Similar to Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna's 6 December statement, the Ba'athist-Sufi Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia ('Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order'/JRTN/Naqshbandi Army) issued a statement on 2 December as part of a string of denials by Sunni insurgent factions of participating in a delegation to Washington to discuss 'National Guard' formation plans under Iraqi PM Hayder al-Abadi. In this case, JRTN is of particular interest as it has also been the apparent target for outreach by outside powers in a bid to build up a local Sunni force to fight the Islamic State (IS). This is so because JRTN and its wider network are considered to be the second most powerful Sunni insurgent force in Iraq after IS, and so could provide much needed manpower and experience.
Evidence of possible discussions between JRTN and the international coalition against IS first emerged more than a month ago, with a statement circulated on pro-JRTN social media pages on this very matter, but not on JRTN's official website (alnakshabandia.net). At the same time, the statement in question was not officially denied on the group's site, indicating that it was most likely an internal communiqué. In this communiqué, JRTN presents the outreach to its group by the coalition as indicative of the desperation of 'the enemy': "And it is from God Almighty's victory for us that He has rendered our enemy humiliated and submissive despite his haughtiness, forced to deal with us as a resistance army, conceal their defeat and salvage some of their interests. And this enemy has known that there is no way to salvage its interests except through the stability of Iraq and this stability will not come about except through those who have a place in the hearts of the Iraqi people like our army [JRTN]."
JRTN's communiqué then lays out a number of demands of negotiation (part direct translation, part condensed summary here):
1. The re-establishment of a non-sectarian, non-racist political process whose business and reins (the parliament and the three leaderships: president of the republic, prime minister and the head of the parliament) are presided over in entirety by Iraqi nationalists known to the Iraqi people for their nationalism and impartiality, not tainted in their commitment and loyalty to Iraq and its people.
2. That Iraq should be an independent state possessing complete sovereignty...in its internal, external, political, military and economic affairs with complete freedom to write a new constitution without any control or interference from a state or international organization.
3. To designate the National Alliance [main Shi'a political bloc in Iraq] in all forms and associations as a terrorist organization internationally, including by the UN Security Council.
4. Economic sanctions etc against the National Alliance and all associates with referral to international courts.
5. The U.S. should take responsibility for all Iraqi prisoners held in the prisons of the "racist, sectarian, collaborationist government" and provide appropriate compensation for their sufferings.
6. The U.S. should issue an official apology to the Iraqi people for all war crimes, stirring up of civil war, division etc. committed up to this point vis-a-vis Iraq.
7. The rebuilding of Iraq for all the harm that has come to it from the occupation and its supporters since 9 April 2003 [the fall of Baghdad to the U.S.-led invasion].
8. Compensating Iraq and Iraqis for losses incurred on account of the occupation both in human and material terms, such as theft of natural resources and damages caused by military operations of the occupation forces.
9. Putting on trial those responsible for war crimes against Iraq, financed 'enemy operations' through media, industry or financial support, and those who offered 'abstract support' and facilitated the carrying out of those war crimes.
10. The U.S. should offer an official apology to JRTN for crimes committed against JRTN, including the slandering of its reputation in the media through spreading of falsehoods.
11. The U.S. should compensate JRTN with regards to 10.
12. JRTN should be considered a national Iraqi resistance army striving for the liberation of the country, its independence, and leading the people to a "more democratic and prosperous future." It is not a sectarian or racist army etc.
These demands are non-starters for the international coalition, even though they are framed in terms acceptable to the wider international community (hence the language of democracy, the apparent regard for the authority of international bodies like the UN Security Council etc.). The language is hardly unprecedented for JRTN, which has previously referred to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in reference to destruction of religious heritage sites and the like, without mentioning IS by name but rather pinning these crimes on the government in Baghdad. More familiar is the superficial cross-sectarian image. The fact is that JRTN remains devoted to the complete overthrow of the current political system in Iraq (unacceptable to the U.S. and its allies). Indeed there is no way the National Alliance will ever be shunned and designated terrorist by the wider international community.
Leaving aside the lack of viability of implementing JRTN's demands, one must readily doubt JRTN's narrative that the international coalition is approaching JRTN out of 'desperation' in the face of JRTN's supposed military successes. While JRTN can celebrate the tide of 'revolution' all it wants, little in the field has gone in its favour as regards inherent competition with IS for influence. In the three most important cases, JRTN had a known presence in Fallujah, Mosul and Tikrit when these cities first fell out of government control, but has subsequently lost out to IS in all of them (rather than there being a supposed 'alliance of convenience'), with members either having fled, pledged allegiance, or having been arrested/killed, such that at best JRTN has been forced to go underground in these cities and lacks any say in how they are run. Actual clashes between JRTN and IS have also tended not to go in JRTN's favour, with the most recent noted case reported around a month ago in the Hawija area- traditionally an area of strong JRTN influence (though IS controls the town of Hawija). The result has been members of JRTN et al. handing themselves over to the security forces in Kirkuk province to escape IS' clutches, as claimed by the head of the security committee of Kirkuk's provincial council.
To the extent that JRTN still maintains a viable military presence, we can pinpoint JRTN activity in the main following areas: the northern and western outskirts of Baghdad (e.g. Abu Ghraib area), the peripheries of Tikrit and Baiji, the al-Baghdadi district, the south periphery of Fallujah area, and parts of Ramadi city and the outskirts (e.g. mortars/rockets fired at the 8th Brigade army base) in Anbar province, the Balad, Tuz and Yathrib districts in Salah ad-Din province, and in the outback of some of the districts of Diyala province like al-Uẓaim and al-Muqdadiya. The question of how much cooperation there is with IS, if it exists at all, remains uncertain, though I suspect that it is similar to the Islamic Army in Iraq whose sources readily admit to cooperation in the initial rapid wave of government losses but affirm it dissipated in the face of problems with IS. In any case, to reiterate the earlier point, no notable cities or towns out of government control have seen JRTN emerge as a governing authority or influential political force in any meaningful way (i.e. Tel Afar, Mosul, Hawija, Tikrit, Shirqat, Baiji, Fallujah, al-Karma, al-Qa'im, Rawa, Anah, Rutba, Hit).
In short, things do not look all that great for JRTN, but the aspirations for 'revolution' and conquest of Baghdad continue. Below is a translation of the denial of participation in a delegation to Washington, the most recent statement on JRTN's official website. As ever, JRTN plays on the notion of Iran as the real threat and root problem, with no regard for the problem of IS.
JRTN statement on the summoning of some of the factions and tribal sheikhs to Washington.
Oh dignified people of Iraq,
Oh sons of our Arab Islamic Ummah,
Indeed America has failed in its program on which it relied in Iraq in the creation of a so-called superficial political process. By that, it wanted to make the Iraqi people content with pseudo-democratic, loathsome change through which there was the cultivation of sectarian and racist chauvinism that has no precedent in the history of Iraq, and after this sweeping failure that afflicted America with the collapse of its economy, the weakening of its respected status, the fading of its influence, the decline of its supremacy and retreat of its role as a most great force championing democracy in the region, Iran exploited this golden opportunity in the present circumstance and thus developed its suspected military nuclear program, widened its influence and extended its agents in the region. So they promoted its expansionist program in implementing its plan for supremacy over the spirit of the global economy and oil resources in the region and Arab Gulf. And this Iranian influence has become the real root cause of all forms of sectarianism, racism and expansionism at the expense of the security, stability and interests of the international community. And America continues to stumble in its delusions, and has been repeating its mistakes in trying to alleviate the problems that have resulted from its failed policies in Iraq and the region.
We turn the sights of our Iraqi people to this manifest American stumbling and its dual dealing of one measure with two. For on the one hand it is claiming to achieve a balance in the security apparatus to ensure stability in Iraq and its new project, resorting to the use of another plan that is no less harmful to the interests of the Iraqi people and international interests than before- that is, the attempt to incorporate some faction and sheikhs of the tribes into the formation of the so-called National Guard and deceive the Iraqi people with delusions of cheap, temporary profit with the creation of a balance built on sectarianism and racism in the security apparatus and on the pretext of the war on terrorism [emphasis in original]. On the other hand, there is its unlimited support politically, economically and militarily for a sectarian, racist alliance embodied in the so-called National Alliance: sectarian and racist whose absolute loyalty is to Iran and which is implementing Iran's expansionist agenda in the region and world, as well as cultivating terrorism in all its forms [emphasis in original]. Thus we make clear the following:
1. The danger of this project lies in melting and dissolving the soul of the true Iraqi Resistance, and a sinister attempt to break its will and tame it to accept crumbs at the expense of squandering the rights of the Iraqi people for whose sake the resistance was launched and represented in the liberation of Iraq and safeguard its unity, security, stability, sovereignty and independence.
2. The true problem in Iraq lies in the fact that the Iraqi people have been usurped of their rights, and were America truly intent on solving Iraq's problem, it would work to solve it at its roots by giving all the Iraqis their usurped rights in their entirety and not deficient form. And it would work to cease its double dealing between the war on terrorism on one hand and its support and cultivation of terrorism on the other at the same time, and thus will the stability of Iraq be realized. As for resorting to these sorts of suspicious solutions, it is confusing documentation, complicating the Iraqi scene, prolonging the Iraqi people's suffering, perpetuating sectarianism and racism, division and separation, and expanding Iran's sectarian influence at the expense of Iraq's interest and the interests of the international community.
3. On this subject JRTN resolutely denies what the newspaper al-Hayat published on 2 Kanun al-Awal [December] 2014 claiming the participation of our army in an Iraqi delegation including tribal leaders, representatives of armed factions, and government officials summoned by Washington to discuss the idea of forming the so-called National Guard and joining it.
4. We call on the sons of our Iraqi people not be taken and drawn into these sorts of suspicious projects and patchy solutions that serve the interest of the enemies of Iraq, and only to be content with the restoration of their rights in complete, not deficient form- through liberating Iraq and bringing about its unity, independence, sovereignty, security and stability. And we affirm to the sons of our people that our army JRTN has not participated and will not participate in these sorts of suspicious projects, and will only accept the Iraqi people's obtaining all their usurped rights in complete, not deficient form.
We pledge to God, His Messenger and our Iraqi people to continue on the path of liberating Iraq from all forms of occupation, subordination, sectarianism and racism, including its unity, independence, sovereignty, security and stability. And God is the guarantor of success.
9 Sufr 1436 AH
2 December 2014.