killed on June 7, 2006, his spiritual adviser, Sheik Abd-Al-Rahman, and the alleged "number two" deputy leader, Hamid Juma Faris Jouri al-Saeedi.
The high-profile attacks linked to the group continued through early 2007, as the AQI-led Islamic State claimed responsibility for attacks such as the March assassination attempt on Sunni Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq Salam al-Zaubai, the April Iraqi Parliament bombing, and the May capture and subsequent execution of three American soldiers. Also in May, ISI leader al-Baghdadi was declared to have been killed in Baghdad, but his death was later denied by the insurgents (later, al-Baghdadi was even declared by the U.S. to be non-existent). There were also conflicting reports regarding the fate of al-Masri. In March-August, coalition forces fought a major Battle of Baqubah as part of the largely successful attempts to wrest the Diyala Governorate from AQI-aligned forces. Through 2007, the majority of the suicide bombings targeting civilians in Iraq were routinely identified by the military and government sources as being the responsibility of al-Qaeda and its associated groups, even when there was no claim of responsibility (as was in the case of the 2007 Yazidi communities bombings, which killed some 800 people in the most deadly terrorist attack in Iraq to date).
By late 2007, violent and indiscriminate attacks directed by AQI against Iraqi civilians had severely damaged their image and caused the loss of support among the population, isolating the group. In a major blow to AQI, many former Sunni militants that previously fought along with the group started to work with the American forces (see also below). In addition, the U.S. troop surge supplied military planners with more manpower for operations targeting the group, resulting in dozens of high-level AQI members being captured or killed. Al-Qaeda seemed to have lost its foothold in Iraq and appeared to be severely crippled. Accordingly, the bounty issued for al-Masri was eventually cut from $5 million down to a mere $100,000 in April 2008.
As of 2008, a series of U.S. and Iraqi offensives managed to drive out the AQI-aligned insurgents from their former safe havens such as Diyala (see Diyala campaign) and Al Anbar Governorates and the embattled capital of Baghdad to the area of the northern city of Mosul, the latest of the Iraq War's major battlegrounds. The struggle for control of Ninawa Governorate (Ninawa campaign) was launched in January 2008 by U.S. and Iraqi forces as part of the large-scale Operation Phantom Phoenix aimed at combating al-Qaeda activity in and around Mosul, as well as finishing off the network's remnants in central Iraq that escaped Operation Phantom Thunder in 2007. In 2008 al-Qaeda bombed the Baghdad's pet market in February and a shopping centre in March, killing at least 98 and 68 people, respectively.
Attacks against civilians often targeted the Iraqi Shia majority in an attempt to incite sectarian violence and greater chaos in the country. Al-Zarqawi purportedly declared an all-out war on Shiites while claiming responsibility for the Shiite mosque bombings. The same month, a statement claiming to be by AQI rejected as "fake" a letter allegedly written by al-Zawahiri, in which he appears to question the insurgents' tactics in attacking Shiites in Iraq. In a December 2007 video, al-Zawahiri defended the Islamic State in Iraq, but distanced himself from the crimes against civilians committed by "hypocrites and traitors existing among the ranks".
U.S. and Iraqi officials accused AQI of trying to slide Iraq into a full-scale civil war between Iraq's majority Shiites and minority Sunni Arabs with an orchestrated campaign of a civilian massacres and a number of highly provocative attacks against high-profile religious targets. With attacks such as the 2003 Imam Ali Mosque bombing, the 2004 Day of Ashura and Karbala and Najaf bombings, the 2006 first al-Askari Mosque bombing in Samarra and the deadly single-day series of bombings in which at least 215 people were killed in Baghdad's Shiite district of Sadr City, and the second al-Askari bombing in 2007, they seemed to have succeeded in provoking Shiite militias to unleash a wave of retaliatory attacks, resulting in a plague of death squad-style killings and spiraling further sectarian violence which escalated in 2006 and brought Iraq to the brink of anarchy in 2007. In 2008, sectarian bombings blamed on al-Qaeda killed at least 42 people at the Imam Husayn Shrine in Karbala in March and 51 people at a bus stop in Baghdad in June.
On December 3, 2004, AQI attempted to blow up an Iraqi-Jordanian border crossing, but failed to do so (in 2006, a Jordanian court sentenced Zarqawi (in absentia) and two of his associates to death for their involvement in the plot). AQI also increased its presence outside Iraq by claiming credit for three attacks in 2005. In the most deadly attack, suicide bomb 2005 Amman bombings killed 60 people in Amman, Jordan, on November 9, 2005. They also claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks that narrowly missed the USS Kearsarge and the USS Ashland in Jordan, and which also targeted the city of Eilat in Israel, and for the firing of several rockets into Israel from Lebanon in December.
In addition, the Lebanese-Palestinian militant group Fatah al-Islam, which was defeated by Lebanese government forces during the 2007 Lebanon conflict, was linked to AQI and led by Zarqawi's former companion who had fought in Iraq. The group may also have been linked with the little-known group called "Tawhid and Jihad in Syria", and may have influenced the extremist Palestinian group called "Tawhid and Jihad Brigades" (better known as Army of Islam) in Gaza.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq has long raised money through various activities like ransoming kidnapping victims, car theft (sometimes killing the drivers), and hijacking fuel trucks, that bring them tens of millions of dollars. According to an April 2007 statement by the rival Islamic Army, the group was demanding jizya and killing members of wealthy families when not paid. According to both U.S. and Iraqi sources in May 2008, the Islamic State of Iraq was stepping up its racketeering campaigns as their strictly militant capabilities were on the wane (with especially lucrative activity said to be coming from oil rackets centered on the industrial city of Bayji). According to U.S. military intelligence sources, the group resembled a "Mafia-esque criminal gang" in 2008.
The first reports of a split and even armed clashes between AQI/MSC and other insurgent Sunni groups date back to 2005. In the summer of 2006, local Sunni tribes and insurgent groups, including the prominent Islamist-nationalist group Islamic Army in Iraq (IAI), began to speak of their dissatisfaction with al-Qaeda and its tactics, openly criticizing the foreign fighters for their deliberate targeting of Iraqi civilians. In September 2006, thirty Anbar tribes formed their own local alliance called the Anbar Salvation Council (ASC), directed specifically at countering al-Qaeda-allied ("terrorist") forces in the province, openly siding with the government and the U.S. troops.
By the beginning of 2007, Sunni tribes and nationalist insurgents had begun battling with their former allies in AQI in order to retake control of their communities. In early 2007, forces allied to al-Qaeda in Iraq committed a series of attacks against Sunnis critical of the group, including the February 2007 attack in which scores of people were killed when a truck bomb exploded near a Sunni mosque in Fallujah. Al-Qaeda also supposedly played a vital role in the assassination of the leader of the Anbar-based insurgent group 1920 Revolution Brigade, the military wing of the Islamic Resistance Movement. In April 2007, the IAI spokesman accused the ISI of killing at least 30 members of the Islamic Army, as well as members of the Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna and Mujahideen Army insurgent groups, and called on Osama bin Laden to personally intervene to rein in al-Qaeda in Iraq. The following month, the government stated that AQI leader al-Masri was killed by ASC fighters. Four days later, AQI released an audio tape in which a man claiming to be al-Masri warned Sunnis not to take part in the political process (later in May the U.S. forces announced the release of dozens of Iraqis who were tortured by AQI as a part of the group's intimidation campaign), but also said that reports of internal fighting between Sunni militia groups were "lies and fabrications".
By June 2007, the growing hostility between foreign-influenced religious fanatics and Sunni nationalists led to open gun battles between the groups in Baghdad. The Islamic Army, however, soon reached a ceasefire agreement with AQI, yet still refusing to sign on to the ISI. There were also reports that Hamas of Iraq insurgents were involved in assisting U.S. troops in their Diyala Governorate operations against al-Qaeda in August 2007. In September 2007, AQI claimed responsibility for the assassination of three people including the prominent Sunni sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, leader of the Anbar "Awakening council". That same month, a suicide attack on a mosque in the city of Baqubah killed 28 people, including members of Hamas of Iraq and the 1920 Revolution Brigade, during a meeting at the mosque between tribal and guerilla leaders and the police. Meanwhile, the U.S. military began arming moderate insurgent factions on the promise to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq instead of the Americans.
By December 2007, the strength of the "Awakening" movement irregulars (also called "Concerned Local Citizens" and "Sons of Iraq") was estimated at some 65,000-80,000 fighters. Many of them were former insurgents (including even alienated former AQI supporters), now being armed and paid by the Americans specifically to combat al-Qaeda's presence in Iraq. As of July 2007, this highly controversial strategy proved so far to be effective in helping to secure the Sunni districts of Baghdad and the other hotspots of central Iraq and rout out al-Qaeda-aligned militants.
In early 2009, with American forces pulling out of cities across the country and security being left to the Iraqi Army, police, and their paramilitary allies, experts and many Iraqis worried that in the absence of U.S. soldiers AQI may attempt to resurface and once again carry out mass-casualty attacks, the fears that soon find confirmation in the spike in suicide attacks. Through the mid and late 2009, al-Qaeda in Iraq has rebounded in strength and appeared to be launching a concerted effort to cripple the Iraqi government as U.S. troops withdraw from the country. During August and October of 2009, AQI asserted responsibility for four powerful bombings that targeted five government buildings in Baghdad, including the attacks that killed 101 at the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Finance in August and 155 at the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works in September; these were the deadliest series of attacks directed at the government in more than six years of war. This strategy represents a shift in tactics from the group's previous efforts to incite sectarian violence, although a series of suicide attacks in April targeted mostly Iranian Shia pilgrims, killing 76, and in June a mosque bombing in Taza killed at least 73 Shi'ites from the Turkmen ethnic minority.
According to the commander of the U.S. forces in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, AQI "has transformed significantly in the last two years. What once was dominated by foreign individuals has now become more and more dominated by Iraqi citizens." Odierno's comments reinforced accusations by the government of Nuri al-Maliki that al-Qaeda and ex-Ba'athists were working together to undermine improved security and sabotage the planned Iraqi parliamentary elections in 2010.
|Armed Iraqi Groups in the Iraq War and the Civil war in Iraq|
|Insurgents||Now-defunct Baathist rebels and insurgents||Military of Iraq and Police||Militias and others|