27 January 2006, Volume 9, Number 4
SUNNIS TURNING AGAINST AL-ZARQAWI IN IRAQ. Six armed groups in Iraq have tentatively agreed to enter into national reconciliation talks aimed at ending the insurgency, amid increasing reports of growing conflict between nationalist-oriented resistance groups and Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda-affiliated movement.
Meanwhile, there are indications that al-Zarqawi is attempting to diffuse public anger by remaking his movement, at least in name. Al-Qaeda in Iraq and five other insurgent groups announced on 15 January the establishment of a Mujahedin Shura Council, which purportedly aims to unify the ranks of the Islamist jihad movement in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2006). The other groups are the Victorious Sect Army, the Islamic Jihad Brigades, and three previously unknown groups: the Monotheism Supporters Brigades, the Foreigners Brigades, and the Fear Brigades.
Since the announcement of the Mujahedin Shura Council, al-Zarqawi has virtually ceased independent claims of responsibility for attacks in Iraq; all claims of attacks are now issued in the name of the council.
The new group's name is telling: Al-Zarqawi, now feeling the wrath of national resistance groups, appears to be purporting an ongoing affiliation with nationalist resistance groups in an attempt to downplay increasing opposition to his movement. He may also be attempting to invoke some sort of religious legitimacy by using the name Shura, which is an Islamic principle that calls for the community to administer its affairs through mutual consultation.
Several Mujahedin Shura Councils have operated in Iraq at a local level since 2004 (Al-Fallujah, Samarra, Baghdad). Such councils were self-described nationalist-Islamist groups, comprised of Sunni clerics, tribal leaders, former Ba'athist fighters, and Islamist groups, including al-Zarqawi's Tawhid wa Al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (Monotheism and Jihad in the Land of the Two Rivers), the precursor to the Al-Qaeda Organization of Jihad in the Land of the Two Rivers.
In another indication of Al-Qaeda's increasing weakness in Iraq, the group called on Muslim clerics to support its movement. In a videotaped message posted to the Internet (http://www.almeer.net) on 17 January, the group asked Muslim clerics why they have failed to support the mujahedin in Iraq. "Isn't our jihad in Iraq a legitimate jihad?" the unidentified speaker asked. "If the answer is yes, why did you leave us in Al-Qa'im, Al-Rawah, and Hasibah the way you left us in Al-Fallujah, Samarra, and Tal Afar," referring to the sites of intense fighting between Al-Qaeda insurgents and multinational forces over the past two years.
Tribal, Nationalist Resistance Leaders Tire Of Al-Zarqawi...
Al-Zarqawi has fallen out of favor in recent months with tribal leaders in the Al-Anbar Governorate, presumably because of divergent views as to how to conduct the resistance. Local and tribal leaders in the governorate have objected to attacks by insurgents that inflict harm on the civilian population, while al-Zarqawi's group has sought to justify such attacks in the name of jihad.
Tension between the two sides escalated last year after some insurgent groups expressed a willingness to enter into talks with the United States over ending the insurgency. The Al-Qaeda leader also denounced the decision of some resistance groups to participate in November's Arab League-sponsored conference on national reconciliation.
Moreover, tribal leaders have expressed growing frustration over Al-Qaeda's attempts to stir sectarian division amongst Sunni and Shi'ite Arabs. Many tribes living in the Anbar-Baghdad-Samarra zone are mixed tribes, with both Sunni and Shi'ite members.
Insurgents attacked a line of Sunni Arabs waiting to enlist as police recruits in Al-Ramadi on 5 January, killing dozens of Iraqis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2006). The registration day had been organized by local tribal leaders; many were on hand at the time of the attack, and some were reportedly killed.
Other tribal leaders have been killed in recent weeks in Al-Ramadi and Samarra, purportedly at the hands of Al-Qaeda, prompting tribal and local leaders to mount an all-out drive against al-Zarqawi and his sympathizers.
At a meeting following the Al-Ramadi attack, tribal leaders decided to form armed groups to force Al-Qaeda from the governorate. Media reports indicate that many Al-Qaeda fighters relocated to Samarra, while other al-Zarqawi supporters remain engaged in intense fighting with locals in Al-Ramadi.
When armed gunmen ambushed a bus carrying some 35 Sunni Arab police recruits between Baghdad and Samarra on 16 January -- among them many former officers planning on reenlisting in the Iraqi army -- and killed them execution-style, Samarra residents were quick to blame Al-Qaeda for the attack.
...And Vow To Fight Al-Qaeda
On 23 January, tribal and nationalist insurgent leaders in Samarra announced that they would send armed groups to hunt down Al-Qaeda members in the city in a campaign similar to one launched last month following the assassination of Albu-Baz tribal leader Hikmat Mumtaz, London's "Al-Hayat" reported on 24 January. Hundreds of Iraqis demonstrated in Samarra against Al-Qaeda on 24 January, and reports indicated that many Al-Qaeda loyalists had fled to nearby Diyala Governorate.
"Al-Hayat" also reported on 25 January that six insurgent groups have reached a tentative agreement with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani for their participation in national reconciliation talks. The report indicated that Talabani and his National Security Adviser Wafiq al-Samarra'i have issued guarantees for the security of the groups to participate in the talks. The Albu-Baz tribe, along with the Al-Dulaym, Al-Janabi and Al-Jubur tribes have reportedly supported the agreement.
The daily reported that the Islamic Army in Iraq, the 1920 Revolution Brigades, the Mujahedin Army in Iraq, and the Al-Anbar Revolutionaries are among those groups party to the agreement. In return for their participation, the groups would publicly renounce al-Zarqawi and his movement.
Ayham al-Samarra'i told London's "Quds Press" in August that the above groups, although tied to the former Ba'athist regime, have accepted that the Ba'athist era is over. "Even the Muhammad's Army, which claims to be the striking force of the Ba'ath Party, has been far-sighted in its political thinking, structure, and vision.... They try to be more democratic today. They have presented themselves as believing in a peaceful transformation and accession to power," he claimed in an interview published on 14 August.
Former senior members of the Ba'ath Party are now planning to convene a conference to evaluate the period of Hussein's rule, "Al-Hayat" reported on 24 January. The conference, which would meet ahead of the national reconciliation conference, would include party members who defected in the 1960s and 1970s, and would seek to hold Hussein responsible for the spread of sectarianism in Iraq under his rule. The conference would presumably also seek to redefine and resurrect Ba'athist ideology in the form of a new party.
Meanwhile, it appears that the Ansar Al-Sunnah Army remains aligned with al-Zarqawi's organization. A 23 January statement posted to the Internet (http://www.shamela.net) claimed the two groups took part in a joint operation against Shi'ite members of the Imam Al-Mahdi Army. However, there have been no other statements from Ansar Al-Sunnah commenting on the Mujahedin Shura Council. (Kathleen Ridolfo. Published on 26 January.)
IRAQI KURDISH LEADERS COMMENT ON UNIFICATION OF KURDISH REGION. Kurdish leaders signed a long-awaited agreement on 21 January to jointly administer the Kurdistan regional government. RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported on 21 January that the two leading Kurdish parties -- the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) –- will each take 11 ministerial posts (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 7 January 2006).
The agreement states that other ministerial posts will be allotted to minority parties, but it fails to give specifics.
While leaders from the two ruling parties have expressed optimism over the unification agreement, leaders from minority parties say the agreement solidifies the PUK and KDP's control over Kurdistan, RFI reported.
RFI interviewed Kurdish parliamentarians representing minority parties to ask their views on unification in Irbil on 24 January.
Kurdistan Communist Party representative Dilman Amedi told RFI, "The distribution of ministerial posts has been based on a closed agreement between the two dominant parties [the PUK and KDP] as well as among the other political parties and groups that were members in the Kurdistan Coalition List in the election in Kurdistan."
Kurdistan Islamic Group leadership member Huzan Sa'id said he expected that his party would have earned some ministerial posts. "We see this period as a transitional and exceptional one. It should be natural and necessary that the distribution of ministerial posts follow the election results, and we hope this will become reality in the next election term," he said. "We see this as a transitional period and hope the period to come will be a natural one, God willing."
Kurdistan Islamic Union leadership member Muhammad Rashid Mawati also criticized the agreement. "Look at the distribution of ministerial posts -- as if they were divided only between the two [dominant Kurdish] parties. It is nothing more that the 50-50 sharing in the previous [unified Kurdish government that existed until 1994]. It is even less [worthy] now," he said. "Some ministries have been allotted to some other parties, and I think those did not know about that before. It is just an agreement between the two [dominant Kurdish] parties on dividing power in Kurdistan."
Kurdistan National Assembly speaker Adnan Mufti and Iraqi Minister of Planning and Reconstruction Barham Salih (both PUK members) had a more inward-looking stance on unification. They spoke about the agreement with RFI in Irbil on 21 January, and what it means for the future of Kurdistan. The interview was broadcast on 22 January.
Adnan Mufti: The most important thing is that this law [on government unification] provides for launching new ministries. There may be other, partial issues, based on the unification [agreement] text and based on what the legislative committee [of the Kurdistan parliament] proposes. We will be discussing these issues. Laws on the [Kurdistan] Region presidency and council of ministers will be amended. After that, we will call an extraordinary meeting [of the parliament] to appoint the prime minister and the deputy prime minister of the unified government. Thereafter, we will ask the president of the region to entrust them both with setting up the cabinet. They will have to announce and present the [cabinet] to the parliament within a definite period.
RFI: To what extent is naming the deputy prime minister related to the government change and forming a unified cabinet?
Mufti: The deputy prime minister is a different issue, not related to forming the cabinet. I mean, the legal amendment has no effect on forming the cabinet. Even if there was a delay in amending the law on the region's presidency and introducing the post of deputy prime minister, it will still be possible to amend the law on the council of ministers. When we appoint the new prime minister and his deputy, we will already know the number of ministries that the new cabinet will consist of.
RFI: In your opinion, how long will it be until the new cabinet is announced?
Mufti: Between the appointment [of the new prime minister] and the announcement [of the new cabinet], there can be maximum one month.
Barham Salih: There are problems we have been facing in Kurdistan's society, and the problems are well-known. We should not ignore the most recent history of the situation in Kurdistan. We went through a period of internal war [1994-1995] and a [subsequent] division of the Kurdish administration, in addition to other problems and tragedies to which the people of Kurdistan have been exposed. In order to overcome these conflicts and focus on a real national unity, I wish [to address] one clear message to the other parts of Iraq: in the present conditions, we need to gather and unite on a nationwide democratic project that will preserve our basic demands for this period. These basic demands consist in building a federal democratic Iraq that will be friendly to its own people and to its neighbors.
RFI: How will [the Kurdistan government unification] help solve the [central government] crisis in Baghdad?
Salih: Well, God willing, this will strengthen the position of the Kurdistan Coalition List and its positive and constructive role in encouraging national dialogue and a peaceful partnership between the Iraqi communities.
(Translated by Petr Kubalek)
To listen to the reports in Arabic, see: