November 30, 2015 -
Valentin Domogadsky, PolitRussia -
Translated for Fort Russ by J. Arnoldski
"On the prospects of a split in the Islamic State"
The Islamic State is often considered to be some kind of monolithic structure which unites under its banner exclusively religious fanatics from all over the world. It is argued that the number of Salafists (Islamic radicals) in the ranks of ISIS is equal to the payroll of fighters, officials, and leaders of the group.
On the bases of such appraisals, varying conclusion on the impossibility of liquidating the Islamic State are made, since its militants are driven by the ideology of radical Islam and this ideology, as is known, can only be replaced by another ideology. However, this informational picture is only partly true.
The Islamic State just like any other military-political structure of a similar scale and exists exclusively thanks to following the principle of “checks and balances,” that is, through the achievement of a balance of interests of all participants. The latest news coming out of Iraq and Syria indirectly suggests that this fragile balance that has allowed to expand its territory has been disturbed.
From the “green international” to Iraqi Islamism
In the context of the topic under discussion, it would be wise to refresh our memory and remember how the far from most influential group during the time of the civil war in Iraq evolved into the largest and richest terrorist organization of our time.
It is widely known now that the Islamic State was established on the basis of the “Islamic State of Iraq” established in 2006 and transformed over time into the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” However, the nature of the origin ISIS’ first prototype remains unknown to many.
The American intervention in Iraq, as is known, provoked not only the opening of a new regional branch of Al-Qaeda, but also a surge in terrorist activity in the country. The Jihadist Front against “occupiers and crusaders” opened dozens of terrorist groupings, and Al-Qaeda was not the most influential “rebel” force in the country.
Its especial popularity among the local Sunni population and Islamic groupings of “Al-Qaeda in Iraq” had to do with its pathological cruelty and intolerance towards the “opponents” of its leader, the “Jordan butcher” al-Zarqawi. The fighters of Al-Qaeda in Iraq were not only for their resonating terrorist attacks against occupational forces and Shiites, but also against those Iraqi officials collaborating with the Americans. A particular feature of the terrorist practice of Al-Qaeda in Iraq was its absolute indifference to the victims of terrorist attacks. Thatis, if the liquidation of an official could cause serious casualties among the peaceful Sunni population, the attack still nonetheless took place.
One of the best researchers on terrorist activity in Iraq during the time of the American occupation is V.V. Kudelev, who estimated that during the first three years of the civil war, the hands of Islamists from Al-Qaeda in Iraq killed no less Sunnis than Shiites. This fact was repeatedly pointed out by Ayman al-Zawahiri (at the time the second man of Al-Qaeda in Pakistan) who called the “butcher of Jordan” to review his policy towards the local population. The appeal did not find an answer.
However, the refusal of the leadership of Al-Qaeda to review policies in relation to the Sunni population sharply contrasted with the desire of the group to establish its monopoly on the territory of Iraq, which a priori was impossible as long as militants methods of struggle were practiced. AS a result, a “Solomonic solution” was found which put together an alliance of Islamists under a new guise.
Thus, in January 2006 the creation of the “Shrua Council of Mujahidin” was announced, which over the course of a year, in addition to Al-Qaeda in Iraq, was joined by many (more than 30) influential groupings (the Army of the Victorious Community, the Army of Conquerors, and the Troops of the Companions, and others). This gathering of a new “terrorist pool” culminated in the proclamation of the Islamic State of Iraq. It was headed by the predecessor of the current Caliph, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.
This “administrated reform” resolved two of the most sharp problems of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. First of all, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, in setting the tone for the new structure, increased and multiplied its military strength and mobilization capability. Secondly, a major step towards monopolizing the jihadist movement in Iraq was made under the banner of a new grouping with more than 30 (at the time 50) organizations. What was also of more than little important was that Al-Qaeda in Iraq could “chill” the advocates of its competitors, quite rightly blaming a group of “otherness.” After the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq, the issue of dominance by foreigners in the ranks of Al-Qaeda in Iraq lost its relevance.
The proclamation of the Islamic State of Iraq undoubtedly became one of the most fateful events for Iraq and the region as a whole. Thanks to “changing guises,” the jihadi-internationalists were able to attract local Islamists who enjoyed some support of Iraq’s Sunni population, which in turn allowed them to form a springboard for further “resistance.” The process of consolidating Islamist forces in the country was launched, which eventually culminated in the proclamation of the Islamic State.
The war for preferences
A second component of the further Islamic State was made up of former antagonists from the “Green International” movement on the territory of Iraq, Sunni paramilitary units in the province of al-Anbar (and other provinces later on) who are better known under the name “Councils of Awakening” (“al-Sahwa”).
The emergence of this organization was due to the rejection by the Sunni population of Iraq of what to them was the foreign ideology of the Islamists of Al-Qaeda, which imposed tight restrictions on the local population in areas under its control. The conflict between the leadership of the Islamists and local tribes resulted in the creation of a militia with the active support of occupation forces and was in a short period of time able to squeeze out the militants of Al-Qaeda from their residential areas.
The militants of the “Councils of Awakening” received not only weapons, but also financing expenses in the amount of 300 dollars from occupation forces, which by Iraqi standards is a quite decent amount. At the best of times, the membership of Al-Sahwa” reached 150,000 fighters.
Over time, this structure acquired the status of a guarantor of the conditional autonomy of Sunni provinces, since Al-Sahwa divisions acted as the private militaries of local tribes and clans. The Councils of Awakening controlled key transportation hubs and industrial enterprises which the local elite exploited and lived off of. The high efficiency of this structure, coupled with a rapidly growing political weight of Sunni leaders, forced the United States and official Baghdad to promise local tribes and clans that they would be incorporated into state institutions. The main deal was the question of “legalizing” these Sunni paramilitary units.
However, the distrust of Al-Sahwa by American forces, coupled with the chronic voluntarism of the Shiite prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Miliki, left negotiations at a crossroads, the result of which was that Sunni tribes were compelled to go for an alliance with radical Islamists. We can assume that this was exclusively for the purpose of attracting bargaining with the officials in Baghdad behind whom for not the first year stood Iran rather than Washington.
Continued in Part 2