'ISIS Marriage Of Convenience': Iraqi Baathists Wage 'Campaign Of Assassinations' Against Islamic State
05 July 2014
Fighting is said to have erupted among the armed Sunni groups of resistance who
have routed Baghdad government forces in a swift military offensive across Iraq.
There are reports that an ally of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIS
(now called Islamic State, IS) has begun to implement a "campaign of
assassinations" against the Mujahidun group's leaders in Iraq, as cracks begin
to appear in the alliance of armed Sunni groups of resistance against the
Baghdad government that have seized large swathes of the country in recent
A security source in the eastern province of Diyala reportedly told local news
site Shafaaq News on 6 July that "armed factions linked to the former Baath
Party, and others belonging to the Naqshbandi organisation began waging a war of
assassinations against leaders of the Islamic State organisations in Diyala".
The source said fighting among Naqshbandi fighters and IS militants is taking
place in provinces where they have "joint control" over. In the past two weeks,
the source said told Shafaaq, "two leaders and a number of their [IS] companions
and assistants" have been killed.
Disagreements have arisen in Mosul, Tikrit and "a number of regions in Kirkuk,
Diyala, Anbar and Salahuddin" over how to manage the "so-called Islamic State",
according to the security source.
A coalition of armed Sunni groups of resistance took control of Iraq's second
largest city Mosul on 10 June and moved swiftly to capture large areas of the
country. The fighters led by IS have played a public role in the offensive,
which they claim is targeting the capture of Baghdad, capitalising on what many
have said is Sunni anger against perceived sectarian policies by Shiite Prime
Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government.
In the aftermath of the Mosul takeover, it emerged that what was initially
viewed as an IS takeover actually involved a number of armed Sunni groups,
including Baathist former military officers who served in Saddam Hussein's army
and are now in the Naqshbandi Army. There is no comprehensive report on the
coalition of groups involved, although locals have identified Ansar al-Sunna and
the Mujahideen Army as taking part, both of whom rose to prominence after the
2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
'Marriage Of Convenience'
News of infighting among the coalition of armed Sunni groups is not a surprise
for some analysts, who point to widely divergent ideologies and goals making a
long term alliance the Baathists formerly loyal to the late Iraqi leader Saddam
Hussein and the Mujahidun group of IS impossible.
"The Baathists are anathema to ISIS and vice versa. They may have a
common enemy in the central government, but they also hate each other," said
Hayder al-Khoei, associate fellow at Chatham House. "The sweeping gains made by
IS in the last few weeks could only have been possible with the coordination and
support of non-Islamist revolutionary groups, but it was a marriage of
convenience and I think both sides knew from the start that this wouldn't last."
"The honeymoon period is over," he added.
The Baath Party officers certainly do not hold to the same extremist ideology IS
do and, given their previous positions of power within the Hussein-era army,
they are unlikely to do what they are told by IS either, all of which could
unleash a powder keg of violence destroying fragile alliances.
"To hang onto power you need to start punishing anyone who opposes you," said
Cathrin Schaer, editor-in-chief of Niqash. "Once you start punishing anyone who
opposes you, relationships start breaking down. You get former allies, who never
really liked you much anyway, starting covert campaigns to assassinate you."
At that point, Schaer said, "you need to stop worrying about taking Baghdad and
start worrying about how best to control the terrain you have."
The group formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant announced
their Islamic State on 30 June, amidst a significant slowdown in their
advancement across Iraq, and Schaer says the burden of building a "caliphate"
will prove a heavy one.
"To make their Islamic Caliphate, as they call it, successful in the long run
they need to start providing local people with fuel, power, drinking water,
healthcare and jobs," she said. "They need to get the rubbish collectors back on
"And from what our correspondents in cities like Mosul are telling us, this
isn't happening yet," she added.
Rumours of infighting among the coalition of Sunni groups or resistance have
been circulating over the past few weeks, with little confirmed reports of how
far this has impacted on their advance.
It is clear, however, that the lightning fast offensive that shocked the world
has slowed considerably and the focus may turn to how these groups interact with
each other now their common enemy of the government forces has been routed from
areas under their control.