A Newspaper Report on Iraq's Sunni Factions

A Report From al-Hayat on Political Developments Among Iraq’s Sunni Factions
Summarized by Nathaniel Rabkin

The London based Arabic newspaper al-Hayat has published a long piece by Muhammad Abu Ramman, analyzing political developments within Iraq’s various Sunni armed groups, both those aligned with the insurgency and with the “Awakening” movement. The article was published in al-Hayat on February 26 under the title: “Signs of a Great Turbulence Amongst Sunnis; Iraq: “Political Entities” Form Out of the “Awakenings,” as the Armed Factions Face the “Iranian Assault.”

One of the article’s main themes is the fragmentation of insurgent groups, as some insurgent fighters break off to join pro-American “Awakening” militias, while others condemn these new groups as collaborators. Thus the Islamic Army, one of the largest insurgent groups, is now divided. Some Islamic Army commanders in Iraq view Amin al-Jannabi, who is based in Damascus, as the group’s leader. In accordance with his orders, they are continuing attacks on US forces. Other field commanders, who favor cooperation with US forces, follow the lead of Jannabi’s deputy in Jordan, Abu Ali al-Khalifawi (also known as Abu Hannan). Still others, including Thamer Kazem al-Tamimi, a former Islamic Army commander who know leads an “Awakening” militia in the Abu Ghraib area of western Baghdad, have left the Islamic Army altogether and are seeking a new political home.

Different sources cited in the article explain the cleavage of the insurgency in different ways. Some cite a split between the Syrian-based leadership of factions such as the Islamic Army, who face Syrian pressure to keep up the violence, and the field commanders of these factions, who speak about the “Iranian occupation” of Iraq, which they consider more dangerous than the “American occupation.” Others view the cleavage as a split between the relatively moderate followers of the Muslim Brotherhood, and fundamentalist Salafists who want to continue fighting against US forces.

Still other sources argue that the insurgency has split into no fewer than three different ideological trends: 1) al-Qaeda’s “Islamic State of Iraq” and its allies; 2) the pro-Awakening “Political Council of the Iraqi Resistance,” which includes elements of the Islamic Army, Jaysh al-Fatihin (“Army of the Conquerers”), the Sharia Committee of Ansar al-Sunna, and Jaysh al-Mujahideen (“Army of the Holy Warriors”); 3) the “national resistance” factions, which refuse to cooperate with US forces but are not allied with al-Qaeda; these include most of the 1920 Revolution Brigades as well as the Jaysh al-Rashideen (“Army of the Upright”). These factions take their religious guidance from the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq (AMSI, whose leader is Hartih al-Dari), and some of them are part of an umbrella group called the “Front for Jihad and Change.”

The dispute over the “Awakening” has become an increasingly rancorous one, and has led many factions to split or splinter. But even the supporters of the “Awakening” concept have their political divisions. The most prominent of these is the ongoing war of words between the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) the largest Sunni parliamentary faction, and the anti-al-Qaeda tribal militia of Anbar province, which goes by several names. The tribal leaders accuse the Iraqi Islamic Party of unfairly monopolizing all political offices in the province, while the IIP accuses the tribes of using extralegal means and threats of violence to achieve their ends.

According to Abu Ramman’s article in al-Hayat, Anbari tribal leader Ahmad Abu Risha is trying to unite the various “Awakening” militias and former insurgent factions throughout Iraq in a new political movement. This movement will bear the name of “The National Movement for Development and Reform.” According to Abu Ramman, other supporters of this nascent movement include Jamal al-Karbouli, the deputy director of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, and Thamer Kazem al-Tamimi, the above-mentioned commander of the Islamic Army in Abu Ghraib. Abu Ramman also reports that Anbari leaders believe that the Iraqi Islamic Party is doing its best to foil their efforts at organizing a new party, and that this may account for the escalating tensions between the two groups.

While al-Qaeda continues its policy of attacking all those who disagree with its ideology, the other armed Sunni factions have chosen to keep the conflict between them largely bloodless. According to al-Hayat’s Abu Ramman, the ultimate outcome of this conflict depends on political rather than military developments. The tribal and former insurgent factions which form the “Awakening” are trying to unite in order to achieve real political gains, both for themselves and for the Sunnis they represent. They place their hopes on the regional elections which will take place sometime later this year. The opponents of the “Awakening” are counting on the movement to crumble, either because of its internal divisions or because of its failure to achieve its political goals.