Intro and Analysis
The latest Naqshbandi Army (Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia/JRTN) statement is in short a reaffirmation of the group's revolutionary aims: that is, to overthrow the government and constitution. This statement reflects a wider insurgent trend calling on Sunnis not to attempt to reinvolve themselves in the political process with the stepping down of Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister designate in favor of Dawa party member Hayder al-Abadi, who must now form a new government. In a similar vein, for example, the Islamic Army of Iraq- associated with the demand for a Sunni federal region- has also come out against Abadi, with spokesman Ibrahim al-Shammary tweeting: "To those who rejoiced about Abadi, in what way does Abadi differ from Maliki? The knife by which the Ahl al-Sunna are slaughtered has been moved from one criminal to another! Do not be so rejoicing."
Further, a whole series of local JRTN-fronts in the form of "Military Council for the Revolutionaries of Tribes in X" (where X is a given locality) have issued statements rejecting the upcoming government formation process under Abadi, stressing that the goal is revolution. Some of these military councils claim a presence in localities where the Islamic State (IS) has emerged as the dominant power in military and administrative terms, including Rutba (in western Anbar), Fallujah, Tel Afar and Mosul. The point is, the JRTN's priorities are still very much focused on fighting government forces, not on confronting IS. Indeed, the JRTN's local military councils have either virtually accepted complete subordination to IS or a de facto alliance.
More generally, we can note the following:
a) To the extent that Sunni Arab politicians (e.g. Osama al-Nujaifi) have decided to come out in support of Hayder Abadi's nomination and work to form a new government, then the gap between them and the likes of the JRTN is only increased. Atheel al-Nujaifi's statement on the need for Abadi to work to build up a new Iraqi army and for the provinces to cooperate in that regard should also be noted. Any notions he was playing up last month of working with JRTN in Mosul have now died away. Indeed, the Nujaifi brothers' statements now focus wholly on countering IS, as they realize the extent of the crisis in Ninawa province in particular.
b) Presently, we can divide Sunni Arab sentiment into three camps:
- Those who see the top priority as rolling back IS rather than pushing for political grievances, if they have any, to be addressed, under which camp we can identify figures such as Ahmed Abu Risha of Anbar and his deceased nephew Muhammad Khamees, the former of whom recently announced a unified initiative of anti-IS tribal clans in Anbar province to push back against IS. It should be noted that there is nothing particularly groundbreaking about this announcement: anti-IS tribal sentiment has existed in Anbar province from the beginning of this year when IS first moved into Fallujah and Ramadi, most notably in Ramadi city and the wider area, Hīt and Haditha. Without it, these localities might have completely fallen out of government control long ago. Meanwhile, Muhammad Khamees has been ever keen to advertise social media material of anti-IS tribal fighters in the Ramadi area in particular:
Photo put out by Muhammad Khamees-affiliated social media advertising security forces as cooperating with local tribal fighters in Albu Aitha in eastern Ramadi area.
However, nothing indicates that the main insurgent brands in Anbar and affiliated tribes- whether of JRTN, General Military Council (JRTN/Harith al-Dari), the Islamic Army of Iraq, Jaysh al-Mujahideen etc.- are willing to join Ahmed Abu Risha's supposed new initiative. Out towards the far west of the country, in localities like al-Qa'im, Rawa and Rutba, in all of which IS has asserted dominance, there is no hint of anti-IS tribal sentiment rallying to disrupt IS control of these areas. In short, the 'Abu Risha camp', so to speak, is still in the minority, though I would also draw attention to remnant Sahwa in areas like Daluiya (Salah ad-Din province) and north Baghdad province.
- Those who push for the government to address demands first as a condition for turning against IS, which we can call the 'mainstream' camp. Arguably the most notable member of this camp is Ali Hatem Suleiman. We can also include at least some members of the Islamic Army of Iraq, who, as I have noted before, would likely be satisfied by an actual grant of a Sunni federal region. Fundamentally, these grievances revolve around the notion of granting Sunni-majority provinces greater autonomy and control over their own security forces with financial support from the central government but withdrawing the army, along with demands for reforms to de-Ba'athification and the idea of the supposed need for greater Sunni Arab representation in government. Here, I believe we have an impasse: though Maliki was often seen as unfairly uncompromising on these issues, he has hardly been alone in his sentiments. In fact, the entire Shi'a political spectrum (which includes Hayder Abadi) is generally reluctant to give any ground here. As far as the 'mainstream' demands go, I would deem the issue of reforms to de-Ba'athification as necessary but must question whether the Sunni Arab majority provinces, given the pervasiveness of nepotism and corruption, could effectively manage their own security forces without external ground support to roll back IS in the current circumstances.
- Those who believe in 'revolution' and overthrowing the current government and constitution. In this camp fall most of the recognizable non-IS insurgent brands and their supporters: JRTN and its fronts, Jaysh al-Mujahideen, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam and the General Military Council for Iraq's Revolutionaries and affiliates. A strong factor behind this sentiment is the belief in Sunni Arabs as a plurality or majority who should be ruling from Baghdad, hence the centrality of Baghdad to the rhetoric.
In short, I must declare my pessimism in Hayder Abadi's ability to devise an effective strategy to roll back IS. While I believe in the addressing of grievances like reforming de-Ba'athification, foremost the adherents of the third camp I outlined above need to realize the futility of their struggle. I also think external powers will still need to put troops on the ground in large numbers, both in Iraq and Syria, to coordinate an effective anti-IS tribal and insurgent movement to roll back the group's power.
Here is the latest JRTN statement, with translation below.
JRTN Statement to make our dignified Iraqi people and the peoples of the world aware of what is happening in Iraq.
Oh dignified people of Iraq,
Oh sons of our Arab Islamic Ummah,
Oh free people in the entire world.
Our destiny has been set since the year 2003 on the path of resisting the foreign occupation, and we have made that clear in the principles of a true program in which we affirmed that we have borne arms to confront the occupation in all its aspects, forms and followers, and we will never lay down our arms until what we came out for is realized: that is, the complete and comprehensive liberation of Iraq, with preservation of its unity, independence, security and sovereignty.
Indeed our revolution today is one step further and there is no going back on or replacement for its outlined mission for national interests to be realized in their entirety, not in deficient form, and we are not deceived by the tricks and lies of the sectarians and racists, and their attempts to mislead the people, eradicate their rights, and confuse them into thinking as though this people is outside the arena of conflict and there is nothing in it for them from this, and that it has escaped their notice that our people is that indigenous people over the course of history and the one that taught humankind the principles of civilization, the first that established principles of law for organizing human life. They [the sectarians etc.] have reckoned that their latest game will deceive our people and the civilized peoples. For this reason we make clear the following:
1. We reject this sectarian constitution in all its clauses- both as a whole and in the individual details- because it has torn apart the people and land by sectarian and racial divisions and eradicated the Arabic and Islamic identity of Iraq; and it was established to be subordinate the Persian interests; and it has been and continues to be the cover for the continuation of the rule of the sectarians in Iraq. Thus, changing sectarian rule while keeping the constitution will not change the state of affairs one bit because the successor [Hayder Abadi] is the one who will be entrusted with plotting division and malice against the Iraqi people according to this rejected constitution.
2. Our people have endured these faces of politicians for a long period of time and have found nothing in them but misfortune, and malice that they have brought on all the sons of our people, attempting to divide Iraq and sowing separation among its sons as well as financial and administrative corruption. Through their witnessed crimes, their black hatred against our people and serving Iran they have shown that they are the enemies of the Iraqi people.
3. The so-called 'National Alliance' is in reality a sectarian alliance with its subordination to Iran, despising the people of Iraq in all its components, implementing its [Iran's] sectarian interests and expansionist agenda in exporting the so-called "Iranian Revolution" of evil renown to overwhelm Iraq and regional states- something not impossible. Further, there is no difference between members who make up this sectarian collaborationist alliance, for all of them profess loyalty to and dependence on Iran, and a change of faces means nothing to us, because sectarianism will remain and subordination to Iran will continue and cohere day after day.
4. We call on all Arab states, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the UN and all global organizations and committees to stand by the Iraqi people in their revolution against the sectarians and racists.
5. We call on Arab and Islamic states and the states of the world to reconsider their relations with this sectarian and racist government that is responsible for oppression and enmity against our people, and we call on them to stand with our people to form a national salvation government and rewrite the constitution with Iraqi nationalist hands aware of what comprises the unity of Iraq, its independence, security, sovereignty, as well as the realization of freedom, justice, equality and peace for our people and the peoples of the entire world.
We pledge to God, His messenger and our Iraqi people to move forward on the path of liberating the land from all forms of sectarianism, racism and subordination to Iran, and God is the guardian of success.
17 Shuwwal 1435 AH.
13 August 2014.
. Reference to Iraq's civilizational past echoes the image Saddam conveyed in emphasizing an Arab and Islamic identity while also glorifying the Babylonian and Sumerian heritage, albeit tinged by Ba'athist Arabism.
. The National Alliance is the main Shi'a political bloc in Iraq.
. The appeal to the world to support the current insurgency has been emphasized in past JRTN statements.