Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Precarious Relationship Between The Islamic State of Iraq And The Baathist Naqshibandi

Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshibandi (JRTN) is the Baathist insurgent group led by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, Saddam Hussein’s former number two. After the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) the Baathists are one of the largest insurgent groups in the country. Those two organizations have had a very rough relationship. For years the two have cooperated in carrying out attacks in Iraq with one usually providing the money and planning, while the other launches the operation. Now however ISIS is demanding that JRTN units pledge allegiance to it, which has been resisted. That has led to several clashes between the two in Kirkuk, Ninewa, and Diyala provinces. These cracks in the insurgency have continued in the midst of their uprising against Baghdad, and are likely to grow in the future.
The Baathist Naqshibandi have had a difficult relationship with ISIS over the last few months leading to constant clashes between the two (Wikipedia)

Starting this spring there have been continued reports of clashes between the JRTN and ISIS. The latest lasted several days in Kirkuk province. The fighting started in Riyad on June 20 when ISIS allegedly confiscated the weapons of a Naqshibandi unit and kidnapped one of its leaders, and told it that it had to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State. When the JRTN refused there was a gunfight that left 9 Naqshibandi and 8 ISIS fighters dead. An alternative story emerged that the two might have been fighting over money that would come from a number of fuel tankers that JRTN was using. Two days later shooting broke out again in the same area leaving 10 dead, and the next day an IED was set off against an ISIS convoy killing one and wounding two. These were just the most recent incidents between the two. On June 16 for example, 12 insurgents died in Mosul after the JRTN’s Military Council criticized the Islamic State’s code of conduct for the city. Control over the money seized in Mosul might have been an issue as well. Those all occurred after the current uprising started, but the two had been arguing over the same issues for months beforehand. On May 28 ISIS killed 8 Naqshibandi fighters in Baiji, Salahaddin because the Islamic State told them they had to follow its lead. JRTN retaliated by setting up an ambush for an ISIS leader and two of his aides in the Hamrin area of Diyala. Earlier on May 2 there was a news report that the Baathists had authorized the killing of ISIS members in Diyala after it had killed six of its leaders since January 2014. For instance, the Islamic State murdered a Naqshibandi commander and his son in Hamrin on April 7. A member of the Diyala provincial council claimed that the conflict between the two cost ISIS up to 70 fighters a not insignificant number. Publicly the Baathists have denied that there are any problems between it and the Islamic State. That shows the basic inequality between the insurgent organizations. ISIS is by far the most well armed and organized militant group in Iraq. The JRTN is in effect living in its shadow willing to cooperate with it, but not give its loyalty since the two have diametrically opposed worldviews. ISIS wants to create an Islamic State across the Muslim world, while the Naqshibandi want to restore Baathist rule in Iraq. These differences will persist in the future, and likely grow in intensity as the insurgency spreads to new areas of the country.

As ISIS takes more territory and attempts to administer it more examples of these conflicts with not only JRTN but other insurgent groups will emerge. ISIS and its predecessor Al Qaeda in Iraq have a long history of trying to impose itself upon others. That’s especially true of the Islamic State who sees itself as a vanguard in the jihadist movement, which all others should follow. Already in Syria it has fought not only the Assad government, but various other opponents of the regime. The Americans were able to play upon these divisions with the insurgency with the Anbar Awakening and Sons of Iraq that were instrumental in turning the tide during the civil war years. Now it is nearly impossible to imagine Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or any other Shiite premier making a deal with Baathists or other Islamist groups to turn on ISIS since all are seen as existential threats to the state and Shiite rule. The results are a lost opportunity to turn the militants upon themselves, which will mean more fighting in the long run.


Agence France Presse, “Sunni militant infighting kills 17 in Iraq’s Kirkuk,” 6/21/14

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, “Diyala Council reveals the existence of the terrorist al-Baghdad, and confirms the existence of problems between Daash and Naqshbandi,” 6/1/14
- “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
- “Naqshbandi executed terrorist organization leader in Daash and two of his aides in Diyala in response to executions in Salahuddin,” 6/1/14
- “Sharp differences between Daash gangs and leaders of Saddam’s Baath Party over the looted money in Mosul,” 6/14/14

Al Masalah, “Organization “Naqshibandi” deny entry in an armed conflict with “Daash,”” 6/3/14

Namaa, Kamal, “Iran rejects U.S. action in Iraq, ISIL tightens Syria border grip,” Reuters, 6/22/14

National Iraqi News Agency, “Clashes erupt between ISIS and other armed groups in Kirkuk,” 6/23/14
- “ISIS executes eight people for not swear allegiance to ISIS,” 5/31/14

New Sabah, “Council Diyala: sharp differences between armed groups,” 5/5/14

Al Rafidayn, “Diyala announce the deaths of more than two dozen in armed infighting going on between Daash and Naqshbandi,” 6/3/14

Al Rayy, “Clashes between the Naqshibandi and Daash in Mosul,” 6/16/14

Shafaq News, “ISIL kidnap Nashbandi leader in Kirkuk due to influence conflict,” 6/21/14


Anonymous said...

Hi Joel,

Question for you: Do you have any sense if Maliki and the Shia leadership are making any progress in building a new or modified military structure consisting of Shia military units and militias?

It seems from casual observation that there is no progress at all and that the Shia leadership (GoI) continues to be dilatory and ineffectual. Are there new commanders? Are they competent? Will the militias end up as de facto military units? Is any kind of strategic planning go on to rationalize the GoI/Shia response?

These are the sort of questions that occur to me, and I don't know if anyone is able to penetrate the fog of war to answer them right now.

Joel Wing said...

IRGC Quds Force Cmdr Gen. Suleimani is still in Iraq. Would not be surprised if he was trying to organize the defense strategy for the government.

As for new commanders Maliki made a scapegoat out of a series of commanders but the majority are still in place and many of those were put in office by Maliki to be his loyalists.

Regarding the militias read my earlier article on the Sadr mobilization. The militias are receiving training from the army and have been integrated into army units. They are fighting in Anbar western Baghdad, Diyala, Salahaddin and Ninewa. Again all these militia units with the exception of the Sadrists will ultimately be under Iranian control as there are lots of reports of several hundred Iranians already in the country who are probably acting as advisers to the ISF.

Overall none of this really matters because Baghdad has no real strategy of how to turn things around. They are carrying out the same types of raid and leave operations that they have done for years no with little to no affect. Look at Anbar, 6 months of fighting and the province is about to completely fall to insurgent hands.

Iraq is simply heading for a very long and very bloody war of attrition with Baghdad trying to kill its way out of the situation.

Anonymous said...

Seems that the GoI/Shia have three options:

1. Get rid of Maliki and create a national unity government with willing Sunnis and perhaps Kurds to eject/destroy ISIS. Unlikely: The well is poisoned, and it's not as though any of the Sunni power centers were ever terribly trustworthy from a Shia perspective. They never did give up the idea that they should be in the Iraqi driver's seat.

2. Create the conditions for the partition of Iraq. Kurds have already helped with this! The main thing for the Shia would be to ethnically cleanse the Sunnis from the southern and western suburbs of Baghdad as well as Diyala and create a well defined separation with possible separation barriers emplaced in the Israeli style. The Shia have all the oil but the problem would be water, I suppose. Don't know how they overcome the problem of hostile Sunnis sitting upstream on both rivers.

3. Large-scale ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from Tigris and Euphrates valleys like the dispossession of the Greeks of Anatolia in 1921-23. Non-Kurdish Iraq would be Shiafied. Large numbers of Sunnis simply killed and many more pushed into Jordan, Saudi, Turkey, or Syria. This COA would isolate Shia Iraq at least in the short term though the need for Iraqi oil would keep open key links. All other considerations aside, not sure that they have the military capability to accomplish this, though the task is at least much simpler than "clear and hold" and less futile than their current operational concept.

The implicit fourth option is an endless continuation of the current approach. Netanyahu seems to like this one as he said the other day that western strategy should be to weaken both sides (ISIS and the Shia "led by Iran"). Clearly, there is no long-term upside for the Shia in this default option.

Joel Wing said...

Maliki could well be pushed out this time around. A likely replacement is Tariq Najm who is Maliki's adviser and a Dawa member.

The problem with national unity governments is that EVERY Iraqi govt from 2005 has been one. They've meant both opponents and supporters of the government are in the same boat making it more deadlocked and dysfunctional. It has also done nothing to stop the insurgency.

Iraq is already becoming de facto partitioned and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future given the short comings of the security forces and the Kurds unwillingness to do anything unless there is a political deal with Baghdad.

The Kurds specifically will become independent sometime but I don't think it will be now.

Sectarian cleansing could very well happen all over again. That will probably happen if/when street fighting starts in Baghdad once again.

Still that means a very long war.

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