The late Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian leader of al-Qa'ida in the Land of the Two Rivers (AQI), was virulently anti-Shi'i and dedicated to turning Iraq into a new base for transnational Salafi jihadis. His organization and allies are responsible for the deaths of thosands of Iraqi civilians, police, and security personnel. The writing at the bottom right-hand side of this video still reads "Shura al-Mujahideen," the name of a loose umbrella for the most extreme Salafi jihadi groups operating in the country, many of them led and staffed primarily by non-Iraqis. The Shura was disbanded in 2007 with the formation of a new umbrella, the Islamic State of Iraq, under the leadership of a shadowy individual known as Abu 'Umar al-Baghdadi. Al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike in June 2006, and was succeeded as head of AQI by the Egyptian Abu Hamza al-Muhajir.
NOTE: I do not subscribe to the simplistic division of Iraqis into three major groups, namely "Kurds, Sunnis, and Shi'is." I identify the confessional identities of groups in this post simply as a means of identification as it relates to my argument, and not as an artificial division as is done by many journalists and pundits.
While the world's eyes are focused on ongoing demonstrations in neighboring Iran, a murderous series of bombings have targeted Iraqi Shi'i civilians during the past five days. The attacks, which were follow a recent series of terrorist attacks near Shi'i shrines targeting Iraqi and foreign pilgrims, are reminiscent of the bloody sectarian tactics perfected by the late leader of al-Qa'ida in the Land of the Two Rivers (AQI), the Jordanian Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. Before he was killed in a U.S. airstrike in June 2006, al-Zarqawi outlined his plan to create a civil war between Iraqi's communities in a crazed letter to Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the chief ideologue of al-Qa'ida "Central" (AQC), which was intercepted in 2005.
"[The Shi'is are]…a lurking snake, a crafty and malicious scorpion, a spying enemy, and a mortal venom. Here, we are entering a battle on two levels. One is open, against a furious enemy and patent unbelief [the
The full letter, in both Arabic and English, can be read HERE. Throughout the letter, he most often refers to Shi'is as "Rafida" or the plural, "Rawafid," or "those who reject," a derogatory term used by Salafi Sunnis against Shi'is. Some analysts have argued, and I tend to agree, that Zarqawi was the founder of a new form of Salafi jihadism, one which is fueled in large part by an almost incomprehensible violent hatred for Shi'i Muslims. His strategy was even questioned by his former teacher, the Palestinian-Jordanian Salafi jihadi shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, and al-Zawahiri.
AQI and other Salafi jihadi groups suffered a series of setbacks beginning in 2007, after the U.S. military secured an alliance, thanks to generous amounts of money, some Iraqi tribal councils, the "Awakening Councils" (Majalis al-Sahwa), and their militias, which the U.S. prefers to call "Sons of Iraq." It was driven out of many of its former safe havens, but has proven remarkably resilient. The series of recent attacks which have specifically targeted Iraqi Shi'is and foreign Shi'i pilgrims may be a sign that AQI and its allies, whose ideology, though hostile to all Muslims who do not subscribe to it, retains a special virulence against Shi'i Muslim, are returning to the tactics of the late al-Zarqawi, which proved so effective in 2006 following AQI's February bombing of the revered Shi'i shrine of al-'Askariyya in Samarra.
The al-'Askariyya Shrine in Samarra after the February 2006 bombing, which destroyed its dome.
Two of the 12 Imams of Twelver Shi'is, the 10th, 'Ali al-Hadi, and 11th, Hassan al-'Askari, are buried inside. The shrine, according to popular belief, is also where the twelfth Imam, Muhammad ibn Hassan "al-Mahdi," who is believed by Twelver Shi'is to be in a mystical occultation, will return at the appointed time.
On Saturday, June 20, a kamikaze (suicide) truck bombing targeted an Iraqi Turcoman Shi'i mosque in the village of Taza in the north of the country, killing at least 73 people and wounding over 200. In April, 60 pilgrims were killed by two female kamikaze bombers near the Shi'i Kadhimiyya Shrine in Baghdad. In early May, a teenage bomber was stopped before he could detonate his explosives-belt inside an Iraqi Turcoman Shi'i mosque in the northern city of Kirkuk.
Taza, Iraq after the bombing
The latest attack occured yesterday (Wednesday, June 24) in Sadr City, a sprawling area of Baghdad which is home to over two million people, most of the Iraqi Shi'is. Unlike the other recent attacks, the vehicle bombing in the Mraydi Market was not a kamikaze attack. A rickshaw packed with explosives, which were hidden with produce, attached to a motorcycle exploded, killing at least 72 people, though the toll may rise. However, reports suggest that the operator of the motorcycle got off before the explosives were detonated. It is unclear whether this latest attack was supposed to be yet another kamikaze mission, but was not due to "cold feet" by the driver.
Though AQI seems to be returning to its former (successful) strategy of targeting Iraqi Shi'is, the organization and its allies also seem to be forgoing a high number of attacks (frequency) for a series of well-planned and very deadly "spectacular," or "big" attacks. In addition to a return to the strategy developed by al-Zarqawi, the late AQI chief was recently "honored" in a nasheed (a religiously-themed, or in this case militant-themed, song) in he is identified as the "Prince of the Martyrs," or "Amir al-Istishhadiyyin" in Arabic. The nasheed is accompanied with photographs and footage of al-Zarqawi with AQI jihadis in Iraq, and the famous photograph of his bruised face following his death. The nasheed video also includes footage of roadside bombings against the U.S. military, footage of prominent Iraqi politicians and security officers, including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a prominent Sunni politician who heads the Iraqi Accord Front, and footage of U.S. military personnel with members of the Awakening Councils, including the late Shaykh 'Abd al-Sattar Abu Risha, who formed one of the first councils in al-Anbar Province in western Iraq, which was an AQI stronghold from 2004-2006. These individuals are described as "unbelievers" and "criminals."
"Islamic State of Iraq: The State of Islam, with God's permission, Remains"
The video closes with a series of statements read by Abu 'Umar al-Baghdadi, the "caliph" of the Islamic State of Iraq. The statements all begin with one of the ISI's "mantras," the ISI "remains," or "will remain," which is an integral part to much of the visual media produced by the group, or in its name.
View the video nasheed. Warning: It includes footage of violence.
During the heyday of al-Zarqawi's tenure as leader of AQI, kamikaze suicide vehicle attacks were a bedrock of his strategy, one which he first employed in 2003 in attacks against the headquarters of the United Nations and the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad. These attacks are glorified in video nasheed releases such as the following, entitled "Final Goodbye." This video is a perfect example of the type of media that AQ, through its al-Sahab (The Clouds) media wing, and its allies and affiliates, such as al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghrib (AQIM) have perfected. AQIM has released multiple videos since April, including a nearly two-hour video, 'Ushaq al-Hur (Lovers of the Pure Beings of Paradise).
View the video nasheed "Final Goodbye," which includes footage from both Iraq (by AQI and its allies) and the Maghrib (by AQIM). The video shows no actual violence, but is one of the best examples I have seen of Salafi jihadi media. Around the 4:50-minute mark, the text reads "Ghazwat Badr Baghdad," or "Badr-Baghdad Raid/Battle," a reference to the Battle of Badr, when the Prophet Muhammad and his supporters defeated a much larger Meccan force sent to destroy them.