Jamaat Ansar al-Islam fighters in Aleppo pose for a photo in the winter of 2014-2015.
Jamaat Ansar al-Islam fighters in Aleppo pose for a photo in the winter of 2014-2015.
Readers of this blog will be familiar with my coverage of the jihadi group Jamaat Ansar al-Islam, which is of Iraqi origin and expanded into Syria. For example, see here for a general overview of the group in early 2014, here for the rapid decline and virtual dissolution of the group in Iraq on account of defections to the Islamic State through summer 2014, and here for the false claims of the dissolution of the group's Syrian branch in early 2015.
Below is my translation of a full history of the group written on Twitter in Arabic recently (late November) by one Abu al-Waleed al-Salafi, tracing the early ideological beginnings in Islamist trends in Kurdistan until the present day. The account below is insightful for a number of reasons, including:
(i) The account gives an overview of the emirate project the group established in Kurdistan prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. It is worth comparing with Islamic State governance today.
(ii) Defections from the Ansar al-Islam circles to Zarqawi's group and its successors were a long-standing problem, rooted in good part in ideological overlap and the latter's status as a kind of 'jihadi winning horse' within Iraq. The weakness of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam in Iraq around the time of the fall of Mosul (June 2014) becomes particularly clear as this account reveals that the group debated whether it should act as a virtual auxiliary force for ISIS.
This problem was not confined to Jamaat Ansar al-Islam: the same analysis applies to more nationalist insurgent groups like the Ba'athist JRTN, which should be seen as auxiliaries of ISIS- rather than equals- at the time of the rapid advances in Iraq in the summer of 2014. While Ba'athists have admitted that they completely lost out to ISIS in the end, be wary of their spin, and that of Sunni tribesmen who long wanted to downplay ISIS, that they and other non-ISIS groups constituted the majority of the insurgency in 2014. The main exception is the Fallujah area that ISIS took many months to assert dominance over, finally defeating Jaysh al-Mujahideen in al-Karma to the east of the city in August 2014, some time after the declaration of the Caliphate (the city of Fallujah itself was taken over by May-June 2014).
(iii) The account also provides an explanation of the workings behind an attempted revival of operations in the Baghdad area after the rapid loss of members to the Islamic State through the latter half of 2014.
In the translated account I have provided occasional explanatory notes in square brackets including links for further reading. For ease of reading I have also divided the article into sections.
Islamism in Kurdistan
- The establishment of the Muslim Brotherhood group in Egypt at the hands of Hassan al-Banna had a great effect in the midst of the Muslim youth, especially even as the group bore 'ideas of jihad' from the beginning.
- The Muslim Brotherhood group was a practical project on the basis of which most of the Islamist groups subsequently arose, especially in the realm of activism and da'wa.
- And Kurdistan was among the regions that was influenced by the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood whether on the da'wa or activism level, and the first appearance of the group there was in 1971.
- The Muslim Brotherhood group appeared in Kurdistan after the return of a group of sheikhs from Egypt who had been influenced by the thoughts and theses of Hassan al-Banna.
- The secular parties in Kurdistan began operations to harass the Islamists, especially whosoever had converted to Islamist activist ideology calling for Shari'a and publicization of religion.
- The campaigns that the secularist parties were carrying out against the Islamists began to broaden, turning from harassment campaigns to seizures, arrests and expulsion for everyone shown to have activist affiliation.
- The situation of 'congestion' and upheaval began to broaden in the ranks of the Muslim youth, and some of them called for resisting this attack being led by those secularist parties with voice.
- It was the sheikhs' decision in the beginning to order to call the youth to endurance, deliberation and not to be drawn to the calls for using 'violence.'
- That time witnessed the cementing of some of the youth and sheikhs in formations that were most like the small movements, and for every formation was a head leading it.
- Some of those Islamist groupings decided to take up strongholds in the mountainous regions in Kurdistan, and striving to possess arms after some chose the path of armed confrontation.
- The period from 1975 till 1980 was a period for making preparations, gathering together the ranks, and choosing the ones with the Shari'i and military qualifications to lead the forthcoming project.
The Islamic Army in Kurdistan and the Islamic Movement in Kurdistan: 1980s
- The year 1980 was the one in which there was announced the first armed Islamist formation in Kurdistan, and this formation had the name 'The Islamic Army' in Kurdistan.
- The Islamic Army in Kurdistan included various Ikhwani and Salafi leaders, but one aim had gathered them: "To stop the oppression of secularism and to make religion a public matter."
- The period since 1980 witnessed armed confrontations between the Islamic Army in Kurdistan and the secularist parties, and then the Islamist movement became more consolidated.
- The 80s was an important period for the recruitment of Muslim youth in Kurdistan, and this recruitment was a reason for their subsequent entry into the Islamic Army in Kurdistan.
- The period of the end of the 80s witnessed a broadening in the ranks of those who joined the ranks of the army, and this was a reason for the announcement of "The Islamic Movement in Kurdistan."
- The Islamic Movement in Kurdistan was announced in 1987 and this period was the period in which the movement was announced publicly despite prior attempts that had failed.
- The Islamic Movement in Kurdistan was an expression of an Islamic movement that had formed from a group of the sheikhs who had joined with the Islamic Army in Kurdistan.
- The Islamic Movement in Kurdistan included the Ikhwan and the Salafis, and it was a representative for the Islamists in Kurdistan, and Mullah Othman Abd al-Aziz was leader for the movement.
- Among the most distinguished faces of the Islamic Movement: Mullah Othman Abd al-Aziz, his brothers Ali Abd al-Aziz and Sadiq Abd al-Aziz, Mullah Krekar, al-Barzanji and Ali Babir.
- The Islamic Movement entered a violent conflict with the secularist parties, and that movement was able to seize multiple areas in Kurdistan, especially the mountainous ones among them.
- External support for the secularist parties, especially al-Talabani's party, and a lack of equal capabilities were a reason for the retreat of the Islamic Movement and its loss of the regions it controlled.
- The Islamic Movement lost all the regions it controlled, and the secularist parties gained control over the Kurdistan regions, and the movement fled to the borders with Iran.
- Some of the leadership of the Islamic Movement entered Iran and they constituted the majority of the leadership of that movement, and after the secularist parties seized Kurdistan, disagreements arose within the movement.
Splitting and Downfall of the Islamic Movement: 1990s
- The disagreements in the Islamic Movement led to the splitting of the bond of the group and three approaches arose for the movement, especially after the leadership of Ali Abd al-Aziz in succession to his brother Othman.
- In the beginning of the matter the disagreement was not deep, and the movement remained cohesive in all its components but the disagreements began to emerge on the surface, and then there eventually arose a split in the bond of the movement.
- The first defection in the movement was with the announcement of a spectrum from the movement of its abandoning the option of armed struggle, and this movement bore the name "The Islamic Renaissance Movement."
- The Islamic Renaissance Movement is an Ikhwani movement, and the present Islamic Union of Kurdistan is considered an extension of that movement and their guide is Sadiq Abd al-Aziz.
- The second defection in the Islamic Movement was at the hands of Ali Babir, when this formation chose the option of armed struggle, then he abandoned it later.
- Ali Babir's movement bore the name "The Islamic Group in Kurdistan", and later Muhammad al-Barzanji joined it. And Babir became the amir of the group and al-Barzanji its guide.
- The Islamic Movement in Kurdistan came to an end as an armed Islamist formation in 1997, and some of the formations present in the formation remained adherents of the military operation.
- Among the forces that were within the Islamic Movement, before it disintegrated, and clung to the armed struggle option against the secularist parties, were Kurdish forces, some of whom consisted of the Afghan Kurds [Kurds who fought in Afghanistan against the Soviet invasion].
- The Path of Ibrahim group joined with the Tawheed Movement under the name "The Tawheed Movement." And Omar Bazyani was chosen as an amir for the movement, while the Kurdish Hamas Movement was under the leadership of Mullah Abu As'ad Hawliri, the Path of Ibrahim group under the leadership of Omar Bazyani, the Tawheed Movement under the leadership of Abu Muhammad al-Kurdi, the Suran 2 force under the leadership of Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i, and the Reform Association under the leadership of Mullah Farj Allah Krekar.
- The Tawheed Movement had joined with the Kurdish Hamas Movement under the name "Jabhat al-Tawheed al-Islamiya." And Omar Bazyani was chosen as amir for the front.
- After a period had elapsed, Jabhat al-Tawheed al-Islamiya joined with the Suran 2 force and an organized Salafi Islamic group was established under the name of "Jund al-Islam."
- During that time, there were only two armed groups in Kurdistan: Jund al-Islam under al-Shafi'i's leadership and the Reform Association under the leadership of Mullah Krekar.
- The Reform Association under the leadership of Mullah Najm al-Din Farj Allah Krekar was an Ikhwani Qutbi grouping, and comprised Kurds only.
- Mullah Najm al-Din Farj Allah Krekar used to harbour nationalist ideas, then he turned to Ikhwani ideology of al-Banna, and then to Ikhwani ideology of Qutb.
- Mullah Najm al-Din Farj Allah Krekar harboured Qutbi Ikhwani ideology, and joined the Islamic Unity Movement of Ikwhani orientation, before defecting and founding the Reform Association.
- The "Jund al-Islam" group is considered the first Salafi jihadi group in Kurdistan comprehensively organized: and it had a military and Shari'i leadersip.
- Jund al-Islam was formed from the joining of three formations: the Suran 2 force under al-Shafi'i's leadership, the Central Group under Khalifani's leadership, and Jabhat al-Tawheed al-Islamiya under Bazyani's leadership.
- Jund al-Islam was not only limited to Kurds, as was the case with the Reform Association, but also it included Arabs and began to received other muhajireen.
- The Jund al-Islam group began preparing Shari'i and military camps and appointed leaders, and the amir of the group was Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i
- The stage of the public announcement of the Jund al-Islam group was at the end of the nineties, and as an organized group had established a base for itself in the mountainous regions of Kurdistan.
- The period of the beginning of 2001 witnessed numerous deliberations that led to Mullah Krekar's abandoning the Islamic Unity Movement, of whose political office he was a member.
Formation of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam: The Mountain Emirate in Kurdistan
- The deliberations ended with Jund al-Islam joining the Reform Association, and a united group was established bearing the name "Jamaat Ansar al-Islam."
- "Jamaat Ansar al-Islam" was announced on 5 December 2001, and Mullah Najm al-Din Farj Allah Krekar was chosen to be an amir for the group.
- Two deputies were appointed for the amir: Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i as the deputy for Shari'i and organizational matters, and Mullah As'ad Muhammad Hassan (Asu Hawliri) as the deputy for military matters.
- Jamaat Ansar al-Islam adopts Salafi jihadi ideology and is influenced by the thoughts of Sayyid Qutb in ideology and the program of the Egyptian [Islamic] Jihad group in activism.
- The group adopts both Abdullah Azzam and Sayyid Qutb, and others besides them, as movement symbols whom one can imitate.
- Despite the group's concentration in the Kurdish regions and its original composition from Kurds, it also included Arab fighters from Baghdad, al-Sham, the [Arabian] Peninsula and Afghan Arabs.
- Among the aims of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam is the establishment of an Islamic ruling system, ruling the people by Shari'a, and establishing the support bases for this rule and announcing the Islamic emirate.
- Jamaat Ansar al-Islam announced its Islamic emirate in the mountain regions in Kurdistan, and this became a cause in the recruitment of large numbers of muhajireen and ansar.
- The Islamic emirate was announced and it was the first Shari'i banner raised in Iraq and many influential students of 'Ilm [Islamic knowledge] endorsed it, among them Hamoud Uqla' al-Shu'aybi, may God have mercy on him.
- The group's spread on the strip of villages stretching between Halabja and the villages neighbouring the Iranian borders, administratively belonging to the two towns of "Halabja and Sulaymaniya" in Kurdistan. And their number was approximately 9 villages, of which the most important is al-Bayara that was a base of the group's leadership, and those regions became similar to the Tora-Bora mountains in eastern Afghanistan.
- The group established a Hisba apparatus, just as it applied the Shari'i hudud in those areas and issued special identities for the sons of that emirate.
- The organizational form for the group was based on an amir, two deputies, a military committee composed of 8 battalions, the security committee, the Shari'i committee and the media committee.
- Similarly the group formed the Shari'i court and the formation of the group included the Shura Council, and it is the most important formation in the group, and it [initially] included around 15 members.
- The group established Shari'I and military training camps and attained some 27 training centres, and the group's numbers reached some 5600 members.
- Among the most prominent faces of the group in that time were a number of leaders, and muhajireen and ansar sheikhs, including:
Mullah Farj Allah Krekar, amir of the group; Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i: deputy of the amir for Shari'i and organizational matters; Mullah As'ad Muhammad Hassan (Asu Hawliri): deputy of the amir for military matters; Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Shami, member of the Shura Council; Abdullah Khalifani, member of the Shura Council; Ayub Afghani; Abu Qatada Halkurd the Shari'i official Hajji Shaker al-Kurdi; Saleh Tayyara; Mullah Abd al-Rasheed al-Kurdi; the preacher Nur al-Din al-Shami; Yasin al-Bahar; Abu al-Aidin al-Jaza'iri; Abu Asma' Mam Sayyid; Dr. Luqman Abu Maryam; Omar Bazyani; Abu Muhammad al-Kurdi; Abu Talha al-Ansari.
- Then a number of other leaders joined them, like Qasim al-Turkomani; Abu al-Abbas al-Kurdi; Abu Khabib al-Turkomani; Mullah Khasro al-Rahman; Mullah Idris and Hayman Babishari.
- And Mullah Berro and Mullah Quds, and these are all from the important leaders in Ansar al-Islam from the leaders of al-Ansar in the mountain.
- The emirate of al-Ansar was called the Mountain Emirate, and al-Ansar had two banners: the banner of al-Sahab and the banner of the Diwan al-Jund called the Mountain Banner.
- The Banner of al-Sahab expresses the era of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, and the banner was black, and era of the Umayyads, and the banner was white, and the era of the Abbasids, and the banner was black.
- Abdullah Khalifani had favour after God in the expansion of the group by areas. It was required for al-Shafi'i to pledge allegiance to him, not the other way round.
- Because Abdullah Khalifani had more followers than al-Shafi'i, and all of them were under the cover of the Islamic Movement and the days of Mullah Ali Abd al-Aziz.
- There were many recruitment drives inside the movement for the ease of the movement under the cover of the movement between Halabja and its peripheries as well as Arbil and Sulaymaniya.
- In the beginning and before Abdullah Khalifani's entrance, Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i had a small group called the Suran 2 force, as mentioned previously.
- Among its members were Hajji Shaker and Saleh Tayyara and they had inflicted bodily losses on the secularist parties, especially Hajji Shaker who was called Hajji Katim [referring to the silencer pistol].
- Hajji Shaker was the second acting man in the group after Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i and with him was Abu Ja'afar al-Kurdi.
- And after the killing of the military commander for the Suran 2 force on Kweisanjaq road, Abu Abdullah turned to a recruitment drive for military commanders in the movement and among them Khalifani.
- Jamaat Ansar al-Islam established Shari'i institutes and they were under the supervision of Abdullah Khalifani and Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Shami who were two Shari'i and military officials.
- The first camp was the al-Qa'qa' camp and it was a camp for Shari'i and military preparation and it was under the upervision of Abdullah Khalifani.
- The group lost a number of its leaders at the hands of the secularist parties and that after their entry into violent confrontations with those parties, especially Talibani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
- And among those leaders whom it lost: Abu Muhammad al-Kurdi, and similarly Abu Khabib al-Turkomani, who was also arrested in 2000 and subjected to the most horrific kinds of torture in prison.
- Jamaat Ansar al-Islam undertook great operations against the Kurdish parties, and among these operations was an attempt to assassinate Barham Salih in 2002 in Sulaymaniya.
- Jamaat Ansar al-Islam received Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi and with him a number of leaders, among them Muwahhid al-Masri, and at that time he had not pledged allegiance to al-Qa'ida.
- Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi came to the land of the Islamic Emirate in Kurdistan after the fall of the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan in 2001.
- Al-Zarqawi's path from Afghanistan was in passing through Iran, then the Kurdish-Iranian borders, then the land of the Islamic Emirate in Kurdistan, and he remained there until 2003.
- During that time there arose connections between Jamaat Ansar al-Islam in Kurdistan and the leaders in Jamaat al-Muwahhideen in Baghdad, and Abu Wa'el al-Qadi was sent to Kurdistan.
- Strikes began on Iraq and the first of those strikes targeted Jamaat al-Ansar and they were classified on the basis that it was a terrorist organization, as per the slander of the Kurdish parties.
- Violent confrontations occurred between the group and the Kurdish parties and U.S. special forces, and those confrontations led to the killing of a great number of senior leaders of the group.
- The bombing led to the defeat of the Islamic Emirate in Kurdistan and the decision was to withdraw from those areas, go into hiding and then make preparations anew or a confrontation at that stage.
- The Islamic Emirate in Kurdistan was defeated at the beginning of 2003, and the group had lost important leaders, and among the leaders the group had lost:
- Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Shami; Abdullah Khalifani; Hajji Shaker al-Kurdi; Saleh Tayyara; Mullah Abd al-Rasheed al-Kurdi; the preacher Nur al-Din al-Shami; Yasin al-Bahr; Abu al-Aidin al-Jaza'iri; Abu Muhammad al-Kurdi; Abu Khabeeb al-Turkomani; Abu Ja'afar al-Kurdi
- Mullah Krekar had abandoned Kurdistan and was detained after that in Norway in 2003, and after that he sought asylum status.
- Jamaat Ansar al-Islam disavowed Mullah Najm al-Din Krekar in a statement bearing the signature of the media official for Ansar al-Islam.
- And it was signed on 15 August 2003 and distributed on jihadi sites, and the statement said that the affirmations and interviews of Mullah Krekar in the media bore from first to last Shari'i violations and words of secularist disbelief, violating the program of the group. And the statement confirmed that Mullah Krekar had been removed from the emirate of Ansar al-Islam at the end of February 2003, and the removal statement had been signed by members of the Majlis Shura comprising 14 persons.
Election of Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i and formation of Jaysh Ansar al-Sunna: post-U.S. invasion of Iraq
- The Majlis Shura of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam decided to elect Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i as amir for the group in succession to Mullah Krekar.
- The group's decision came after the fall of the Islamic Emirate in Kurdistan, and the spreading out in the different regions of Iraq and working to reconstitute the ranks for future preparation.
- The group spread in the beginning of the fourth month of 2003 in the different regions of Iraq and began reorganizing the ranks, and leaders from the Muwahhideen movement joined it.
- After 2003 the name of the group became Jaysh Ansar al-Sunna, whose establishment was announced publicly on 20 September 2003.
- A number of leaders of the group participated in the drafting of the statement, including Abu Abdullah al-Shaf'i, and also a leader outside the group participated in the drafting of the statement: Dr. Abu Shu'ayb al-Iraqi, the organization official for the battalions of the Mujahideen of the Victorious Sect.
- The reason for choosing the name "Jaysh Ansar al-Sunna" was for a number of reasons, including the expansion of the group to Arab areas and the old name's connection with Mullah Krekar.
- Among the most prominent leaders of Jaysh Ansar al-Sunna: Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i, the amir of the army; Abu Qatada Asu Hawliri, deputy amir; Ayub Afghani, member of the Majlis Shura; Abu Talha al-Ansari; Abu Mustafa al-Kurdi; Abu al-Abbas al-Kurdi; Abu Asma' Mam Sayyid; Dr. Luqman Abu Maryam; Omar Bazyani; Mullah Khasro al-Rahman; Mullah Idris; Hayman Babishari; Mullah Berro; Mullah Quds; Abu Zayd Khalid al-Mashhadani; Abu Wa'el Sa'adun al-Qadi; Abu Fatima al-Ansari; Abu Sajjad Dr. Muhammad Hussein al-Juburi; Ayad al-Atiyeh; Dr. Muhammad al-Faris; Abu Kawthar al-Ansari; Abu Ja'afar al-Askari; Abu al-Waleed al-Hiti; Dr. Omar Shura; Abu Muadh al-Ansari; Ali al-Shammary; Abu al-Harith al-Owaisi; Abu Ala' Qardash (Abu Ali al-Anbari); Abu As'ad al-Iraqi; Mansur Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Iraqi, and many others besides them, and these were the leaders of the first rank for Jaysh Ansar al-Sunna.
- Jaysh Ansar al-Sunna included in its ranks ansar and muhajireen and the army's operations were very great and the army included Arab muhajireen.
- The personality Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi had connections and this had an effect in the fact that the muhajireen stopped joining Jaysh Ansar al-Sunna and turned towards the ranks of al-Tawheed wa al-Jihad.
Formation of Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna: early defections to Zarqawi's group
- Jaysh Ansar al-Sunna spread in the northern and western Sunni regions as well as in Baghdad, and this was a reason for its shift to the name Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna.
- After the establishment of Jamaat al-Tawheed wa al-Jihad, a number of leaders of Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna announced their abandoning the group and joining Zarqawi, and among these leaders:
- Abu Talha al-Ansari, the amir of al-Ansar in Mosul, and along with him not a few from Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna pledged allegiance. And later he became the deputy of Zarawi and amir of the northern amir.
- Abu Ala' Qardash- Abu Ali al-Anbari- and he gave allegiance and with him a number of members of Jamaat al-Ansar, and then followed him the allegiance of 300 members from Mosul.
- The first was killed and the second occupies the position of general security official in the Dawla [Islamic State] currently and the man is considered the most important after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
- Abu Hafs Omar Bazyani, who was among the most prominent leaders of al-Ansar and among the founders of al-Tawheed wa al-Jihad with Zarqawi and Abu Anas al-Shami and Sa'ad Fawzi al-Jumaili and others besides them.
- Omar Bayzani was arrested in Zuwayna at the end of 2004 by the U.S. forces.
- Abu As'ad al-Iraqi, amir of al-Ansar in al-Mada'in sector [south of Baghdad], and with him 350 members gave allegiance. And Abu Sa'ad al-Iraqi later became the military official for Wilayat al-Janub in the Dawlat al-Iraq [al-Islamiya: Islamic State of Iraq] and later he was killed.
- Mansur Abu Abd al-Rahman a-Iraqi and with him a number of Ansar of Baghdad gave allegiance.
- Abu Muntasir al-Ansari, and with him a number of Ansar of Kirkuk gave allegiance. And Abu As'ad, Abu Abd al-Rahman and Abu Muntasir were all killed.
- Abu Zayd Khalid al-Mashhadani, the military amir for al-Ansar in Baghdad, gave allegiance in 2005 and was arrested at the hands of the Americans in the fifth month of 2007.
- The organizational formation for Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna comprised a number of leaders who participated in the Mountain Emirate and they are as follows:
- Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i (amir of the group); Abu Qatada Asu Hawliri (deputy amir); Ayub Afghani (member of the Majlis Shura; Abu Mustafa al-Kurdi, member of the Majlis Shura; Abu al-Abbas al-Kurdi, member of the Majlis Shura; Abu Wa'el Sa'adun al-Qadi, head of the group's Shari'a Committee; Abu Sajjad Dr. Muhammad Hussein al-Juburi; Abu Fatima al-Ansari; Ayad al-Atiyah; Dr. Muhammad al-Faris; Abu Kawthar al-Ansari; Dr. Omar Shura; Abu Ja'afar al-Askari, the military leader for Diyala; Abu al-Walid al-Hiti, the military official of the group in Hit [town in Anbar province]; Abu Muadh al-Ansari, the security official of the group in Baghdad; Ali al-Shammary, one of the Shari'i officials of the group in Baghdad, then he became the Shari'i official of Baghdad; Abu al-Harith al-Owaisi; Mulla Khasro al-Rahman; Mullah Idris; Hayman Babishari; Mullah Berro; Mullah Quds; Abu Muhammad al-Owaisi.
- The group lost not a small number of its leaders since 2004, most of them were arrested, including: Asu Hawliri, deputy amir, who was arrested in Mosul in 2004; and there followed on from him the arrest of all of the following: Mullah Khasro, who was also arrested in Mosul, Mullah Berro and Mullah Quds, who were arrested in Mosul, while Abu al-Waleed and Abu Ja'afar were killed.
- The group continued its military operation despite what it faced from detentions and killing in the ranks of its leaders, then another number of leaders of the group were arrested, among them: Abu Wa'el Sa'adun al-Qadi; Abu Sajjad or Abu Maryam Dr. Muhammad Hussein al-Juburi; Dr. Muhammad al-Faris.
The Abu Wa'el defection: Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna vs. Jamaat Ansar al-Islam (2006/2007 onwards)
- In 2006, a deal was struck in the American prisons for the release of some of the leaders, including: Abu Wa'el Sa'adun al-Qadi; Abu Sajjad Dr. Muhammad Hussein al-Juburi; Dr. Muhammad al-Faris; Karim al-Hashmawi; Abu Asma' al-Hashmawi.
- Abu Wa'el put before the amir of Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna the news of joining the Jihad and Reform Front and then the political council later, but al-Shafi'i rejected the matter.
- Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna's rejection of this matter was because of the fact that these formations turned into Sahwa forces. And after that a statement was issued from the group in which its disavowal of Abu Wa'el was announced.
- The first defection happened in the ranks of the group and Abu Wa'el defected from the group publicly, announcing the establishment of "Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna: the Shari'a Committee." But al-Ansar were diminished from the matter.
- Among the leaders that defected from al-Ansar and joined Abu Wa'el's group: Abu Sajjad Dr. Muhammad Hussein al-Juburi, Abu Wa'el's deputy; Dr. Muhammad al-Faris; Ayad al-Atiyeh: the media official; Abu Kawthar al-Ansari: military official of Abu Ghraib; Abu Asem al-Kurdi; Karim al-Hashmawi, one of the leaders of the group and an official in National Reconciliation later; Abu Asma' Mhammad Khalaf al-Hashmawi, one of the leaders and a founder of the al-Ghazliya and north Baghdad Sahwa.
- Work on this level continued when Abu Wa'el's group joined the Jihad and Reform Front and the political council for the Iraqi Resistance subsequently.
- In 2007, the leadership of Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna took a decision to change the name of the group and revert it to the old name of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam.
- The decision came to distinguish the group from Abu Wa'el's group which also adopted the name Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna as its name.
- And thus there were now two groups: Jamaat Ansar al-Islam under the leadership of Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i, and Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna under the leadership of Abu Wa'el Sa'adun al-Qadi.
- Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i had a long history in jihad in the time of Afghanistan and in the time of the Mountain Emirate era, and he is a well-known leadership personality in this regard.
- Abu Wa'el Sa'adun al-Qadi- Abd al-Wahhab bin Muhammad al-Sultan: the Shari'i official for the Ansar previously and later the leader of Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna, is an elderly man. He has a long history and experience of jihad and detentions in the days of the Saddam regime and Abu Wa'el went to the north of Iraq in the nineties to coordinate with al-Ansar.
- Then Abu Wa'el's group in Baghdad was arrested- the one in which he was operating- and it was Jamaat al-Muwahhideen, so he remained in the north of Iraq in the nineties.
- He was sentenced to life in absentia and it was contemporaneous with the formation of Ansar al-Islam since it had been Jund al-Islam, then he returned with them and entered Baghdad after the fall of Baghdad.
- Abu Wa'el got out from prison in a deal as mentioned previously; also stipulated was the release of leaders of al-Ansar with him and among those who went out with him: Abu Mustafa al-Kurdi and Abu Meqdad al-Arabi.
- Abu Mustafa al-Kurdi was the real pillar in Jamaat al-Ansar, and as for Abu al-Meqdad, he was from the Shari'a Committee for al-Ansar.
- The leadership of al-Ansar rejected this deal and this was a cause in the group's split as mentioned previously, and thus there arose two groups, not one.
Decline of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam (2007-2010)
- When Abu Wa'el defected with his group, the leadership of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam decided that the Shari'a Committee for the group should be under the leadership of Abu al-Abbas al-Kurdi.
- Abu al-Abbas al-Kurdi is a powerful and influential personality, possessing great Shari'i knowledge and a strong mind, enjoying complete prestige and severity of face.
- Among the most important maxims of Abu al-Abbas is his words that Jamaat Ansar al-Islam is a group of the consensus, not just a fighting group.
- Another of his most important maxims is his words that the group, if it controls an area of the land, needs 30-40 years of da'wa before it can lead for rule [interesting formulation of a more gradualist approach to the implementation of Islamic law, somewhat similar to the pragmatic repositioning attempts by al-Qa'ida in recent times].
- After some months U.S. forces were able to assault a home in which Abu al-Abbas al-Kurdi was in al-Dakhilia neighbourhood but he was able to escape.
- The leadership of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam represented by Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i decided that Abu al-Abbas al-Kurdi should leave Iraq and head to Syria for a time.
- Abu Hashim Al Ibrahim gained responsibility for the Shari'a Committee for the group that had turned to the name of Diwan al-Shir' wa al-Qada' for the time of the return of Abu al-Abbas.
- Abu al-Abbas al-Kurdi returned to Iraq in the time of the announcement of the Dawlat al-Iraq [Islamic State of Iraq] under the leadership of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Hamza al-Muhajir as a minister for him after his allegiance to him in 2006.
- When Dawlat al-Iraq was announced, the relation between them and al-Ansar was good but there was an escalation later, even as the group...fought the Sahwa forces.
- It was only months until Abu Mustafa was arrested by U.S. forces along with 8 leaders of the group.
- Abu Mustafa al-Kurdi was the general military leader for the group and led the group on the practical side, while al-Shafi'i was the general amir of the group.
- Jamaat Ansar al-Islam fell into disarray and was shaken after the arrest of Abu Mustafa al-Kurdi, then Abu al-Abbas al-Kurdi assumed the military leadership for the group.
- A few months after that, Abu al-Abbas al-Kurdi was arrested along with 6 leaders of the group, and there did not remain after Abu al-Abbas any of the first line [generation] leaders except 2 with al-Shafi'i. The group had included 20-30 personalities from the leaders of the first line from the Mountain Emirate and they were all qualified for leadership, but some were killed, others arrested.
- A great faltering in the group arose especially as its presence in Baghdad in that time had no leaders, and the group's presence was concentrated in Mosul and Kirkuk.
- Consultations arose in the group on who should take over the practical leadership for the group: Dr. Omar or Abu Asma' Mam Sayyid, both of whom were long-standing as al-Shafi'i was amir for the group.
- Some of the leadership of al-Ansar, especially the Kurdish leaders among them, rejected a takeover by Dr. Omar or Abu Asma' for this position, and among those who rejected: Mullah Zubayr and Abu Sana' al-Ansari al-Kurdi.
- It was subsequently agreed to form a council directing the group's affairs with al-Shafi'i as amir for the group, while the council would be responsible for managing the group's affairs.
- Members of the council: Dr. Omar Shura and Abu Asma' Mam Sayyid- they were from the leadership of the first line; Abu Fatima al-Ansari, from the second line: Mullah Zubayr; Abu Sina' al-Ansari al-Kurdi; Abu Hashim Al Ibrahim.
- No naming for the formed council was given, but it functioned as a leadership committee directing the group's affairs, but matters were unstable and defections were quasi-present.
- Jamaat Ansar al-Islam received another painful blow, represented in the arrest of the amir of the group Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i
- Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i was arrested in Baghdad, and that occurred after an assault on the house in which he was by U.S. forces.
Jamaat Ansar al-Islam after Shafi'i's arrest
Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i after his arrest in May 2010.
Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i after his arrest in May 2010.
- Jamaat Ansar al-Islam was struck with great disarray after the arrest of its amir al-Shafi'i [May 2010] and its operations ceased for a time and the first signs of disagreement among the group almost surfaced.
- The opinion of some of the leaders in the group was that the amir position of the group should continue in al-Shafi'i while the Shari'a Committee should direct the group. But the other camp rejected this suggestion.
- Mullah Zubayr- one of the long-standing figures of the Mountain Emirate- was among those of the first suggestion, as they considered Shafi'i to be the spiritual father for the group, not just its amir.
- But the other camp rejected this suggestion, and the matter was set on the Majlis Shura taking over the administration of the group for the period on agreeing on an amir for the group.
- A committee was formed to administer the affairs of the group, and this committee included the elite of those who were in the Mountain Emirate and others besides them:
- Abu Asma' Mam Sayyid; Dr. Omar Shura; Abu Fatima al-Ansari; Abu Hashim Al Ibrahim; Mullah Zubayr; Abu Sina' al-Ansari al-Kurdi.
- The formed committee worked to administer the Shari'i and military affairs of the group and the [general] administration, and this committee worked on that for up to a year.
- Members of the committee were sent to the various sectors in which the group was present, and that to administer the group's affairs in that area; and their dispatch was as follows:
- Abu Asma' Mam Sayyid was sent to Anbar; Abu Hashim Al Ibrahim was sent to Mosul; Abu Sina' al-Ansari al-Kurdi and Abu Fatima al-Ansari remained in Baghdad; Mullah Zubayr was sent to Kirkuk; Dr. Omar Shura remained moving between those different regions.
- In July 2010, a member of the group's Majlis Shura was killed: Abu Asma' Mam Sayyid, in the suburbs of Mosul. Thus the group lost the most distinguished leader in it.
- The formed council continued in administering the group's affairs despite the loss of its most important member Abu Asma', but consultations in the group established the adoption of a [new] amir.
Election of Abu Hashim Al Ibrahim
- Those consultations led to the election of a new amir for the group: Abu Hashim Al Ibrahim, and he was elected by consensus of the Majlis Shura on 15 December 2011.
- Abu Hashim Al Ibrahim is from the inhabitants of Baghdad: previously Shi'i, he then announced his conversion to the Ahl al-Sunna and his disavowal of the Shi'a and their program: and he has great Shari'i knowledge. He studied Shari'i knowledge at the hands of a number of sheikhs of Baghdad, and he studied hadith at the hands of the distinguished scholar Sabhi al-Samarra'i, and Abu Hashim became a master of great knowledge.
- He joined Jamaat al-Ansar in 2006 through Abd al-Raheem Abu Anwar, one of the most important preachers of Baghdad and close to Abu Wa'el Sa'adun al-Qadi, then Abu Wa'el vouched for him.
- Abu Hashim gradually moved up in the ranks in Jamaat al-Ansar when he joined in the beginning of the matter to the Shari'i investigations department affiliated with the group's Shari'a Committee.
- Then Abu Hashim became the right hand to Abu al-Abbas al-Kurdi, after he gained control of the group's Shari'a Committee, then Abu Hashim took over the Shari'i Committee in the time of Abu al-Abbas' sojourn.
- Abu Hashim issued a number of Shari'i investigations and participated in the composition of many of the books issued by the group, especially the book of travel and the like.
- Abu Hashim joined the Majlis that was managing the group, and later he became one of the members of the group's Majlis Shura.
- Abu Hashim was exposed to more than one assassination attempt at the hands of Dawlat al-Iraq, just as he issued statements on confronting Dawlat al-Iraq, and following the assassination attempts to which he was exposed, he decided to go from Baghdad to Tikrit, but he was advised to depart Tikrit because the foreigner is quickly recognised among the people of Tikrit. So he departed to Mosul and settled there- he and his family- and that was in 2008: then later Abu Hashim became the general amir for al-Ansar in 2011.
- Jamaat Ansar al-Islam fought the Sahwa forces and the Iraqi forces in all their stripes, but this did not mean that it did not participate in a campaign of tit-for-tat assassinations vs. the Dawla.
- Similarly the group participated in a campaign of tit-for-tar assassinations with Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna when Abu Majid a-Askari and others besides him were killed on Sahwa accusations.
- And as mentioned previously, relations between al-Ansar and the Dawla became very strained, leading to the two sides engaging in the killing of military officials, Shari'i officials and security officials from every side on all kinds of accusations.
- Among those killed from the leaders of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam: Abu Harth al-Owaisi; Abu al-Huda al-Mosuli; Abu Hazim al-Obaidi; Abu Ibrahim al-Juburi; Ibrahim Abush; Abu Muhammad al-Owaisi; Abu Bashar al-Owaisi; Abu Naba' al-Mosuli; Salah al-Din al-Obaidi; Abu Omar al-Telafari; Abu Ibrahim Baiji, and others besides them.
- At the end of the declared American presence in 2011, the group did not cease its operations but rather continued targeting the Sahwa forces and Iraqi forces in the variety of their formations.
- The group's presence after the American withdrawal was concentrated in the regions of Kirkuk and Mosul largely, but it also had a presence in Baghdad and its north, with a weak presence in Salah al-Din, Diyala, Anbar and south Baghdad.
Expansion into Syria (2011 onwards)
Jamaat Ansar al-Islam in Bilad al-Sham: slaughter and distribution of meat for Eid al-Adha 2014.
Jamaat Ansar al-Islam in Bilad al-Sham: slaughter and distribution of meat for Eid al-Adha 2014.
- When the armed revolution of al-Sham began against the Assad regime, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam entered al-Sham and began operating under the name "Jamaat Ansar al-Islam in BIlad al-Sham."
- The group exploited its available and potential financial and military capabilities to support the al-Sham revolution, and rather than participating on its own, a number of the group's commanders undertook to train some of the factions of al-Sham.
- Jamaat Ansar al-Islam has a presence in al-Sham, in Aleppo and Idlib [cf. participation in Jaysh al-Fatah-led advances this year], and it has participated in many joint operations with the factions of al-Sham.
- Abu Ahmad al-Samarra'i al-Muhajir al-Iraqi assumed the leadership of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam in Bilad al-Sham before he was killed in aircraft bombing before he entered Iraq.
Unrest in Iraq (2014): arrest of Abu Hashim, defections to ISIS/the Islamic State
- Jamaat Ansar al-Islam continued operating on this level until the take-off of the Iraqi revolution, for Jamaat Ansar al-Islam had a presence in a number of regions.
- Al-Ansar operated in Fallujah and Ramadi while the events in Anbar were ongoing, but Jamaat Ansar al-Islam received a painful blow in that time.
- This was embodied in the arrest of a number of leaders of the group including Abu Hashim Al Ibrahim the amir of the group, and this happened at the beginning of 2014.
- Jamaat Ansar al-Islam's operations were very much weakened after the arrest of its amir Abu Hashim, but its division in al-Sham continued operating.
- Among the most important things Jamaat al-Ansar accomplished before the arrest of its amir was the establishment of the Sheikh Abd al-Rashid Ghazi camp for military preparation [cf. here].
- The Mosul events came about: on the first day of the events and with the intensification of the conflict in the city, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam entered into many discussions on the matter.
- The discussions focused on coming down to the field and aiding the Dawla [ISIS] and the group was split on that matter into two camps: some of them rejected coming down, others preferred coming down and providing aid.
- The side supporting coming down were the military commanders in the group, while the Shari'i officials were the ones who rejected the matter.
- Only for knowledge: the ones who were leading the group in the Mosul events were the leaders of the Majlis Shura because the amir of the group Abu Hashim had been detained before those events.
- On the third day of the Mosul events, the Majlis Shura of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam decided to come down and aid the Dawla [ISIS], and this meant the group came down on the left side of the city [east Mosul]
- Subsequently the group participated in military operations in Salah ad-Din, especially in Baiji, al-Siniya [industrial area west of Baiji city] and Tikrit, just as it also participated in the operations in Hawija.
- And the operations of Jamaat al-Ansar in Salah ad-Din and Kirkuk were in coordination with Jaysh al-Mujahideen [cf. here], and in that time they seized a military brigade base in Hawija.
- After the Dawla [ISIS] seized most of Salah ad-Din, parts of Kirkuk, all of Ninawa, and very wide parts of Anbar, divisions of the group began announcing allegiance.
- Most of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam in Tuz, Kirkuk, Salah ad-Din and areas in Mosul and Anbar gave allegiance, but it was not an allegiance of all of the group, but then after that came an allegiance pledge that encompassed a great number of the leaders and Shari'i officials of the group, and the allegiance was on 29 August 2014 [cf. here]. And with these allegiance pledges, the overwhelming majority of the group had given allegiance.
- Indeed most of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam gave allegiance, but a simple and small presence for the group remained in Iraq and the most important of those who gave allegiance feature in the photographed allegiance ceremony.
- Obeida al-Mosuli, also known by the name of Sheikh Sa'id, was a Shari'i official of Jamaat al-Ansar in Mosul and he is the one who announced allegiance and appeared in the video excerpt announcing it.
- He was a master of Shari'i knowledge and was from the residents of al-Zahara' neighbourhood in Mosul, and he was arrested more than once by the Kurds but did not fall into their prisons.
- Obeida al-Mosuli was killed after a short time. Also among those who gave allegiance was Abu Muhammad Abd al-Muhaymin al-Muhajir al-Askari [cf. here and here]: he was the military commander for al-Ansar in Mosul.
- Abu Muhammad al-Muhajir was among the most distinguished of the military commanders in al-Ansar. He also participated in the training of a number of factions of al-Sham, including Jaysh al-Islam.
Decline and Attempted Revival in Iraq, Endurance in Syria (2014-Present Day)
- After this, the Jamaat Ansar al-Islam presence in Iraq was weakened greatly, and operations did not return for them for a long time, while its operation continued in al-Sham.
- Abu Ibrahim al-Ansari took over the leadership of the group in al-Sham, in succession to Abu Ahmad al-Samarra'i who was mentioned previously.
- After a time, a statement was issued by the group in al-Sham in which allegiance of the group to the Dawla [Islamic State] was announced, but the al-Sham allegiance was not like the Iraq allegiance.
- Jamaat al-Ansar's allegiance in al-Sham to Dawla was an allegiance on the level of members and not on the leadership level, therefore Jamaat al-Ansar remained in al-Sham [cf. here]
- Jamaat Ansar al-Islam some time ago lost its Shari'i official in Shirqat [north of Baiji], the preacher Shamil Abu Ahmad [cf. here] who was among the important cadres of the group.
- The group's 'security' operations in Baghdad and its north [e.g. assassinations and small scale IEDs] returned and the group returned to build up some of its military security operations between one time and another.
- Months ago, a number of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam- not a few- were arrested in north Baghdad, including Abu Muadh al-Ansari, a security official of Baghdad.
- This operation constituted a painful blow for the group especially in the north Baghdad area as it was one of the most important areas in which the group operated in that time.
- Two additional strikes hit the group but this time in Baghdad: the first embodied in the arrest of al-Shammary, fatwa issuer of the group, then an important number of the cadre of group were arrested.
- These strikes resulted in the suspension of the group's operation, including security operation in the various sectors in which it was operating.
- This led the suspension of the group's operation in Iraq, so a number of the group's cadres went to al-Sham to join the group in al-Sham under al-Ansari's leadership.
- And here comes the question that is the title of this article: "Has Jamaat Ansar al-Islam come to an end?" And the response is divided in sections:
- Yes, the group has come to an end in its military existence in Iraq, but it has remained present in its very weak security presence as regards Iraq.
- No, the group has not come to an end but has remained present in its military and media presence in al-Sham, just as its leadership has remained present with regards to al-Sham.
- And in the sum, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam has not come to an end, but has remained present, and even if it is not as before, it continues to have cadres, commanders and media personnel: and they are in the development stage.
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a research fellow at Middle East Forum's Jihad Intel project.