The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) issued a statement yesterday (Oct. 26) claiming responsibility for Sunday's (Oct. 25) two massive kamikaze car bombings that targeted the Iraqi Ministry of Justice and the headquarters of the Baghdad Provincial Council. These attacks are the most lethal in the country in two years. They killed 155 people (so far) and wounded over 700 others, including several Iraqi parliamentarians (MPs). Among the latter was MP Maha al-Duri, a member of the Sadr Movement's bloc in parliament, whose bodyguards were killed. Political rivals of the current Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, have questioned his claims of "improving" security in the country.
More large-scale attacks such as this may damage al-Maliki's bid for a second term as prime minister as well as the political viability of his political coalition in upcoming national elections.
The ISI is an umbrella organization that includes as members several of the most violent and radical jihadi-Salafi groups operating in the country, including al-Qa'ida in the Land of the Two Rivers/Iraq (AQI). The umbrella is headed by the mysterious Abu 'Umar al-Baghdadi, who the Iraqi government has falsely claimed to have captured twice in the past, including this May. He is addressed as "amir al-mu'mineen," a title historically reserved by Sunni Muslims for the caliph, the ruler of the Muslim state (caliphate). Mullah Muhammad 'Umar (Omar), the leader of the Afghan Taliban, is also addressed in this way by jihadi-Salafis, including top al-Qa'ida Central (AQC) leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The ISI, which was publicly proclaimed in October 2006 in a video message, is divided much like an actual state, with ministries and ministers. It's current "prime minister" and "minister of war," announced in September, is the amir (leader) of AQI, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, and it produces print, audio, and video releases through its media wing, the al-Furqan Media Foundation (al-Furqan Foundation for Media Production).
Sunday's attacks are remarkably similar to the ISI's multiple kamikaze vehicle bombings that targeted the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of the Treasury on August 19. The ISI is forgoing frequency for potency. Rather than attempting to launch a large number of attacks it has shifted to a strategy that relies on better-planned massive attacks that bear greater political dividends, both in terms of casualties and embarrassment to both al-Maliki's government and Iraq's divided political class as well as the United States, which still has over 120,000 soldiers in the country. I detail other examples of these types of attacks in Iraq that have occurred since June in this previous blog POST.
In its statement claiming the August 19 attacks in Baghdad, the ISI said that it had struck at the "strongholds of infidelity and unbelief" of the "Safavid government" of al-Maliki. By identifying the Iraqi government as "Safavid," after a medieval Shi'i dynasty that ruled much of what is modern Iran, the ISI is highlighting its sectarian nature. Al-Maliki is the current leader of Hizb al-Da'wa al-Islamiyyah (Islamic Call Party), one of the largest Shi'i political parties in Iraq. The Arabic word "da'wa" refers to a "call" or "invitation," in the missionary sense. The use of the description "Safavid" also points to what the ISI and many Sunnis in Iraq and the wider Arab and Muslim worlds see as the "Iranian" (read: "foreign") identity of Iraqi Arab Shi'is. This ignorant view is held by both radicals, such as the jihadi-Salafis, and supposed moderates and progressives, like the Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
The ISI's statement released yesterday follows essentially the same structure and formula as the one released about the August 19 attacks. Sunday's attacks were, like the August 19 attacks, part of the "blessed expedition/raid of the prisoner/captive" and they "opened the second phase of the harvest of the good [a collective name used for ISI terrorist and insurgent operations]" by the "sons of [the] state of Islam."
"Statement on the Second Expedition/Raid of the Prisoner in Baghdad"
The attacks were carried out by "unified/combined brigades in Baghdad" led by a "group of seekers of martyrdom" of great personal "piety." The targets were the "strongholds of the rejectionist-Safavid state in the land of the Caliphate [Iraq]." The Arabic term used to describe the al-Maliki government is "Rafidiyyah," which is related to the term "Rafidah" (plural, "Rawafid"), which is a derogatory name used by some Sunnis for Shi'is. It literally means "one/those who reject." In its derogatory usage, it refers to the Shi'is' alleged "rejection" of the "true" Islam, i.e. Sunni Islam. For Salafi Sunnis, this means their interpretation of Islam solely.
الأسير المباركة التي افتتح بها أبناءُ دولة الإسلام المرحلة الثانية من خطّة حصاد الخير، انطلقت كتائب الموحّدين في بغداد من جديد، تتقدّمهم ثلّةٌ من الاستشهاديين الذين أجرَوا بَيْعهم مع ربّ السماوات والأرض، مستهدفين معاقل الكفر وأركان الدولة الرافضية الصفوية في أرض الخلافة،
The Iraqi Ministry of Justice is dubbed the "Ministry of Injustice (the alleged Ministry of Justice)" in the ISI's statement.
The ISI statement also includes an address to the "beloved Muslims of Palestine," those "who God will not forget."
Statement on Oct 25 Attacks in Baghdad
October 25 Statement by ISI
The ISI's warning that more attacks were coming, made in a September 5 statement refuting al-Maliki's allegations that "Ba'thists" were behind the August 19 attacks, have been tragically confirmed. Many of the bombings and other major attacks this year have also taken place in Baghdad or to the north, west, and east of the capital, particularly around the northern city of Mosul, suggesting that these areas are where the ISI, AQI, and other Sunni insurgent groups remain strong.
With the U.S. presidential administration of Barack Obama focussed on the unraveling U.S./NATO occupation and counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan and ongoing disarray in neighboring Pakistan and the continued ineptness of the Iraqi government in
forming a real unity government and countering the still-potent Sunni and jihadi-Salafi insurgencies, which some analysts declared "dead/over" prematurely, the ISI and other insurgent and jihadi groups continue to pose a very real and, as was shown Sunday, very deadly threat to the stability of Iraq.
The ISI has issued a second statement in response to condemnations of its Sunday attacks from some Iraqi religious-nationalist groups, including the Islamic Army of Iraq (IAI). The IAI refused to join the ISI when it was formed and the two groups have been engaged in a military and political feud since late 2006.
ISI Response to Jihad & Reform Front & IAI on Oct 25 Attacks
ISI Refutation of Religious-Nationalist Criticism for Oct. 25 Attacks
This is yet another example of the important ideological and strategical differences between many religious-nationalists and transnational jihadis, as I have discussed recently HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah in Lebanon has issued a statement condemning Sunday's attacks in Baghdad. He also condemned "regional and international" actors who, he argues, have played a role in destabilizing the country and forcing its long-suffering people to live in an environment of "chaos" in which "horrific" attacks such as Sunday's are commonplace. Iraq has been the victim, he says, of a "regional and international game"
(لا يزال العراق بشعبه ومؤسّساته وكيانه، يدفع ثمن اللّعبة الدّوليّة والإقليميّة).
He is heavily critical of the ongoing U.S. occupation of the country. Fadlallah calls upon all Iraqis to unify in the face of these challenges.
إنّنا ندعو العراقيّين إلى الوحدة والتّماسك ومحاصرة الجهات التي تقف وراء هذه الجرائم، والعمل لكشفها وفضح أهدافها، ومنعها من اختراق النّسيج السياسيّ العراقيّ، في نطاق السّعي الحثيث لبناء العراق الحرّ والمستقلّ، والمتمرّد على الاحتلال ودعاة العنف والتّكفير.
Fadlallah Statement on Oct. 25 Iraq Attacks