Al-Qaeda in Iraq

Formed2002
DisbandedGroup is active.
First AttackOctober 28, 2002: Jama'at al-Tawhid wa'l Jihad (predecessor organization) elements assassinated Laurence Foley in Jordan (1 killed).[1]
Last AttackSeptember 13, 2010: Clash between Al Qaeda in Iraq members and Iraqi police west of Baaquba city (3+ killed, 10 wounded).[2]
UpdatedAugust 8, 2012

Narrative Summary

Osama bin Ladin asked Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to join Al Qaeda in 2000, but Zarqawi refused.[3] Instead, Zarqawi formed Tawhid wal Jihad, a militant group based in Jordan. He provided material and financial support for the assassination of an American diplomat, Laurence Foley, in Jordan on October 28, 2002.[4] That year Zarqawi entered northern Iraq, and in October of 2004 he formally joined Al Qaeda to create Tanzim Qa'idat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (Al Qaeda in Iraq).[5]

From the beginning of the Iraqi insurgency, Western analysts debated the proportion of fighters from outside the country. In 2007, the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at West Point uncovered records of almost 700 foreigners who entered Iraq during 2006 and 2007 to fight for AQI, revealing that the group had a significant foreign component.[6] At the same time, Zarqawi's harsh tactics, such as beheading captives and posting videos on the internet, alienated many Iraqs from AQI. Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Al Qaeda leader, sent Zarqawi a letter urging him to foster better relations with Iraqi leaders.[7]

Zarqawi's tactics continued to alienate potential supporters. In November 2005, AQI's bombing of three hotels in Amman, Jordan prompted critical responses even from radical Islamic groups that normally celebrated Al Qaeda's attacks.[8] Also problematic was Zarqawi's strategy of killing large numbers of Shiites and destroying Shiite religious sites. These attacks on Shiite targets prompted disagreement with the Al Qaeda leadership, which had cooperated with Shiite groups in the past.[9] Partially as a result of this disagreement, AQI joined an umbrella organization called Majlis Shura al-Mujahidin (Mujahideen Shura Council—MSC) in January 2006.[10]

On June 7, 2006, Zarqawi was killed by an American airstrike. He was replaced by Abu Ayub al-Masri, an Egyptian. A few months later, in October, al-Masri declared the formation of Dawlat al-'Iraq al-Islamiyya (Islamic State of Iraq—ISI), and named Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi its leader.[11] The ISI was intended to create a more Iraqi image for AQI, and though it has failed in many respects, the ISI may have succeeded on that front. In November 2009, American and Iraqi officials reported that group has transformed from a foreign-led organization to a network of mostly Iraqi fighters.

By the end of 2007, the CTC reported that the ISI was failing, too weak to provide security or enforce the radical religious rules that Al Qaeda espouses.[12] However, in late 2009 it seemed that AQI had managed to reconstitute itself. Benefiting from the drawdown of American forces, growing Sunni resentment, and struggling Iraqi security forces, AQI claimed responsibility for four bombings in August and October 2009 that were the deadliest attacks yet against the fledgling Iraqi government. [13]

Despite another reduction in size and the capture of many of its leaders in the beginning of 2010, AQI again stepped up its attacks in August and September 2010.[14] This time, AQI partnered with Shiites in combating Coalition forces. The Shiites have been paid to gather intelligence as well as manufacture and plant bombs in areas where Sunnis are unable to reach.[15] The Shiites are believed to be cooperating with the Sunni AQI only because of the pay they receive. Today, AQI continues to execute attacks against Coalition forces and the Iraqi government.

Leadership

After al-Zarqawi's death in 2006, al-Masri took his place. Shortly thereafter, al-Masri created ISI and placed al-Baghdadi in charge of it. Both were killed in April 2010, and no one has been announced as the new leader of either AQI or ISI.[16]

  1. Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi (2002 to June 7, 2006): AQI's founder and first leader, al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2006.[17]
  2. Abu Ayub al-Masri (October 2006 to April 18, 2010): Al-Masri became AQI's top comander after al-Zarqawi's death. Al-Masri was killed during a joint raid by U.S. and Iraqi solders in April 2007.[18]
  3. Abu Umar al-Baghdadi (October 2006 to April 18, 2010): The ISI's top commander, al-Baghdadi was killed in a joint U.S.-Iraqi raid in 2010.[19]

Ideology & Goals

AQI is a radical Sunni (Salafi) militant organization. As of 2003, Zarqawi intended to trigger a sectarian war in Iraq, with the hope of preventing Shi'ite control of Iraq and ensuring instability, thus potentially driving Coalition forces from the country.[20] In that effort, AQI primarily targeted Shi'ites, but it also launched attacks against the Iraqi government and Coalition troops, as well as anyone—such as police officers or soldiers—who collaborate with Coalition forces. Since the end of 2009, the group seems to have shifted strategies and now focuses primarily on government targets.[21] However, AQI retains its long-term goal of expelling Coalition forces and establishing a fundamentalist Sunni Muslim state in Iraq as a precursor to ensuring the return of the Islamic caliphate.

Name Changes

Tawhid al-Jihad officially became Al Qaeda in Iraq in late 2004 when al-Zarqawi formally joined al Qaeda.[22] 

Size Estimates

U.S. State Department estimates make AQI the largest Sunni extremist group in Iraq.

Designated/Listed

Resources

Over the past few years, AQI has suffered losses in terms of leadership, sources of funding, and popular support. It continues to rely on weapons and fighters smuggled across the border from supporters based in Syria, funding and fighters originating from Saudi Arabia, and logistical support from elements throughout the Arabian Gulf.[26]

External Influences

AQI has supporters in Syria who supply it with fighters and weapons.[27] Additionally, it receives logistical and material support from elements in neighboring countries including Syria, Kuwait, and Iran.[28]


The Sinjar Records revealed that AQI has a large contingent of foreign fighters from countries throughout the Arabian Gulf and North Africa. Saudi Arabians, Libyans, and Algerians were the largest groups of foreign fighters in AQI (in that order). Syria, Yemen, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, and Egypt were also sources of recruits for AQI.[29]

Al Qaeda's central leadership has been publicly supportive of AQI, despite any differences the two groups might have had.[30]

Geographical Locations

AQI operated in Jordan from 2002 until 2005, when criticism from other jihadist elements for the Amman bombings seemed to have dampened its attack efforts in Jordan. It has operated in Iraq since 2003, specifically in the cities of Baghdad, Fallujah, and Najaf. [31] Headquarters for AQI was based in Fallujah until late 2004, when leadership began transitioning central headquarters to Mosul, Iraq.

Targets & Tactics

AQI targets Coalition forces, their allies and supporters, and the Iraqi government. However, unlike many other Sunni militant groups in Iraq, AQI has consistently targeted Shi'ite civilians and religious sites. AQI has consistently used suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) destroy targets.[32] During 2007, as AQI began to compete with other Sunni groups for leadership of the insurgency in Iraq, it began to use chlorine gas in conjunction with conventional explosives to target civilians and other Sunni militants.[33],[34] However, such tactics drew criticism from Muslims,[35] and reports of chlorine attacks stopped around May 2007.

Political Activities

AQI created ISI as a governmental structure for a sharia-run Iraq. Since forming the ISI in 2006, AQI has attempted to impose order in the regions it has controlled. It issues religious instructions and has established a cabinet complete with a Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.[36] These efforts have been mostly unsuccessful.

Major Attacks

  1. October 28, 2002: Tawhid wa'l Jihad assassinates Laurence Foley in Jordan (1 killed).[37]
  2. August 7, 2003: Zarqawi's fighters bomb the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad (19 killed).[38]
  3. August 19, 2003: Bombing of the U.N. Headquarters in Baghdad (23 killed, 100+ wounded).[39]
  4. August 28, 2003: Bombing of the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf (85 killed).[40]
  5. May 7, 2004: Beheading of Nicholas Berg in Iraq (1 killed, 20+ wounded).[41]
  6. September 11, 2005: More than a dozen bombings throughout Baghdad are attributed to AQI in an effort to retaliate for the then-recent coalition offensive against insurgents in Iraq. (160 killed, 570 injured).[42]
  7. November 9, 2005: Bombing of Western Hotels in Amman, Jordan (57 killed).[43]
  8. February 22, 2006: Bombing of the Shi'ite Golden Mosque in Samarra, 65 miles north of Baghdad. Sparked retaliation against 100 or more Sunni mosques (0 killed).[44]
  9. April 12, 2007: Bombing of the Iraqi Parliamentary Building (1 killed, 20+ wounded).[45]
  10. January 25, 2009: Suicide bombings at hotels in Baghdad (36 killed).[46]
  11. August 2009: AQI claims responsibility for the bombings of several government buildings in Baghdad (250 killed, 1000+ wounded).[47]
  12. May 2010: Attacks across Iraq in response to the killings of AQI and ISI leaders, al-Masri and al-Baghdadi (85 killed, 300+ wounded).[48]
  13. August 25, 2010: Blamed for bombings and shootings across Iraq (50 killed).[49]
  14. October 31, 2010: AQI members attack the Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad using IEDs, suicide vests, and small arms fire. (58 killed, 70 wounded).[50]
  15. March 15, 2012: ISI claimed responsibility for attacks on checkpoints and homes in and around the western Iraqi city of Haditha (27 killed).[51]
  16. March 21, 2012: AQI claimed responsibility for attacks across eight cities in just under six hours. Shiites, police, security forces and government officials were targeted in Karbala, Kirkuk, and Baghdad (46 killed, 200 wounded).[52]

Relationships with Other Groups

AQI is not a united front. The Council on Foreign Relations describes it as "highly decentralized and localized—a tangled web of tribal fronts, many with different means and ends."[53] On October 24, 2004, Tawhid wa'l Jihad became AQI. Despite its name, AQI has had a contentious relationship with al Qaeda's central leadership. Al Qaeda has opposed AQI's tactics of targeting Shi'ites. In October 2005, Ayman Zawahiri, an al Qaeda leader and bin Laden's chief lieutenant, wrote a letter to Zarqawi that was obtained by U.S. forces. The letter criticized Zarqawi for killing Muslims rather than solely American forces. It urged AQI to set itself up to be as politically dominant as possible upon U.S. withdrawal, which would not be able to happen if Muslims were being killed.[54] In January 2006, AQI formed the MSC with Jaish al-Taifa al-Mansoura, al-Ahwal Brigades, Islamic Jihad Brigades, al-Ghuraba Brigades, and Saraya Ansar al-Tawhid.[55] A few months later in October 2006, AQI and the rest of the MSC formed the ISI. Ansar al-Islam (AI) has both cooperated and competed with AQI throughout the course of the Iraq jihad.[56] The relationship is complex; AI has never joined either the MSC or the ISI, but will still tactically cooperate with AQI, especially in northern Iraq and Baghdad. Elements from AI joined the Jihad and Reformation Front rather than the ISI, rejecting AQI's vision for Iraq.[57] The ISI and the Islamic Army of Iraq (IAI) have had a particularly competitive relationship. After months of infighting within Iraqi jihadist circles, the IAI publicly split from AQI in April 2007.[58] IAI took issue with AQI's targeting of Muslims and its divisive tactics.[59] IAI led the formation of the Jihad and Reformation Front. In June of 2007, the 1920s Revolution Brigades came to an agreement with the U.S., turned on AQI, and drove AQI out of the city of Buhriz.[60]

Community Relationships

Prior to the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq, AQI was among the most outspoken proponents of Sunni interests in Iraq. Perceived as the only defender of Sunni interests in a Shiite-dominated Iraq, especially as Shiite attacks against Sunnis increased in the wake of AQI's 2006 bombing of the Golden Mosque, AQI won significant support from the Sunni population.

However, as AQI's popularity grew, it became more rigid in its enforcement of its interpretation of sharia, less discriminating in its attacks, and more domineering of Sunni resources, causing many to question its role in a post-war Iraq.  By the time AQI created the ISI, many Sunnis had begun to reject it, partnering with the Coalition in grassroots efforts to oppose the group. Since 2007, the group's support among Sunni Iraqis has significantly waned.

AQI has alienated itself from much of the surrounding population by its brutal tactics and its targeting of Shi'ite Muslims. The large proportion of foreign fighters and AQI's foreign leadership also distanced the group from Iraqis.

As a result the group made concerted efforts (such as forming the MSC and the ISI) to put a more Iraqi face on its operations. Despite its efforts, the group was weakened considerably during 2007 and 2008 and continued to lose support. Since then, it has reached out to other Sunni groups in attempt at reconciliation, reportedly with mixed results.[61]

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