The start of 2005 was a transition period for both the United States and Iraqis. On the one hand the U.S. was trying and failing to implement its first strategy for Iraq. On the other Al Qaeda in Iraq was announced, other insurgent groups were breaking with Zarqawi, and Moqtada al-Sadr moved towards Iran.
In April 2005 new U.S. commander in Iraq General George Casey issued the first campaign plan for Iraq. It included four phases. The first was to rebuild the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). Then the U.S. would transfer security to the Iraqis and start closing bases for an eventual withdrawal. The plan was fraught with problems from the start. For example, the U.S. set up military transition teams that would advise the ISF. Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi rejected having these units work with the Iraqi police which meant half of the ISF was off limits. Then Casey cut the personnel in half thinking smaller teams would be more effective when it meant the opposite. Then the general had soldiers deploy individually to their training missions instead of as units. Last there weren’t enough interpreters for each team. All of these added to the existing flaw in the rebuilding effort that emphasized pumping out as many ISF as quickly as possible rather than focusing upon the quality of the recruits.
Iraq achieved a major political benchmark in January 2005 with the first elections for a transitional assembly to write a new constitution. Several insurgent groups such as Ansar al-Sunna, the Islamic Army, the Mujahdeen Army and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi threatened to kill anyone who voted. There was also a general boycott called by Sunni leaders who thought non-participation would discredit the balloting. The result was a 58% voter turnout. The Americans still thought this was a positive step towards stability and would help turn Iraqis towards the new Iraq. Instead it solidified the divisions within the country and shut out the Sunnis.
The winter of 2004/2005 was when Zarqawi’s Tawhid wal-Jihad became Al Qaeda in Iraq. Al Qaeda had sent emissaries to Iraq to interview the various insurgent groups to see which would become its affiliate in the country. After long negotiations that became Zarqawi’s organization. The new name meant that he would have access to far more money from donors, more recruits and greater prestige then other insurgents. Osama bin Laden on the other hand got a leader in the main struggle in the jihad. He wanted Zarqawi to focus upon attacking the U.S. and not Iraqis but he was ignored. Instead in January 2005 Zarqawi met with Ansar al-Sunna and the Army of Mohammed to plan for a war against the Iraqi government which was the first step in his plans to start a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites. Zarqawi would always prove to be independent from Al Qaeda. He would also be successful in starting his sectarian war, but he would be a polarizing force within the insurgency that would eventually split and divide it.
The differences within the Sunni militant camp would become apparent in 2005. Many former regime members decided to try politics. Mohammed Latif the head of the Ramadi Shura Council for example pushed for a political solution and asked the Dulaim tribal confederation to be a middleman to open talks with the government. This was a start of a division between rejectionists like Zarqawi and Ansar al-Sunna and those willing to make compromises. That led to fighting between Al Qaeda in Iraq and more nationalist insurgent groups in Ramadi. By February 2005 Latif had stopped attacking the Americans and was in a full war with Zarqawi. This would spread to other groups and other parts of Anbar province in the following months. Al Qaeda in Iraq responded by going after the leadership of all its rival groups and effectively silenced them. The first sign of differences emerged in 2004. By 2005 they had become sharper and more violent which would continue into the next year and eventually lead to large elements of the militants switching sides to work with the U.S. against Zarqawi.
The last major change was Moqtada al-Sadr going to Iran for help. His Mahdi Army suffered huge losses in 2004 during his two uprisings. His militia was only a loose organization of followers with little to no training or leadership. He decided he needed foreign help if he wanted a better showing the next time he would confront the Americans. That led him to send several of his lieutenants including Qais Khazali to Tehran to ask for assistance. They met with Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force commander General Suleiman who set up a training program which included help from Hezbollah and sending militiamen to Iran, Lebanon and Syria. The units would return to Iraq and eventually be called Special Groups. Khazali would also use his contacts with Iran to eventually break with Sadr. He was unhappy with his leadership believing he was too erratic and thought he should be the heir to Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr not his son Moqtada. Khazali would later leave the Sadr movement and create his own group Asaib Ahl Al-Haq.
Rayburn, Colonel Joel, Sobchak, Colonel Frank Editors, with Godfroy, Lieutenant Colonel Jeanne, Morton, Colonel Matthew, Powell, Colonel James, Zais, Lieutenant Colonel Matthew, The U.S. Army In The Iraq War: Volume I, Invasion, Insurgency, Civil War, 2003-2006, Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College Press, 2019