April and May 2014 have brought forth more reports of fighting between insurgent groups in Iraq. The main armed factions involved are the Islamist Ansar al-Sunna and the Baathist Naqshibandi against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). According to the press these clashes have taken place in Diyala and Kirkuk where there have been similar incidents over the last year. The main points of dispute appear to be over ideology, tactics, and the attempt by ISIS to dominate other armed factions.
Kirkuk province has seen armed clashes between Ansar al-Sunna and ISIS in recent weeks. April 6 it was reported that 2 Islamic State leaders were killed in a half hour gun battle with Ansar in southern Kirkuk near the Hamrin Mountains. One of the dead was the Wali of Kirkuk Abu Bakr. April 18 an ISIS commander was killed in another gun fight in Rashad, which was again in the southern section of the governorate. Finally May 5 the Iraqi press had a story that Ansar al-Sunna attacked the home of another ISIS leader in Husseiniya in western Kirkuk. The report went on to say that these battles were driving the Islamic State to the Hamrin Mountains in the south and the Zab area in the west, both historic insurgent bases in the area.
A similar set of clashes took place in Diyala but involved Ansar and the Baathist Naqshibandi. April 7 ISIS killed a Naqshibandi leader and his son in the northwestern section of the province. This came after ISIS kidnapped some Naqshibandi fighters in the Qara Tapa area. May 2 an intelligence source told Alsumaria that the Naqshibandi had authorized the killing of ISIS members in retaliation for killing six of its commanders. This was later denied in a Naqshibandi statement two days later. May 3 Al Rayy quoted another intelligence agent who claimed that Ansar al-Sunna had declared war on ISIS in the governorate. The later two stories are problematic because they relied upon unknown intelligence members who might have spread the stories to undermine the militants. At the same time, there have been other reports of growing tensions between these groups, which makes these statements believable.
There are many causes of this fighting and they have happened before. First, there are ideological differences. Ansar al-Sunna and the Islamic State are both Islamist groups that want to create a new caliphate. Ansar is closer to Al Qaeda however, while ISIS has established its independence, thus making them rivals within the jihadi movement. The Naqshibandi on the other hand is Sufi, but is based upon the old Baath Party, meaning that it has no place in a new Islamic order ISIS wants to create. Second, they are conflicts over territory. The Hamrin Mountains for example have been a base for militant groups for almost a decade. Now that the insurgency has been reborn these groups are expanding, which has led to turf wars. Third, there have been arguments over tactics. ISI for example has kidnapped and killed members of local tribes and the Sahwa, which other insurgent factions believe will turn those groups against them. More importantly, ISIS has a history of trying to dominate other groups. It sees itself as a vanguard, and demands that others follow its lead. Those that don’t are eventually attacked. There have been reports of ISIS killing members of Ansar al-Sunna and Naqshibandi for the last several months. It has fought with Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, and its predecessor Al Qaeda in Iraq once battled most of the other insurgent groups and Sunni tribes in Iraq at one time or another, which led to the Awakening and Sahwa being formed. These differences will not be resolved any time soon meaning that further stories of in fighting will appear in the future.
Alsumaria, “Intelligence source in Diyala: Naqshibandi allow the killing of leaders and members of Daash and describe them as apostates,” 5/2/14
Buratha News, “The killing of a leader in the terrorist organization “Naqshibandi” and his son at the hands of the elements of “Daash” terrorists northeast of Baquba,” 4/7/14
Al Mada, “The killing of a senior commander in “Daash” in clash with supporters of Ansar al-Sunna south of Kirkuk,” 4/18/14
National Iraqi News Agency, “Armed clashes between al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Sunna in Kirkuk,” 5/5/14
- “Two leaders of the ISIS killed in a clash between Al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Sunna south of Kirkuk,” 4/6/14
New Sabah, “Council Diyala: sharp differences between armed groups,” 5/5/14
Al Rayy, “Diyala source: Ansar al-Sunna declares war against Daash and is considered a tool to distort Islam,” 5/3/14
Al-Tamimi, Aymenn Jawad, “Key Updates on Iraq’s Sunni Insurgent Groups,” Brown Moses, 5/11/14