Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشام
As of January 2014 the state has control over most of the Fallujah, Iraq, and Ar-Raqqah, Syria
|Capital||Fallujah (Arabic language: الفلوجة)|
|Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi|
|Independence from Iraq and Syria|
|January 3, 2014|
|Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant|
الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشام (Arabic)|
ad-Dawla al-Islāmiyya fi al-'Iraq wa-sh-Sham
Participant in the Iraq War, the Global War on Terrorism, the Iraqi insurgency, and the Syrian Civil War
Flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi† (2004–2006)|
Abu Ayyub al-Masri† (2006–2010)
Abu Omar al-Baghdadi† (2006–2010)
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (2010–present)
|Strength||8000+ ? |
|Part of||al-Qaeda (2004–2014)|
Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad|
al-Qaeda in Iraq
Mujahideen Shura Council
25px Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar
Syrian Armed Forces
Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Arabic language: الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشام ad-Dawla al-Islāmiyya fi al-'Irāq wa-sh-Shām), abbreviated as ISIL, is a group active in Iraq and Syria. It was established in the early years of the Iraq War, and pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2004, becoming known as "al-Qaeda in Iraq". The group was composed of and supported by a variety of insurgent groups, including its predecessor organisation, the Mujahideen Shura Council, Al-Qaeda, Jaysh al-Fatiheen, Jund al-Sahaba, Katbiyan Ansar Al-Tawhid wal Sunnah, Jeish al-Taiifa al-Mansoura, etc., and other clans whose population is of Sunni faith. It aimed to establish a caliphate in the Sunni majority populated regions of Iraq, later expanding this to include Syria. In February 2014, after an 8-month-long power struggle, al-Qaeda cut off all ties to ISIL, accusing it of excessive violence against civilians in northern Syria, which alienated thousands of Syrians.
At the height of the Iraq War, it claimed a significant presence in the Iraqi provinces of Anbar Governorate, Ninawa, Kirkuk, and most of Salah ad Din, and parts of Babil, Diyala, and Baghdad. It claimed Baqubah as its capital. During the ongoing Syrian Civil War, the group has a large presence in the Syrian governorates of Ar-Raqqa, Idlib and Aleppo.
Although unverified, the Islamic State is thought to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian civilians, as well as members of the Iraqi government and its international allies. Despite significant setbacks to the group during the latter stages of the Iraq War, by late 2012 the group was thought to have renewed its strength and more than doubled its number of members to about 2,500.
A letter and later an audio recording by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda, was leaked to Al Jazeera in 2013, disbanding the Syrian faction of the Islamic State. However the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has made it clear that he differed with this ruling on the basis of Islamic jurisprudence, and the group has since continued to operate in Syria. Starting in April 2013, the group made rapid military gains to control large parts of Northern Syria, where the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights described them as "the strongest group".
- 1 Name and name changes
- 2 History
- 2.1 As Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad
- 2.2 As Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn
- 2.3 As Islamic State of Iraq
- 2.4 2003–2006
- 2.5 2007 events
- 2.6 2009 events
- 2.7 2010 events
- 2.8 2012 events
- 2.9 Presence in Syria
- 2.10 2014 events
- 3 Notable members
- 4 See also
- 5 References
Name and name changes
The group has changed its name several times since its formation. The organisation first emerged in early 2004 and called itself Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (The Organization of Monotheism and Jihad) but changed its name in October 2004 to Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn, The Organization of Jihad's Base in the Country of the Two Rivers (TQJBR), more commonly known as al-Qaida in Iraq. Then in January 2006 the group merged with several smaller organizations and began calling itself Mujahideen Shura Council and in October 2006 it chose the name Dawlat al-'Iraq al-Islamiyya or Islamic State of Iraq. In April 2013, the group changed its name to the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" to reflect its involvement in the Syrian civil war. The group is also known as the "Islamic State of Iraq and Sham", which is abbreviated to ISIS.
As Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad
Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, often abbreviated to "JTJ" or shortened to Tawhid and Jihad, Tawhid wal-Jihad and sometimes Tawhid al-Jihad (or just Al Tawhid or Tawhid), was started by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and a combination of foreigners and local Islamist sympathizers around 2002. Zarqawi was a Jordanian Salafi who had traveled to Afghanistan to fight in the Soviet-Afghan War, but he arrived after the departure of the Soviet troops and soon returned to his homeland. He eventually returned to Afghanistan, running an Islamic militant training camp near Herat. Originally, Zarqawi started the network with the intention of overthrowing the kingdom of Jordan, which he considered to be un-Islamic via the 4 schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence, and for this purpose developed a large number of contacts and affiliates in several countries. Although unverified, his network may have been involved in the late 1999 plot to bomb the Millennium celebrations in the United States and Jordan. Zarqawi's operatives were also responsible for the assassination of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley in Jordan in 2002.
Following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, Zarqawi moved westward into Iraq, where he reportedly received medical treatment in Baghdad for an injured leg. It is believed that he developed extensive ties in Iraq with Ansar al-Islam ("Partisans of Islam"), a Kurdish Islamic militant group based in the extreme northeast of the country. Allegedly, Ansar had ties to Iraqi Intelligence; Saddam Hussein's motivation would have been to use Ansar as a surrogate force to repress the secular Kurds fighting for independence of Kurdistan. In January 2003, Ansar's founder Mullah Krekar denied any connection with Saddam's regime. The consensus of intelligence officials has since concluded that there were no links whatsoever between Zarqawi and Saddam, and that Saddam viewed Ansar al-Islam "as a threat to the regime" and his intelligence officials were spying on the group. The Senate Report on Pre-war Intelligence on Iraq concluded in 2006, "Postwar information indicates that Saddam Hussein attempted, unsuccessfully, to locate and capture al-Zarqawi and that the regime did not have a relationship with, harbor, or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi."
Following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, JTJ developed into an expanding militant network including some of the remnants of Ansar al-Islam and a growing number of foreign fighters, with the purpose of resisting the coalition occupation forces and their Iraqi allies. Many foreign fighters arriving in Iraq were inititally not associated with the group, but once in the country they became dependent on Zarqawi's local contacts. In May 2004, JTJ joined forces with an obscure Islamist militant group Salafiah al-Mujahidiah.
Goals and tactics
The stated goals of JTJ were to force a withdrawal of coalition forces from Iraq, to topple the Iraqi interim government, to assassinate collaborators with the occupation, to remove the Shia population and defeat its militias because of its death squad activities, and to subsequently establish a pure Islamic state.
JTJ differed from the other early Iraqi insurgent groups considerably in its tactics. Rather than just using conventional weapons and guerrilla tactics in ambushes against the U.S. and coalition forces, it has relied heavily on suicide bombings, often using car bombs and targeting a wide variety of groups but especially Iraqi Security Forces and those facilitating the occupation. Groups of workers that have been targeted by JTJ include Iraqi interim officials, Iraqi Shia and Kurdish political and religious figures, the country's Shia Muslim civilians, foreign civilian contractors, and the United Nations and humanitarian workers. Zarqawi's militants have been also known to use a wide variety of other tactics, including targeted kidnappings, the planting of improvised explosive devices, and mortar attacks; beginning in late June 2004, the JTJ implemented urban guerrilla-style attacks using rocket-propelled grenades and small arms. They also gained a worldwide notoriety for beheading Iraqi and foreign hostages and distributing video recordings of these acts on the Internet.
JTJ claimed credit for a number of attacks targeting Iraqi forces and infrastructure (including the October 2004 ambush and killing of 49 armed Iraqi National Guard recruits) and for a series of attacks on humanitarian aid agencies such as the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. It also conducted numerous attacks against U.S. military personnel throughout 2004 and audacious suicide attacks inside the high-security Green Zone perimeter in Baghdad. Zarqawi's men reputedly succeeded in assassinating several leading Iraqi politicians of the early post-Saddam era, and their bomb attack on the United Nations mission's headquarters in Iraq led the U.N. country team to relocate to Jordan and continue to work remotely.
The group either directly took responsibility or was blamed for many early Iraqi insurgent attacks, including the August 2003 series of high-profile bombings which killed 17 people at the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad; 23 people, including the chief of the United Nations mission to Iraq Sérgio Vieira de Mello, at the UN headquarters in Baghdad; and at least 86 including Ayatollah Sayed Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim in the Imam Ali Mosque bombing in Najaf; as well as the November truck bombing which killed 27 people, mostly Italian paramilitary policemen, at the Italian base in Nasiriyah.
The 2004 attacks connected to the group included the series of bombings in Baghdad and Karbala which killed some 178 people during the holy Day of Ashura in March; the April failed plot to explode chemical bombs in Amman, Jordan (said to be financed by Zarqawi's network); a series of suicide boat bombings of the oil pumping stations in the Persian Gulf in April, for which Zarqawi took responsibility in a statement published by the Muntada al-Ansar Islamist web site; the May car bomb assassination of Iraqi Governing Council president Ezzedine Salim at the entrance to the Green Zone in Baghdad; the June suicide car bombing in Baghdad which killed 35 civilians; and the September car bomb which killed 47 police recruits and civilians on Haifa Street in Baghdad.
Foreign civilian hostages abducted by the group in 2004 included American citizens Nick Berg, Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley, Turkish citizens Durmus Kumdereli, Aytullah Gezmen and Murat Yuce, South Korean citizen Kim Sun-il, Bulgarian citizens Georgi Lazov and Ivaylo Kepov, and a British citizen Kenneth Bigley. Most of them were beheaded using knives. Al-Zarqawi personally beheaded Berg and Armstrong, but Yuce was shot dead by al-Masri and Gezmen was released after "repenting".
As Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn
Goals and umbrella organizations
In a July 2005 letter to Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Zarqawi outlined a four-stage plan to expand the Iraq War, which included expelling U.S. forces from Iraq, establishing an Islamic authority (caliphate), spreading the conflict to Iraq's secular neighbors, and engaging in the Arab–Israeli conflict. The affiliated groups were linked to regional attacks outside Iraq consistent with their stated plan, such as the Sharm al-Sheikh bombings (2005) in Egypt which killed some 88 people, including many foreign tourists.
In January 2006, AQI created an umbrella organization, the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC), in an attempt to unify Sunni insurgents in Iraq. Its efforts to recruit Iraqi Sunni nationalists and secular groups were undermined by its violent tactics against civilians and its extreme Islamic fundamentalist doctrine. Because of these impediments, the attempt was largely unsuccessful.
AQI formerly attributed its attacks to the MSC until mid-October 2006, when Abu Ayyub al-Masri declared the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), another front which included the Shura Council factions. The AQI then began attributing its attacks in the name of the ISI. According to a study compiled by U.S. intelligence agencies, the ISI have plans to seize power and turn the country into a Sunni Islamic state.
As Islamic State of Iraq
Strength and activity
The group's strength is unknown, with estimates that ranged from just 850 to several thousand full-time fighters in 2007. Some sources believe that the group is formed of 5,500 foreign fighters that is its backbone, as well as 2,000 Syrians from the northern part of the country and about 15,000 people, performing “secondary roles”. There is also a special unit, consisting of 250 militants. They are almost all foreigners (mostly immigrants from Russia’s North Caucasus), called the Jeish Mujakirin va Ansar (JMA), headed by an ethnic Chechen, Abu Umar Al-Shishani. In 2006, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research estimated that AQI's core membership was "more than 1,000." (These figures do not include the other six AQI-led Salafi groups organized in the Islamic State of Iraq.) The group is said to be suffering high manpower losses (including from its many "martyrdom" operations), but for a long time this appeared to have little effect on its strength and capabilities, implying a constant flow of volunteers from Iraq and abroad. However, Al Qaeda in Iraq has more that doubled in strength, from 1,000 to 2,500 fighters, since the US withdrawal from Iraq in late 2011.
In 2007 some observers and scholars suggested that the threat posed by AQI was being exaggerated and a "heavy focus on Al-Qaeda obscures a much more complicated situation on the ground." According to both the July 2007 National Intelligence Estimate and the Defense Intelligence Agency reports, AQI accounted for 15 percent of attacks in Iraq. However, the Congressional Research Service noted in its September 2007 report that attacks from al-Qaeda are less than two percent of the violence in Iraq and criticized the Bush administration's statistics, noting that its false reporting of insurgency attacks as AQI attacks has increased since the surge operations began in 2007. In March 2007, the U.S.-sponsored Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty analyzed AQI attacks for that month and concluded the group had taken credit for 43 out of 439 attacks on Iraqi security forces and Shiite militias, and 17 out of 357 attacks on U.S. troops.
According to the 2006 U.S. Government report, this group is most clearly associated with foreign Jihadi cells operating in Iraq and has specifically targeted international forces and Iraqi citizens; most of AQI's operatives were not Iraqi, but were coming through a series of safe houses, the largest of which was on the Iraq-Syrian border. AQI's operations are predominately Iraq-based, but the United States Department of State alleges that the group maintains an extensive logistical network throughout the Middle East, North Africa, Iran, South Asia, and Europe. In a June 2008 CNN special report, al-Qaeda in Iraq was called "a well-oiled organization (...) almost as pedantically bureaucratic as was Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party", collecting new execution videos long after they stopped publicising them, and having a network of spies even in the U.S. military bases. According to the report, Iraqis (many of them former members of Hussein's secret services) have now effectively run al-Qaeda in Iraq, with "foreign fighters' roles seem mostly relegated to the cannon fodder of suicide attacks"; however, the organization's top leadership was still dominated by non-Iraqis.
Rise and decline of al-Qaeda in Iraq
The group officially pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network in a letter in October 2004. That same month, the group, now popularly referred to as "Al-Qaeda in Iraq", kidnapped and murdered the Japanese citizen Shosei Koda. In November, al-Zarqawi's network was the main target of the U.S. Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah, but its leadership managed to escape the American siege and subsequent storming of the city. In December, in two of its many sectarian attacks, al-Qaeda bombed a Shi'ite funeral procession in Najaf and the main bus station in nearby Karbala, killing at least 60 in the holy cities of Shia Islam. The group also reportedly took responsibility for the 30 September 2004 Baghdad bombing which killed 41 people, mostly children.
In 2005, AQI largely focused on executing high-profile and coordinated suicide attacks, claiming responsibility for numerous attacks which were primarily aimed at Iraqi administrators. The group launched attacks against voters during the Iraqi legislative election in January, a combined suicide and conventional attack on the Abu Ghraib prison in April, and the coordinated suicide attacks outside the Sheraton Ishtar and Palestine Hotel in Baghdad in October. In July, al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and execution of Ihab Al-Sherif, Egypt's envoy to Iraq. A July 2005 three-day series of suicide attacks, including the Musayyib marketplace bombing, left at least 150 people dead. Al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the September single-day series of more than a dozen bombings in Baghdad, including a 14 September bomb attack, which killed about 160 people (mostly unemployed Shi'ite workers). They claimed responsibility for series of mosque bombings which killed at least 74 people the same month in Khanaqin.
The attacks blamed on or claimed by al-Qaeda in Iraq continued to increase in 2006 (see also the list of major resistance attacks in Iraq). In one of the incidents, two U.S. soldiers (Thomas Lowell Tucker and Kristian Menchaca) were captured, tortured and beheaded by the ISI; in another, four Russian embassy officials were abducted and subsequently executed. Iraq's al-Qaeda and its umbrella groups were blamed for multiple attacks targeting the country's Shia population, some of which AQI claimed responsibility for. The U.S. claimed without verification that the group was at least one of the forces behind the wave of chlorine bombings in Iraq which affected hundreds of people (albeit with few fatalities) through the series of crude chemical warfare attacks between late 2006 and mid-2007. During 2006, several key members of the AQI were killed or captured by American and allied forces; this included al-Zarqawi himself, killed on 7 June 2006, his spiritual adviser Sheik Abd-Al-Rahman, and the alleged "number two" deputy leader, Hamid Juma Faris Jouri al-Saeedi. The group's leadership was then assumed by the man called Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, who was really the Egyptian militant Abu Ayyub al-Masri.
The high-profile attacks linked to the group continued through early 2007, as the AQI-led Islamic State claimed responsibility for attacks such as the March assassination attempt on Sunni Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq Salam al-Zaubai, the April Iraqi Parliament bombing, and the May capture and subsequent execution of three American soldiers. Also in May, ISI leader al-Baghdadi was declared to have been killed in Baghdad, but his death was later denied by the insurgents (later, al-Baghdadi was even declared by the U.S. to be non-existent). There were conflicting reports regarding the fate of al-Masri. From March to August, coalition forces fought the Battle of Baqubah as part of the largely successful attempts to wrest the Diyala Governorate from AQI-aligned forces. Through 2007, the majority of the suicide bombings targeting civilians in Iraq were routinely identified by the military and government sources as being the responsibility of al-Qaeda and its associated groups, even when there was no claim of responsibility (as was in the case of the 2007 Yazidi communities bombings, which killed some 800 people in the deadliest terrorist attack in Iraq to date).
By late 2007, violent and indiscriminate attacks directed by rogue AQI elements against Iraqi civilians had severely damaged their image and caused the loss of support among the population, isolating the group. In a major blow to AQI, many former Sunni militants that previously fought along with the group started to work with the American forces (see also below). The U.S. troop surge supplied the military with more manpower for operations targeting the group, resulting in dozens of high-level AQI members being captured or killed. Al-Qaeda seemed to have lost its foothold in Iraq and appeared to be severely crippled. Accordingly, the bounty issued for al-Masri was eventually cut from $5 million down to $100,000 in April 2008.
As of 2008, a series of U.S. and Iraqi offensives managed to drive out the AQI-aligned insurgents from their former safe havens such as Diyala and Al Anbar Governorates and the embattled capital of Baghdad to the area of the northern city of Mosul, the latest of the Iraq War's major battlegrounds. The struggle for control of Ninawa Governorate (the Ninawa campaign) was launched in January 2008 by U.S. and Iraqi forces as part of the large-scale Operation Phantom Phoenix aimed at combating Al-Qaeda activity in and around Mosul, as well as finishing off the network's remnants in central Iraq that escaped Operation Phantom Thunder in 2007. In 2008, Al-Qaeda bombed the Baghdad's pet market in February and a shopping centre in March, killing at least 98 and 68 people, respectively.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq has long raised money through various activities like kidnapping for ransom, car theft (sometimes killing drivers in the process), and hijacking fuel trucks, that would bring them tens of millions of dollars. According to an April 2007 statement by their Islamic Army in Iraq rivals, AQI was demanding jizya tax and killing members of wealthy families when not being paid. According to both U.S. and Iraqi sources in May 2008, the Islamic State of Iraq has been stepping up its fundraising campaigns as their strictly militant capabilities were on the wane, with especially lucrative activity said to be coming from oil operations centered on the industrial city of Bayji. According to U.S. military intelligence sources, in 2008 the group resembled a "Mafia-esque criminal gang".
Resisting established sectarian violence through targeted attacks
Attacks against militiamen often targeted the Iraqi Shia majority in an attempt to incite sectarian violence. Al-Zarqawi purportedly declared an all-out war on Shiites while claiming responsibility for the Shiite mosque bombings. The same month, a letter allegedly written by al-Zawahiri (later rejected as a "fake" by AQI) appeared to question the insurgents' tactic of indiscriminately attacking Shiites in Iraq. In a December 2007 video, al-Zawahiri defended the Islamic State in Iraq, but distanced himself from the crimes against civilians committed by "hypocrites and traitors existing among the ranks".
U.S. and Iraqi officials accused AQI of trying to slide Iraq into a full-scale civil war between Iraq's majority Shiites and minority Sunni Arabs with an orchestrated campaign of militiamen massacres and a number of provocative attacks against high-profile religious targets. With purported attacks such as the 2003 Imam Ali Mosque bombing, the 2004 Day of Ashura and Karbala and Najaf bombings, the 2006 first al-Askari Mosque bombing in Samarra and the deadly single-day series of bombings in which at least 215 people were killed in Baghdad's Shiite district of Sadr City, and the second al-Askari bombing in 2007, they provoked Shiite militias to unleash a wave of retaliatory attacks, resulting in a plague of death squad-style killings and spiraling further sectarian violence which escalated in 2006 and brought Iraq to the brink of violent anarchy in 2007. In 2008, sectarian bombings blamed on al-Qaeda killed at least 42 people at the Imam Husayn Shrine in Karbala in March and at least 51 people at a bus stop in Baghdad in June.
Operations outside Iraq and other activities
On 3 December 2004, AQI attempted to blow up an Iraqi–Jordanian border crossing, but failed to do so (in 2006, a Jordanian court sentenced Zarqawi in absentia and two of his associates to death for their involvement in the plot). AQI increased its presence outside Iraq by claiming credit for three attacks in 2005. In the most deadly of such attacks, suicide bombs killed 60 people in Amman, Jordan, on 9 November 2005. They claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks that narrowly missed the USS Kearsarge and the USS Ashland in Jordan, and which also targeted the city of Eilat in Israel, and also for the firing of several rockets into Israel from Lebanon in December.
The Lebanese-Palestinian militant group Fatah al-Islam, which was defeated by Lebanese government forces during the 2007 Lebanon conflict, was linked to AQI and led by Zarqawi's former companion who had fought alongside him in Iraq. The group may have been linked with the little-known group called "Tawhid and Jihad in Syria", and may have influenced the Palestinian resistance group called "Tawhid and Jihad Brigades" (better known as Army of Islam) in Gaza.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said that al-Qaeda in Iraq members have gone to Syria, where the militants previously received support and weapons. The al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda inspired group, has claimed responsibility for attacks inside of Syria.
Conflicts with the other groups
The first reports of a split and even armed clashes between people and other Sunni groups date back to 2009. In the summer of 2006, local Sunni tribes and insurgent groups, including the prominent Islamist-nationalist group Islamic Army in Iraq (IAI), began to speak of their dissatisfaction with al-Qaeda and its tactics, openly criticizing the foreign fighters for their deliberate targeting of Iraqi civilians. In September 2006, thirty Anbar tribes formed their own local alliance called the Anbar Salvation Council (ASC), directed specifically at countering al-Qaeda-allied terrorist forces in the province, openly siding with the government and the U.S. troops.
By the beginning of 2007, Sunni tribes and nationalist insurgents had begun battling with their former allies in AQI in order to retake control of their communities. In early 2007, forces allied to Al-Qaeda in Iraq committed a series of attacks against Sunnis critical of the group, including the February 2007 attack in which scores of people were killed when a truck bomb exploded near a Sunni mosque in Fallujah. Al-Qaeda supposedly played a role in the assassination of the leader of the Anbar-based insurgent group 1920 Revolution Brigade, the military wing of the Islamic Resistance Movement. In April 2007, the IAI spokesman accused the ISI of killing at least 30 members of the Islamic Army, as well as members of the Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna and Mujahideen Army insurgent groups, and called on Osama bin Laden to personally intervene to rein in Al-Qaeda in Iraq. The following month, the government stated that AQI leader al-Masri was killed by ASC fighters. Four days later, AQI released an audio tape in which a man claiming to be al-Masri warned Sunnis not to take part in the political process (later in May, the U.S. forces announced the release of dozens of Iraqis who were tortured by AQI as a part of the group's intimidation campaign, but also said that reports of internal fighting between Sunni militia groups were "lies and fabrications".
By June 2007, the growing hostility between foreign-influenced Jihadists and Sunni nationalists led to open gun battles between the groups in Baghdad. The Islamic Army soon reached a ceasefire agreement with AQI, but refused to sign on to the ISI. There were reports that Hamas of Iraq insurgents were involved in assisting U.S. troops in their Diyala Governorate operations against Al-Qaeda in August 2007. In September 2007, AQI claimed responsibility for the assassination of three people including the prominent Sunni sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, leader of the Anbar "Awakening council". That same month, a suicide attack on a mosque in the city of Baqubah killed 28 people, including members of Hamas of Iraq and the 1920 Revolution Brigade, during a meeting at the mosque between tribal and guerilla leaders and the police. Meanwhile, the U.S. military began arming moderate insurgent factions when they promised to fight Al-Qaeda in Iraq instead of the Americans.
By December 2007, the strength of the "Awakening" movement irregulars (also called "Concerned Local Citizens" and "Sons of Iraq") was estimated at 65,000–80,000 fighters. Many of them were former insurgents (including alienated former AQI supporters), now being armed and paid by the Americans specifically to combat al-Qaeda's presence in Iraq. As of July 2007, this highly controversial strategy proved to be effective in helping to secure the Sunni districts of Baghdad and the other hotspots of central Iraq and to rout out the al-Qaeda-aligned militants.
Transformation and attempted resurgency
In early 2009, U.S. forces began pulling out of cities across the country, turning over the task of maintaining security to the Iraqi Army, police, and their paramilitary allies. Experts and many Iraqis worried that in the absence of U.S. soldiers, AQI might resurface and attempt mass-casualty attacks to destabilize the country. There was indeed a spike in the number of suicide attacks, and through mid and late 2009, al-Qaeda in Iraq rebounded in strength and appeared to be launching a concerted effort to cripple the Iraqi government. During August and October 2009, AQI asserted responsibility for four bombings targeting five government buildings in Baghdad, including attacks that killed 101 at the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Finance in August and 155 at the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works in September; these were the deadliest attacks directed at the new government in more than six years of war. These attacks represent a shift from the group's previous efforts to incite sectarian violence, although a series of suicide attacks in April targeted mostly Iranian Shia pilgrims, killing 76, and in June a mosque bombing in Taza killed at least 73 Shi'ites from the Turkmen ethnic minority.
According to the commander of the U.S. forces in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, AQI "has transformed significantly in the last two years. What once was dominated by foreign individuals has now become more and more dominated by Iraqi citizens." Odierno's comments reinforce accusations by the government of Nuri al-Maliki that al-Qaeda and ex-Ba'athists were working together to undermine improved security and sabotage the planned Iraqi parliamentary elections in 2010. On 18 April 2010, Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi were both killed in a joint U.S.-Iraqi raid near Tikrit. As of June 2010, 80% of the group's 42 leaders, including recruiters and fincanciers, have been killed or captured, with only eight remaining at large, according to Odierno. He said they were cut off from their leaders in Pakistan, and improved intelligence allowed for the successful mission in April that led to the killing of the two AQI top commanders; in addition, the number of attacks and casualty figures in the first five months of 2010 have been the lowest yet since 2003. In May 2011, the Islamic State's "emir of Baghdad" Huthaifa al-Batawi, captured during the crackdown after the 2010 Baghdad church attack in which 68 people died, was killed during an attempted prison break after having killed an Iraqi general and several others.
The group is currently led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was declared a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on 4 October 2011 by the US State Department with an announced reward of $10 million for information leading to his capture or death. In August 2012, two Iraqi refugees who have resided in Kentucky were accused of assisting al-Qaeda in Iraq by sending funds and weapons; one has pleaded guilty.
The group was founded in 2003 as a reaction to the American-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, and first led by the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who declared allegiance to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network on 17 October 2004. Foreign fighters from outside Iraq were thought to play a key role in its network.
The group became a primary target of the Iraqi Government and its foreign supporters and attacks beetwen these groups resulted in more than 1,000 deaths every year between 2004 and 2010.
The ISI also made clear its belief that targeting civilians is an acceptable strategy and has been responsible for thousands of civilian deaths since 2004. In September 2005 the group's leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, declared war on Shia Muslims and the group has used bombings (especially suicide bombings in public places), massacres and executions to carry out terrorist attacks against Shia-dominated or mixed sectarian neighbourhoods. However, ISI's suicide attacks also killed hundreds of Sunni civilians, which engendered widespread anger against the group by many Sunnis.
Between late 2006 and May 2007, ISI brought the Dora neighborhood of southern Baghdad under its control. Numerous Christian families left, unwilling to pay the Jizya tax. US efforts to drive out the ISI presence stalled in late June 2007, despite the walling-off of streets and the use of biometric identification technology. By November 2007 the ISI had been removed from Dora, and Assyrian churches could be re-opened. In 2007 alone the ISI killed around 2,000 civilians, making that year its most violent in its campaign against the civilian population of Iraq.
On 19 April 2007, the organization announced that it had set up a provisional government termed "the first Islamic administration" of post-invasion Iraq. The "emirate" was stated to be headed by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and his "cabinet" of 10 "ministers":
|Name (English transliteration) and notable pseudonyms||Arabic name||Post||Notes|
|Abu Omar al-Baghdadi
(Deceased 18 April 2010)
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Husseini al-Qurashi aka Abu Dua
|أبو عمر البغدادي, أبو بكر البغدادي||Emir||Abu Dua, also known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is the second leader of the group and acting chief of Al Qaeda in Iraq.|
|Abu Abdullah al-Hussaini al-Quraishi al-Baghdadi||Vice Emir|
|Abu Abdul Rahman al-Falahi||أبو عبد الرحمن الفلاحي
ʾAbū ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān al-Falāḥī
|"First Minister" (Prime Minister)|
|Abu Hamza al-Muhajir aka Abu Ayyub al-Masri
(Deceased 18 April 2010)
Al-Nasser Lideen Allah Abu Suleiman aka Neaman Salman Mansour al Zaidi
|أبو حمزة المهاجر||War||Identity of al-Muhajir with al-Masri suspected. ISI only used former name. Abu Suleiman is the second minister of war.|
|Abu Uthman al-Tamimi||أبو عثمان التميمي
ʾAbū ʿUṯmān at-Tamīmī
|Abu Bakr al-Jabouri
AKA Muharib Abdul-Latif al-Jabouri
(Deceased 1/2 May 2007)
|أبو بكر الجبوري
ʾAbū Bakr al-Ǧabūrī
AKA محارب عبد اللطيف الجبوري
Muḥārib ʿAbd al-Laṭīf al-Ǧabūrī
|Public Relations||Common spelling variants: al-Jubouri, al-Jiburi.|
|Abu Abdul Jabar al-Janabi||أبو عبد الجبار الجنابي||Security|
|Abu Muhammad al-Mashadani||أبو محمد المشهداني
ʾAbū Muḥammad al-Mašhadānī
|Abu Abdul Qadir al-Eissawi||أبو عبد القادر العيساوي
ʾAbū ʿAbd al-Qādir al-ʿĪsāwī
|Martyrs and Prisoners Affairs|
|Abu Ahmed al-Janabi||أبو أحمد الجنابي
ʾAbū ʾAḥmad al-Ǧanābī
|Mustafa al-A'araji||مصطفى الأعرجي
|Agriculture and Fisheries|
|Abu Abdullah al-Zabadi||أبو عبد الله الزيدي||Health|
|Mohammed Khalil al-Badria||محمد خليل البدرية
Muḥammad Ḫalīl al-Badriyyah
|Education||Announced on 3 September 2007|
These are all considered to be noms de guerre.
On 3 May, Iraqi sources claimed that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi had been killed a short time earlier; no evidence was provided to support his death, and US sources remained skeptical. The Islamic State of Iraq released a statement later that day that denied his death. The death of Abu Ayyub al-Masri was also claimed, apparently in error too (see that article for details).
In what was apparently the same incident,[verification needed] "Minister of Public Relations" Abu Bakr al-Jabouri was announced to have been killed on 12 May 2007 near Taji. The exact circumstances of the incident remain unknown. The initial version of the events at Taji, as given by the Iraqi Interior Ministry, was a shootout between rival Sunni militias. Coalition and Iraqi government operations were apparently conducted in the same area about the same time, and later sources implied they were directly involved, with al-Jabouri being killed "resisting arrest (See Abu Omar al-Baghdadi for details and sources). The successor of al-Jabour (if any) is presently unknown.
In an ISI press release, responsibility was claimed for an ambush at Al Taqa, (Babil) on 12 May, at which one Iraqi soldier and 4 US 10th Mountain Division soldiers were killed; 3 soldiers of the US unit were captured. One was found dead in the Euphrates 11 days later. The other two were claimed to have been executed and buried in an ISI video release, after a 4,000-man manhunt by US and allied forces ended without success. No direct proof was given. Their bodies were found a year later.
On 18 June, the US launched Operation Arrowhead Ripper, as "a large-scale effort to eliminate al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorists operating in Baquba and its surrounding areas". See also Diyala province campaign.
The 25 June suicide bombing of a meeting of Al Anbar tribal leaders and officials at Mansour Hotel, Baghdad, which killed 13, including 6 Sunni sheikhs and some other prominent figures, was proclaimed by the ISI to have been in retaliation for the rape of a Sunni woman by Iraqi police. Security at the hotel, which is some 100 meters outside the Green Zone, was provided by a British contractor that apparently hired guerrilla fighters to provide physical security; the veracity and implications of allegated claims of responsibility of an Egyptian Islamist group and possible on-scene assistance for the suicide bomber are undetermined.
Abu Omar al-Baghdadi released an audio tape that issued an ultimatum to Iran. He said: "We are giving the Persians, and especially the rulers of Iran, a two-month period to end all kinds of support for the Iraqi Shia government and to stop direct and indirect intervention ... otherwise a severe war is waiting for you." He further warned Arab states from doing business with Iran.
Iran supports the Iraqi government which many see as anti-Sunni. Furthermore, Iran is believed to support Shi'ite militias, such as that of Muqtada al-Sadr, which have attacked Sunni groups and populations.
Resistance to Coalition operations in Baqubah turned out to be less than anticipated. In early July, US Army sources suggested that the ISI leadership as was in the area had largely relocated elsewhere in early June 2007, before start of Operation Arrowhead Ripper.
The 25 October 2009 Baghdad bombings were attacks in Baghdad, Iraq which killed 155 people and injured at least 721 people. The 8 December 2009 Baghdad bombings were attacks in Baghdad, Iraq which resulted in the deaths of at least 127 people and injured 448 more. Both these attacks were claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq.
The Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility for the 25 January 2010 Baghdad bombings attack that killed 41 people. The group claimed credit for the 4 April 2010 Baghdad bombings that killed 42 people and Injured 224. On 17 June 2010, the group claimed responsibility for an attack on Central Bank of Iraq that killed 18 people and 55 wounded. On 19 August 2010, a statement posted on a website often used by Islamist radicals, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), a local al Qaeda umbrella group, claimed responsibility for the 17 August 2010 Baghdad bombings and October 2010 bombings.
On 23 July 2012, about thirty-two attacks occurred across Iraq, killing 116 people and wounding 299. The Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility for the attacks perpetrated in the form of bombings and shootings.
Support for Egyptian protesters
The statement, which appears to be the first reaction of any group affiliated with al Qaeda to the protests in Egypt as part of the 2011 Arab Spring Movement, was issued on jihadist forums on 8 February, according to a U.S.-based group. The message, addressed to the protesters, says that the "market of jihad" had opened in Egypt and "the doors of martyrdom had opened," and every able-bodied man must participate. The group urged Egyptians to ignore the "ignorant deceiving ways" of secularism, democracy, and "rotten pagan nationalism." "Your jihad," the message said, is in support of Islam, the weak and oppressed in Egypt, for "your people" in Gaza and Iraq, and "for every Muslim who was touched by the oppression of the tyrant of Egypt and his masters in Washington and Tel Aviv," read a translation of the text provided by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Presence in Syria
The Islamic State has reportedly "changed the course of the Syrian war" since its appearance in Syria in April 2013. It has a strong presence in northern Syria, where it has instituted strict Sharia law in a number of towns. Amnesty International has reported "torture, summary killings" taking place in "secret ISIS detention centres". ISIL have detained Syrians for such of crimes as smoking cigarettes, sex outside marriage, and also for challenging their rule, or belonging to a rival armed group. As of December 2013, they have also reportedly detained dozens of foreign journalists and aid workers. Since December 2013, the group reportedly controlled the four border towns of Atmeh, al-Bab, Azaz, and Jarablus, allowing it to control entrance and exit from Syria into Turkey. Other armed opposition groups have turned against the ISIL because the group considers itself a state "with its own courts", not "a faction among factions.” The group "never compromises and doesn’t accept outside mediation,” according to Aron Lund, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Valerie Szybala of the Institute for the Study of War.
In April 2013, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi released an audio statement, in which he announced that Jabhat al-Nusra had been established, financed and supported by the Islamic State of Iraq. Al-Baghdadi declared that the two groups were officially merging under the name "Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham."
The leader of Jabhat Al-Nusra, Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani, issued a statement denying the merger and complaining that neither he nor anyone else in Al-Nusra's leadership had been consulted about it. In June 2013 Al Jazeera reported that it had obtained a letter written by Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, addressed to both leaders, in which he ruled against the merger and appointed an emissary to oversee relations between them and put an end to tensions. In the same month, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi released an audio message rejecting Zawahiri's ruling and declaring the merger was going ahead.
According to journalist Sarah Birke, there are "significant differences" between Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIL. While Al-Nusra actively calls for the overthrow of the Assad regime, ISIL "tends to be more focused on establishing its own rule on conquered territory". The ISIL is "far more ruthless" in building an Islamic state, "carrying out sectarian attacks and imposing sharia law immediately". And while Nusra has a "large contingent of foreign fighters", it is seen as a home-grown group by many Syrians; by contrast, ISIL fighters have been described as "foreign occupiers" by many Syrian refugees.
FSA battalion chief Kamal Hamami—better known by his nom-de-guerre Abu Bassir Al-Jeblawi—was killed in July by the group's Coastal Region Emir after his convoy was stopped at an Islamic State checkpoint in Latakia's rural northern highlands. Al-Jeblawi was traveling to visit the Al-Izz Bin Abdulsalam Brigade operating in the region when group members refused his passage, resulting in an exchange of fire in which Al-Jeblawi received a fatal chest wound.
In 11 May 2013, two car bombs exploded in the town of Reyhanlı, Hatay Province, Turkey. At least 51 people were killed and 140 injured in the attack. The attack was the deadliest single act of terrorism to occur on Turkish soil. Along with Syrian intelligence services, also the ISIL was suspected for the bombing.
By 12 May 2013, nine Turkish citizens, alleged to have links to the Syrian intelligence agency, had been detained. On 21 May 2013, the Turkish authorities charged the prime suspect, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported. Four other suspects were also charged. 12 people had been charged in total. All suspects were Turkish nationals that Ankara believes were backed by the Syrian regime.
From 30 September 2013, several Turkish media websites published that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the al-Qaeda splinter group operating in Iraq and Syria, accepted responsibility for the attack, threatening further attacks against Turkey.
In July 2013, the group carried out a mass breakout of its imprisoned members held at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. It was reported that over 500 prisoners escaped, including senior commanders of the group. The Islamic State issued an online statement claiming responsibility for the prison break, describing the operation as involving 12 car bombs, numerous suicide bombers and mortar and rockets fire. It was described as the culmination of a one-year campaign called "Breaking the Walls", launched in 21 July 2012 by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and aiming to replenish the groups ranks by freeing their comrades.
In September 2013, members of the group kidnapped and killed the Ahrar ash-Sham commander Abu Obeida Al-Binnishi, after he had intervened to protect members of a Malaysian Islamic charity. The ISIL members had mistook their Malaysian flag for that of the United States.
In September 2013 ISIL over-ran the Syrian town of Azaz, taking it from an FSA-affiliated rebel brigade. ISIL members had attempted to kidnap a German doctor working in Azaz. In November 2013 it was reported that Turkish authorities were on high alert, with the authorities saying they had detailed information on ISIL's plans to carry out suicide bombings in major cities in Turkey, using 7 explosive-laden cars being constructed in Raqqa.
In December 2013, there were reports of fighting between ISIL and another Islamic rebel group, Ahrar al Sham, in the town of Maskana, Aleppo.
In January 2014 rival nationalist and fundamentalist anti-government groups in Syria clashed with the ISIL.
Meanwhile in Iraq, during the clashes in Anbar, ISIL militants took control of the city of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi. In Syria, rebels affiliated with the Islamic Front and the Free Syrian Army launched an offensive against ISIL militants in and around Aleppo.
On 3 January 2014, the ISIL proclaimed an Islamic state in Fallujah.
- Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (killed in 2006)
- Abu Ayyub al-Masri (killed in 2010)
- Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi (killed in 2010)
- Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
- Other personnel
- Abu Anas al-Shami (killed in 2004)
- Abu Azzam (killed in 2005)
- Abu Omar al-Kurdi (captured in 2005)
- Abu Omar al-Shishani
- Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi (captured in 2006)
- Abu Yaqub al-Masri (killed in 2007)
- Haitham al-Badri (killed in 2007)
- Hamid Juma Faris Jouri al-Saeedi (captured in 2006)
- Khaled al-Mashhadani (captured in 2007)
- Mahir al-Zubaydi (killed in 2008)
- Mohamed Moumou (killed in 2008)
- Sheik Abd-Al-Rahman (killed in 2006)
- Huthaifa al-Batawi (killed in 2011)
- ISIL Overview
- List of armed groups in the Syrian Civil War
- Iraqi insurgency (post-U.S. withdrawal)
- Syrian Civil War
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