An extremist Al Qaeda offshoot is far from the only anti-government group sewing chaos in Iraq.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) wrested control of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, from the Iraqi government last week. ISIS, which was actually kicked out of Al Qaeda’s global network in February, was quick to claim that their success against an overwhelmingly larger force was proof of God’s favour.
In actuality, ISIS managed to achieve their blitz across Iraq by forming an unlikely coalition with upwards of 41 different armed Sunni groups throughout the country. Though ideologically diverse, the groups had all grown tired of Baghdad’s preferential treatment of the Shia majority in the country.
Among the more noteworthy of the parties aligned with ISIS is the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order.
The Naqshbandis, located primarily in Mosul, were formed in 2007 by former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party. Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, Saddam’s former deputy and the head of the Baath party following Saddam’s execution in 2007, is in charge of the group.
Douri has been in hiding since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and he managed to evade capture despite a $US10 million bounty for his capture or death. Douri was the king of spades in decks of playing cards distributed to U.S. soldiers during the American invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Today, Douri is openly directing operations of the Naqshbandis in Mosul.
The Naqshbandis command broad influence both within Iraq and over ISIS. The order is estimated to have thousands of soldiers, many of whom were previously members of the Iraqi army before the U.S. invasion. In some cases, like during the ISIS capture of Tal Afar, the attacking force was actually comprised almost entirely of the former Baathists.
The Naqshbandis have also significantly shaped the inner workings of ISIS. A former Baathist colonel was reportedly behind the ascension of ISIS’s current leader, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, to power after his predecessor was killed in 2010. The Naqshbandis have also held direct talks with ISIS that have given the group governing power over conquered territory for the time being.
the agreement involves giving leading role to the Naqashbandis because the world won’t accept ISIS to rule. ISIS to have top positions later
— Hassan Hassan حسن (@hhassan140) June 13, 2014
This alliance between ISIS and the Naqshbandis is an one that seems to be purely out of convenience. It’s unlikely to last, especially as the conflict in Iraq becomes more drawn out.
Hassan Hassan, a research associate with the Delma Institute in Abu Dhabi, told The Daily Beast that there is a significant gulf between the two groups as “ISIS considers that Baathists follow an un-Islamic ideology.” Baathism is a nationalist philosophy that is diametrically opposed to ISIS’s goal of creating a modern Islamic caliphate.
But for now, ISIS and the Naqshbandis are finding common ground. With Iraq’s sectarian crisis escalating, these two very different Sunni groups are buying into the idea that the enemy of an enemy can be a very useful friend.
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