Iraq: insurgents form new front —minus al-Qaeda?

Writing for The Guardian July 19, Seumas Milne relates a revealing meeting with Iraqi insurgent leaders in Damascus, who say they are uniting in a new front, to be called the Political Office for the Iraqi Resistance. They say a founding congress is in the works, with the aim of establishing a credible armed resistance and isolating al-Qaeda elements bent on sectarian warfare. They even claim that there has been indirect contact with France about opening a public office there. The constituent groups are named as Iraqi Hamas, the 1920 Revolution Brigades, Ansar al-Sunna, Jaish al-Islami, Jaish al-Mujahideen, Jama’ and Jaish al-Rashideen.

Milne includes extensive quotes from Abd al-Rahman al-Zubeidy of Ansar al-Sunna—although that may not be his real name. (A line at the end of the story reads “Names have been changed.”)

At the heart of the new insurgent alliance is a rejection of the murderous sectarianism that has come to grip Iraq – and the role of al-Qaida in particular. Most striking is the case of Zubeidy, whose hardline salafist (purist Islamic) group Ansar al-Sunna recently split in half over the issue (his faction is now called the Legitimate Committee of Ansar al-Sunna…). “We wanted to unite with other resistance forces, but the other group is moving closer to al-Qaida and refused. Al-Qaida has brought benefits and problems,” Zubeidy says. “They attack the US occupiers. But every day the problems they bring become greater than the benefits.

“Resistance isn’t just about killing Americans without any aims or goals,” he continues. “Our people have come to hate al-Qaida, which gives the impression to the outside world that the resistance in Iraq are terrorists. Suicide bombing is not the best way to fight because it kills innocent civilians. We are against indiscriminate killing – fighting should be concentrated only on the enemy. They [al-Qaida] believe that all Shia are kuffar [unbelievers] – and most of the Sunnis as well.” They estimate that al-Qaida now carries out between a fifth and a third of all attacks in Iraq.

But they say that it is necessary for the Sunni-based groups to ally with the Shia. “Even though that is not easy,” says Zubeidy. “A great gap has opened up between Sunni and Shia under the occupation and al-Qaida has contributed to that – as have the US and Iran. Most of al-Qaida’s members are Iraqis but its leaders are mostly foreigners. The Americans magnify their role, even though they are responsible for a minority of resistance operations – remember that the Americans brought al-Qaida to Iraq.”

See our last posts on al-Qaeda in Iraq and the the anatomy of the insurgency.