10 Apr 2013

Iraq Al Qaeda Statement Serves the Syrian Regime, and Only the Regime

Note: there is an addendum to this post below 

The dodgy announcement of “Islamic State of Iraq and Sham [Levant]” (ISIS) has baffled everyone, including Jihadists -- as I reviewed in the previous post. It does not serve a logical purpose. Even the jihadi “emir” of Iraq, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, who made the announcement [watch video here] , sounded conscious of the absurdity of the announcement. He described at length how jihadi groups in the past abandoned “names that were dear to their hearts” and adopted A Qaeda name. 

Without giving a good reason for the name change, he said a new name should always reflect the progress Jihadists have made on the ground. He cited the precedent in Iraq when Al Qaeda announced the name “dawlat al Iraq al Islamiya” (Islamic State of Iraq) in 2006. This is strange, considering that there was almost a consensus among Jihadists that that decision (to change name to Islamic State of Iraq) had created some avoidable friction within the Jihadist ranks. The Jihadist experience in Iraq is criticised by jihadists, especially in Syria, who say the mistakes must be avoided in Syria. Even the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria is aware of that and has made several statements emphasising that Jihadists in Syria must learn from previous errors:

According to Murad Batal Shishani, an analyst of Islamist groups, jihadists in Iraq tried to apply Al Suri's guidelines after the US invasion in 2003. But they failed on two points: mobilising provincial communities and avoiding being labelled as extremist. Mr Shishani wrote in the pan-Arab Al Hayat newspaper that since 2008 Al Qaeda has sought to redefine its religious discourse and cultivate links with local communities.
Mr Shishani cites a statement made by Abu Muhammed Al Joulani, the leader of Jabhat Al Nusra in Syria, after the group was designated as a foreign terrorist organisation by the United States. The statement offered advice to jihadis: "Day after day, you're getting closer to the people after you have conquered their hearts and become trusted by them." He also warned: "Beware of being hard on them. Begin with the priorities and fundamentals of Islam, and be flexible on the minor parts of religion."

What is the point of this announcement? Why now? The statement comes as the regime is facing pressure to allow a UN probe of chemical weapons use in more than one place in Syria, and as rebels prepare for an inevitable major battle in Damascus and as moves to provide arms to Syrian rebels are gain momentum. The statement will surely make everyone think twice.

Moaz Khatib on his Facebook page made a number of short statements, saying Al Qaeda ideology cannot be accepted in Syria and asked the rebels inside the country to take a clear stance towards the announcement. He also suggested that Al Qaeda in Iraq is imposing itself on Syria’s Jabhat al-Nusra: 

"The bottom line is: Al Qaeda ideology doesn't suit us & rebels in Syria have to take a clear stance about this"
“There are those who want to impose themselves even on Jabhat al-Nusra, we reject any imposition on any rebel group in Syria.

He also suggested that Jabhat al-Nusra has nothing to do with the statement from Iraq's Al Qaeda, it had not been consulted and does not know about it. He said the statement is meant to embarrass and pressure those who speak about Jihad in Syria.

Jabhat al-Nusra has yet to issue a statement. It is important to note that Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria is not a coherent group. The majority of its rank-and-file members are ordinary Syrians who have joined the group largely because of its discipline and efficiency. Even some of those who fund the group do so because it is the most efficient group that is fighting against the Syrian regime and are not aware of its leadership’s links to Al Qaeda. That makes many people reluctant to abandon it just because Al Qaeda has endorsed it. Members of the Free Syrian Army have often said that cooperation with Jabhat al-Nusra is more than necessary in the battles against the regime.

Even if the statement represents some people within Jabhat al-Nusra, I personally doubt that Syrian jihadists would accept subordination to the Iraqi Al Qaeda. 

ADDENDUM: Jabhat al-Nusra leader, Sheikh Abu Muhammed al-Joulani has issued a statement. The statement confirms what I've said at the end of the post above. What people are missing from Jabhat al-Nusra statement is that while he spoke of his indebtedness to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, he pledges allegiance to Ayman Zawahiri instead. Here is a summary of his statement [Watch full statement video here]:

Jabhat al-Nusra leader, Sheikh Abu Mohammad al-Joulani, denies knowledge of his group’s merger with Islamic State of Iraq, an Al Qaeda franchise. Al-Joulani says he wasn’t consulted. He praises jihadists in Iraq and their leader Al Baghdadi. He confirms he received financial help from Al Baghdadi to support Jihad in Syria.

He then says "we renew our allegiance” to Ayman Al Zawahiri and that he will not dispute Al Zawahiri’s leadership but that will not change al-Nusra's policies.

He says he is against the merger with Iraq state, he says it's premature and unnecessary. Jabhat al-Nusra leader addes that the group doesn't wanna alienate other forces, Jihadi groups & religious clerics who offer advice to them. He says a state in the sense of managing people’s life is already in place, in practic, and that there's no need to announce it. He says he understands the political & religious pecularity of the Levant region, that's why he's against the announcement.

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