Though attacks within Baghdad city are generally associated with the Islamic State (IS), particularly when it comes to coordinated car bomb attacks in multiple neighborhoods and other sophisticated assaults as we saw recently in al-Kaẓimiya (and the ascription is not incorrect) there are some minor Sunni insurgent groups that also carry out attacks in the Baghdad urban area, primarily in the form of IEDs and assassination operations: some of these acts, to be sure, are claimed by the more recognizable brands like the Islamic Army in Iraq.
One notable example of the Baghdad-based minor insurgent groups is Kata'ib Thuwar al-Sunna which I documented back in January. More recently I documented another of a JRTN-leaning orientation by the name of Jaysh Thuwar Baghdad. The insurgent group profiled here is the 'Abu Ja'afar al-Mansur Brigades', taking its name after the Abbasid caliph generally known as just al-Mansur, who is regarded as the true founder of the Abbasid dynasty. He was also the founder of the city of Baghdad, making the link clear between the Abu Ja'afar al-Mansur Brigades and its main area of operations. The group first announced its existence in mid-summer (15 July) 2012, indicating a revolutionary, fiercely anti-Shi'a outlook with the insistence that the U.S. withdrawal did not mark the end of troubles for Iraq's Sunni population. Here is my translation of thatstatement:
Announcement concerning armed jihad work by the Abu Ja'afar al-Mansur Brigades:
'Truly has God purchased from the believers their souls and wealth for the fact that those who fight in the path of God are assured Paradise: they kill or are killed; it is the true promise on Him in the Torah, Gospel and Qur'an, and who is truer in his pledge than God? So rejoice in the pledge you have undertaken: and that is the great attainment' (Qur'an 9:111).
The years of the evil American occupation passed, and it withdrew in defeat bearing the consequences of failure and loss, after it had destroyed the country, humiliated the God-fearing, and corrupted livelihood and the markets- besides insulting customs and infringing on taboos- but also after it had tasted humiliation and degradation and lived days stained with blood and filled with terror at the hands of the heroic mujahideen in our beloved land of Iraq- the Iraq of glory and civilizations. After the American occupier fled from our land, it left behind another enemy more resentful and offensive towards the Ahl al-Sunna, many of whom thought that the withdrawal would mark the end of pain and suffering and the start of a new life filled with freedom, security and stability, but one does not see the truth except he who has lived through its chapters and been through its paths.
The Americans have gone and the Safavid Iranians and their followers, who came for the first time with the occupation, remained, so that the Ahl al-Sunna might live the painful truth which is that there is no difference between the two states if the more recent one is not worse. For we had with the American occupation assaults and triumphs as God blessed their execution and outcomes, thanks to God. So we intended to announce ourselves at this stage for the current state of affairs is different after the withdrawal but the enemy is more dangerous than before, from which there is a need for greater ambition and more precise operation: perhaps God will confound the mind of these criminals and bless his God-fearing believers with victory and capability. Further we have seen that claiming our military operation through media will have a greater impact on the souls of these criminals, and thus it will have a good impact on the souls of the believers. Perhaps it will be a reason for them to seek their aspirations and strengthen their determination, with our knowledge of the difficulty of the situation and scarcity of capable hands, but it is an effort of the destitute. We ask God to bless the few and increase their number.
This announcement of ours is not the establishment of something new but is rather a clear statement of a formation with a present existence and a history with the occupation and its consequences, with thanks to God and His blessing. Its name is the "Abu Ja'afar al-Mansur Brigades": indeed we make clear that our work relates to the targeting of the Rafidite [Shi'a] government, the soldiers of Iran, its followers, collaborators, guardians and arms operating in Iraq- whatever type or title of their work, whether security preparations, political parties, civil/legal foundations, diplomatic committees, and all of the apostates who cooperate with them or offer them assistance, as long as they are working in the service and interest of the Safavid projects, waging war on and oppressing the Ahl al-Sunna, for our knowledge that these malicious connivers excel in disguise, under-handed dealing and deceit more than others besides them. So we will set an ambush for them by God's permission, and we will not leave a single Iranian follower moving with freedom on the Land of Two Rivers except that there will be for him for a portion of our jihad and a share of our bullets so that he will regret the day on which he thought to come to Iraq and will give up on his delusion of control in which he lives.
Also we call on every eager and noble Muslim to support the mujahideen and bear arms to defend religion, soul and honour and stand up to the hateful Rafidites because they only understand the language of fear, arms, force and this is their destiny on the passing of history. And there is no use in talking or reaching mutual understanding with them, for these are the people of the religion of falsehood, deception and taqiyya [Arabic term for religious dissimulation associated with Shi'a to hide from persecution], not knowing the meaning of truth or the feel of honesty.
We ask God to place us among the people of honesty and steadfastness, and strengthen our shot and make firm our feet and shake the land under our enemy. O God, ruin Iran, its allies and followers; cut their limbs, sever their arms; disperse their fathering and scatter their union. O God, allot them their share in numbers and kill them as they disperse and do not spare any of them.
To accompany this announcement, the Abu Ja'afar al-Mansur Brigades also gave an account of operations prior to this announcement, centered on the Baghdad area, from December 2011 (marking the completion of the U.S. withdrawal) up to the end of June 2012. The only exception is an attack claimed in Karbala in June.
22 December 2011: targeting of an Idolatrous Guard [i.e. Iraqi army] soldier: Sadr City.
24 December 2011: killing of a captain in the Idolatrous Guard: Fairouz Square in Baghdad
26 December 2011: killing of a member of the Idolatrous Guard: Sadr City
28 December 2011: killing of a criminal policeman: al-Salikh area [al-'Aẓamiya, Baghdad]
30 December 2011: killing of a first lieutenant of the Idolatrous Guard: al-Tahurriyat Square, Baghdad
14 January 2012: targeting of a first lieutenant of the Idolatrous Guard: al-Za'afraniya area [south-east Baghdad]
16 January 2012: targeting of a policeman: Masila area
21 January 2012: killing of a member of the Interior Ministry commandoes: al-Bab area, east Baghdad
21 January 2012: killing a policeman: Sadr City
23 January 2012: assassination of a soldier in intelligence: Basmaya area in Baghdad
24 January 2012: wounding of one of the commandoes during the attempt to assassinate him: New Baghdad
27 January 2012: wounding of one of the commandoes: al-Za'afraniya.
28 January 2012: IED attack on a car belonging to Muqtada's militias: Sadr City
5 February 2012: killing of a staff sergeant in the Idolatrous Guard: Uqba ibn Nafi Square, Baghdad
7 February 2012: targeting of a policeman: al-Nahda area
8 February 2012: targeting of a lieutenant in the Idolatrous Guard: New Baghdad
10 February 2012: explosion of a car carrying an officer in the Interior Ministry, leading to his death: al-Karrada, Baghdad
12 February 2012: killing a commandoes' soldier: Badala al-Alawiya area in Baghdad
13 February 2012: targeting of a staff sergeant in the Idolatrous Guard: Mashru' area, al-Wahda quarter, Baghdad [east Baghdad]
14 February 2012: killing of a leader in Muqtada's militias: al-Amin quarter area
15 February 2012: killing of a soldier of the Idolatrous Guard: Mashru' area, al-Wahda quarter
16 February 2012: targeting the driver of a Monika [Toyota 4x4] car of Muqtada's militias [Mahdi Army, now 'Saraya al-Salam']: al-Sana'a street, Baghdad
18 February 2012: targeting of a member of the Presidential Guards: al-Dura area [south Baghdad].
19 February 2012: killing of a commandoes' soldier, al-Amin quarter area
20 February 2012: killing of a commandoes' soldier, al-Amin quarter area
25 February 2012: killing of a commandoes' member, New Baghdad [east Baghdad]
27 February 2012: targeting of a first lieutenant: al-Waziriya area
29 February 2012: targeting of a member of the Idolatrous Guard: al-Taji [north Baghdad]
18 March 2012: killing of a member of the Idolatrous Guard: Sadr City
12 April 2012: killing of an officer in the Interior Ministry: al-Sana'a street, Baghdad
14 April 2012: targeting of a soldier in the Idolatrous Guard: al-Saba' area in Baghdad
16 April 2012: killing of a commander in Muqtada's militias: al-Amin area, Baghdad
17 April 2012: killing of a soldier of the Idolatrous Guard: al-Salikh area
18 April 2012: targeting the Idolatrous Guard, wounding one of them
19 April 2012: IED bomb attack on a Monika car belonging to an officer in the Defence Ministry: Sadr City
19 April 2012: IED attack on a pick-up carrying the Idolatrous Guard: al-Thawra area
25 April 2012: killing of an evil Rafidite: al-Wahda quarter area [east Baghdad].
26 April 2012: targeting of the driver of a Monika car: al-Amin quarter area
29 April 2012: targeting of an Idolatrous Guard soldier: al-Za'afraniya
2 May 2012: killing of an associate with the interior intelligence: al-Baldiyat area
5 May 2012: killing of a staff sergeant of the Idolatrous Guard: White Castle area in Baghdad
5 May 2012: killing of a staff sergeant of the Idolatrous Guard: White Castle area
27 May 2012: killing a commander in Muqtada's militias: al-Dhabbat area
29 May 2012: killing someone associated with one of the security companies: Sadr City
29 May 2012: IED attack on a Hummer of the Idolatrous Guard: al-Thawra area
31 May 2012: killing of a commandoes' officer: al-Mashtal area in Baghdad [east Baghdad]
10 June 2012: killing of a commandoes' soldier: al-Muthanna street in Baghdad
20 June 2012: killing of a commandoes' soldier: al-Baldiyat area [east Baghdad]
23 June 2012: killing of a commandoes' member: al-Amin quarter area
24 June 2012: killing of a soldier in the Idolatrous Guard: al-Muthanna street in Baghdad
26 June 2012: killing of a turbaned Rafidite: al-Mua'llimin quarter in Karbala
30 June 2012: killing of a member of the Interior Ministry: Sadr City
Subsequent attacks claimed by the Abu Ja'afar al-Mansur Brigades follow a similar pattern: the vast majority of them taking place in these familiar Baghdad areas but occasional attacks outside the capital. For example, on 5 July 2012, the Abu Ja'afar al-Mansur Brigades claimed rocket attacks on a federal police base in Samarra. On 2, 8 and 20 September 2012, the group claimed attacks on the police and army in Mosul. However, the frequency of these attacks outside the Baghdad area compared to the recurrences within Baghdad are not enough to suggest a centralized command structure on a nationwide scale, though coordination and organization are definitely in evidence within Baghdad.
Like other insurgent groups, the Abu Ja'afar al-Mansur Brigades has tied some of its actions to key developments in the revitalisation of the wider Sunni Arab insurgency. Thus, after the Hawija massacre in which government forces killed dozens of unarmed protestors affiliated with the Naqshbandi Army activist wing Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq, the Abu Ja'afar al-Mansur Brigades claimed an immediate response:
"In the first response to the Hawija massacre against our people, God granted for your mujahideen brothers to target the Safavid Tigris Operations Command base in Kirkuk province with three rockets from al-'Amal ash-Sha'abi area, 23 April 2013."
Subsequent claimed operations represented purported expansion into other new areas: on 17 June 2013, the group claimed an IED attack on a SWAT forces vehicle in the Baiji area, and four days had claimed to kill an army soldier in the al-Karma area in Anbar province. By October 2013, the group was claiming operations in Rawa and Anah further west in Anbar province. After the debacle broke out in Ramadi and wider Anbar province with Nouri al-Maliki's attempt to dismantle the Ramadi protest camp, the Abu Ja'afar al-Mansur Brigades issued another statement:
"Message to the youth:
28 December 2013
"Oh you who believe, take your heed and either go forth in groups or go forth all together"- Qur'an 4:71.
You have followed the recent statements of al-Haliki (Maliki) and have seen the movements of his camps and soldiers in Anbar which have also made clear that the enemies of God have gathered their resources to launch a wide-scale attack on the people of Anbar and liquidate the mujahideen and all who preceded them in jihad and influence from among the devoted truth-tellers.
The criminals continue after a year of the peaceful protest movement to be terrified of the throats of the demonstrators that made their beds rough, for lo, how in anger they bore their arms to put a stop to the daily series of humiliations? It has been taken as a given that oppression and tyranny are only stopped by armed jihad. We remind you of the words of God Almighty in the ruling of His revelation: "And fight in the path of God those who fight you"). Oh dear youth of Islam: seek the help of God- Him alone- and strive to train small groups to strike the Safavid forces in all areas and divide and break up their military forces. All reckoning is on His power, for indeed that is the best of plans in these circumstances- that we my cleanse our Sunni areas of their oppression and filth"
Subsequent claimed operations included attacks in Mosul, Baiji and Saqlawiya (just north of Fallujah) in January-February 2014. A gap then emerges in the claims of attacks with a new string of operations reported for August and September of this year focused on the Baghdad area. Here are some of the most recent operations claimed by the Abu Ja'afar al-Mansur Brigades:
27 August 2014: killing a member of the Safavid army on al-Tabrid street in White Castle area, Baghdad.
28 August 2014: killing a member of the criminal SWAT forces in Sheikh Omar area, Baghdad.
2 September 2014: killing a member of Asa'ib al-Batil [Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq] near the group's office in central al-'Aẓamiya, Baghdad.
11 September 2014: sticky bomb on a car belonging to Muqtada's army in al-Mushtal area in Baghdad.
14 September 2014: killing of a member of Asa'ib al-Batil near the Uqba ibn Nafil Square in Baghdad.
One possibility that explains this gap is that those claiming membership of/affiliation with the group outside of Baghdad may have been subsumed by IS in multiple areas, and so it has now been pushed back to its main area of operations: if so it should perhaps not come as too much of a surprise given the overlap of stringent anti-Shi'a sentiment, and the Abu Ja'afar al-Mansur Brigades' own evocations of a Caliphate with its name. One source I know from Baiji, for example, denies the presence of the Abu Ja'afar al-Mansur Brigades, even as he acknowledges other factions in the wider area like the 1920s Revolution Brigades and the Islamic Army in Iraq. In western Anbar localities like Rawa and Anah, where the group had previously claimed operations, there cannot be a visible presence as these places are solely controlled by IS. Likewise, the city of Mosul has come to see IS assert its power at the expense of other insurgents. In any case, considering that IS is unable to conquer Baghdad and the wider Sunni insurgent dream of taking the city will remain for some time, one can expect the Abu Ja'afar al-Mansur Brigades to continue to claim operations in the Baghdad area.