As the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) cuts a path across northern and central Iraq other insurgent groups are attempting to take advantage of the situation. There have been reports that the Baathist Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshibandi (JRTN) were active in the taking of Tikrit and are operating in Mosul as well. With the general collapse of the security forces in Mosul, northern and central Salahaddin and western Tikrit it is only natural that other armed groups would make their move to seize territory as well. This good time for the insurgency belies the internal contradictions within it, especially between JRTN and ISIS.
Since the beginning of the year there have been several incidents of insurgent in fighting in Diyala and Salahaddin provinces. One recent example took place in Baiji, Salahaddin when ISIS demanded that local chapters of the JRTN pledge allegiance to it. When they refused the Islamic State executed eight Naqshibandi fighters on May 28. In retaliation, the Baathists ambushed and killed an ISIS leader and two of his aides in the Hamrin mountain region of Diyala on June 1. Afterward several Islamic State elements fled into neighboring Salahaddin to escape more attacks by the Naqshibandi. This story was relied by members of the security committee on the Diyala provincial council. The Naqshibandi immediately issued a statement denying any conflicts with ISIS, and accused the government of spreading these rumors to undermine the insurgency. These were just the latest incidents between these two groups. The press has reported on and off against clashes between them for the last two months in Diyala. The root of the problem is that the Islamic State demands that the rest of the insurgency acknowledge its leadership, while they want to maintain their independence. ISIS has followed a similar strategy in Syria and that has led to fighting with other groups as well. Its predecessor Al Qaeda in Iraq did the same from 2004-2007, and was notorious for attacking anyone or group that stood in its way.
It appears that JRTN is trying to negotiate a difficult relationship with the Islamic State. The two have been known to work together in the past, but they are increasingly coming into conflict likely over turf. The Baathists consistently deny these disputes but the blood spilt between them over the last several months tells a different story. It has to keep up a public face of cooperation because JRTN knows it will lose any fight with the much larger and well-armed Islamic State. Right now the Naqshibandi are trying to expand along with ISIS and that will likely lead to more disputes. As long as ISIS sees itself as the vanguard of the insurgency it will continue to demand allegiance from others, and that will cause more armed clashes in the future.
Buratha News, “Diyala Council reveals the existence of the terrorist al-Baghdad, and confirms the existence of problems between Daash and Naqshbandi,” 6/1/14
- “Naqshbandi executed terrorist organization leader in Daash and two of his aides in Diyala in response to executions in Salahuddin,” 6/1/14
Lewis, Jessica, Kagan, Kimber and Ali, Ahmed, “The ISIS Battle Plan,” Institute for the Study of War, 6/11/14
Al Masalah, “Organization “Naqshibandi” deny entry in an armed conflict with “Daash,”” 6/3/14
Al Rafidayn, “Diyala announce the deaths of more than two dozen in armed infighting going on between Daash and Naqshbandi,” 6/3/14