Iraqi Resistance Leaders Speak Out on Controversial Negotiations with the United States

Andrew McGregor

August 6, 2009

After documents were leaked in mid-July that suggested an alliance of Iraqi resistance leaders had been meeting with a delegation of U.S. diplomats and military officials in an unnamed “neighboring country,” it has since been confirmed that such talks between the Political Council of the Iraqi Resistance (PCIR) and the United States took place twice this year in Istanbul, with Turkey acting as a mediator (Hurriyet, July 24; Today’s Zaman, July 27; see also Eurasia Daily Monitor, July 27).

Iraq negotiations

(Indian Express)

News of the meetings was quickly denounced by the Iraqi Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, who expressed astonishment that the United States was prepared to meet with “terrorists” without the knowledge of the Baghdad government (al-Jazeera, July 25). Both the United States and Turkey were accused of mounting an assault on Iraqi sovereignty and interfering with Iraq’s internal affairs (Hurriyet, July 24).

PCIR spokesman Abd al-Rahman al-Baghdadi insists the PCIR did not actually negotiate with the United States, but only discussed “conditions for negotiations.” He claims the U.S. delegation confirmed that “the mistake of invading Iraq by the previous administration should be corrected.” He denied rumors circulating in Iraq that the discussions included the possibility of PCIR inclusion in the political process. “We do not recognize any political process under the occupation.”Al-Baghdadi described the main points of the PCIR’s “protocol of negotiations” in an interview with al-Arab:

  • The U.S. administration must issue an official apology to the Iraqi people for crimes committed in Iraq.
  • Iraqis who suffered from the U.S. occupation must be compensated.
  • All detainees and prisoners must be released.
  • The United States must recognize Iraqis’ resistance to occupation as a legitimate right (Al-Arab [Doha], July 31).

The meetings were held in March and May of this year. Al-Baghdadi declined to name the US diplomats and military personnel at the meetings “according to their request.” The spokesman says the PCIR’s stipulations were taken to Washington with the promise of a response by the end of June, but nothing has been heard from the Americans since then. While al-Baghdadi says the PCIR is “not concerned by their lack of response,” he believes “the issue is on hold but not over.” He also confirmed that the PCIR had insisted that no one from the Iraqi government attend the meetings.

The March 6 document signed by the PCIR and the U.S. Government reportedly called for the PCIR to name 15 representatives as a negotiating team. Turkey would act as mediator and guarantor for the duration of the negotiations. Should any of the Iraqi representatives be arrested inside or outside of Iraq during the discussions, both Turkey and the United States pledged to do everything possible to obtain their release (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 26).

Ali al-Jubouri, the secretary-general of the PCIR, has insisted that one of the two documents signed with the Americans include U.S. recognition of the Iraqi resistance, describing this as “a major achievement” for the resistance (al-Jazeera, July 15; July 25; IslamOnline July 24).

Reaction to the talks from Baghdad’s Shiite politicians has been overwhelmingly negative. MP Hamid al-Malah, a leading member of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), demanded to know “whether this is an attempt by the Americans to bring back terrorism to Iraq” (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 26). Others fear that the PCIR acts as a front for unrepentant Ba’athists like former Vice President Ezzat Ibrahim al-Douri.

Muhammad Bashar al-Faydi, spokesman for the Sunni Hayat al-Ulama al-Muslimin (Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq – AMS), notes that the PCIR represents only four of over 100 resistance factions in Iraq. Thirteen of these groups have authorized the secretary-general of the AMS, Shaykh Harith al-Dari, to speak on their behalf on political issues and in potential negotiations (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 26, see also Terrorism Monitor, December 27, 2006). The al-Azhar educated shaykh is a vocal opponent of both al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Awakening councils. The PCIR spokesman says the alliance has “no objection” to authorizing Shaykh al-Dari to negotiate on their behalf (al-Arab, July 31).


This article first appeared in the August 6, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor 

The Baghdadi Tapes: Supposedly Imprisoned Iraqi Islamist Claims He Still Leads Fight against U.S. Occupation

Andrew McGregor

July 17, 2009

Despite the arrest on April 23 of a man identified by Iraqi authorities as Abu Omar al-Husayni al-Baghdadi, the elusive leader of the “Islamic State of Iraq” (ISI), audio messages keep emerging from an unseen individual who identifies himself as the authentic Abu Omar al-Husayni (or al-Qurayshi) al-Baghdadi. There are several theories regarding the identification of the mysterious commander of the ISI, an organization closely connected to al-Qaeda in Iraq since its establishment was announced on October 15, 2006.

abu omar al-baghdadiPurported Photo of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi

The latest audio message, over 43 minutes long, emerged earlier this month (Al-Furqan Media Production Establishment-al-Fajr Media Center, July 7). In the audiotape, al-Baghdadi denounces Iraq’s “rejectionist” (i.e. Shiite) government for its celebration of the June 30 American withdrawal from Iraq’s cities in a so-called “Sovereignty Day”: “Even if the occupying Americans have no presence except in a small span of land in the desert of Iraq, away from all forms of lives, every Muslim has to practice jihad against them until their expulsion.”

The ISI leader says little has changed with the withdrawal from urban areas. The Americans still “have the right to interfere in the military, security, and economic affairs; including the right to exterminate, shell, destroy, terrorize, and detain. They have the right to get in and out of the country without any kind of supervision or search. They have the right to loot and plunder the wealth of the country under the guise of exportation, importation, and duty-free [trade].”

Al-Baghdadi has little use for Iraq’s leading Sunni politicians. While the newly elected speaker of parliament, Ayad al-Samarrai (a Sunni Arab and member of al-Tawafuq [Accord Party], the largest Sunni alliance in Iraq’s parliament) praised the U.S. pullback as proof the political process was the best option, the ISI leader insists al-Tawafuq has played “the ugliest role in the history of any agent group that betrays its religion and its country so far,” through its participation in drafting a secular constitution. Tawafuq leader Harith al-Obeidi was assassinated outside a west Baghdad mosque on June 12 in what the Interior Ministry believes was an al-Qaeda operation. The gunman was reported to have either been killed by the mosque’s security guards or to have blown himself up with a grenade (Times, June 12).

Al-Baghdadi goes on to describe Sunni Vice-President Tariq al-Hashimi (former leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party and a potential presidential candidate) as a “criminal” responsible for forming and supporting the anti-al-Qaeda Awakening Councils. Al-Hashimi resigned as secretary-general of the Islamic Party in early June amidst speculation he had been named as an al-Qaeda collaborator during the interrogation of the individual who Iraqi authorities claim is the real Abu Omar al-Baghdadi (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, May 30).  Al-Hashimi describes the allegations as a “tempest in a teapot” and responds: “This is not the first time, and perhaps not the last, that the Iraqi Islamic Party is unfairly accused of links to Al-Qaeda. In this regard, I do not free from blame those who are lying to their people and promoting allegations, the falseness of which they are the first ones to know. I feel sorry for their political reputation, because lies will soon be revealed and because Iraqi citizens remember well al-Baghdadi’s statements and his threats to bring woe and affliction upon the members of the Iraqi Islamic Party” (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, June 4).

A number of other Iraqis have been arrested as a result of the “confessions” of the imprisoned man the state says is al-Baghdadi, including Abdul Jabbar Ibrahim, a leading Sunni politician, who now stands accused of terrorism.

Dissecting American Policy in Iraq

Al-Baghdadi argues the American withdrawal from the cities is meaningless as “the U.S. occupier has not come to Iraq to withdraw from it.” The Americans are motivated by economic interests and religious “fallacies,” including “defending the Jewish state [of Israel].”

Al-Baghdadi suggests the American pullback has less to do with strategic objectives than with the war being “the key and genuine reason” for the economic crisis in the United States. In addition, the costs of physical and psychological treatment for U.S. combat veterans and their families are steadily increasing. The departure of most of America’s allies from Iraq and the “devilish alliance [the Coalition]” has increased the economic costs of maintaining the occupation. The “doctrinal, military and ethical steadfastness” of the ISI has “astonished the occupation and made it lose its mind.” The result is the U.S. occupation forces have realized that “the Muslim giant will never die, even if it becomes sick.”

Pointing to the bankruptcy of General Motors and other major American companies, al-Baghdadi says the situation is reminiscent of that which preceded the collapse of the Soviet Union. The ISI leader expects an American collapse “during the administration of the black of Washington” (i.e. President Barack Obama). Shortly after last year’s U.S. presidential election, al-Baghdadi called on the new president to turn to Islam; “I call on you to believe in the one and only God who has no partners. Then declare your Islam so that you may be safe in the worldly life and the afterlife… You have inherited a distorted religion which contains much more falsehood than truth. It was corrupted by [the Byzantine emperor] Constantine and his unjust assistants and followers, who were seeking glory in this mundane world” (al-Furqan, November 7, 2008). Al-Baghdadi went on to suggest an American return to its pre-war policy of isolationism would be rewarded by trade with an independent and Islamic Iraq:

America used to be impartial until World War II, during which it enjoyed security, safety, and development. Once this nation started to lose impartiality and interfere in the affairs of others, it began to lose everything for the sake of a gang of arms and oil dealers who led an entire nation like slaves to destructive wars as a fuel for their endless greed. Today, on behalf of my brothers in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Chechnya, I propose to you what is good for you and for us; namely, to return to impartiality, withdraw your troops and go home, and not to interfere in the affairs of our countries directly or indirectly. We promise that we will not stop the trading of oil or other commodities with you, provided that justice is achieved, and provided the prices are not cheap (al-Furqan, November 7, 2008).

Apparently disappointed with the president’s failure to accept his invitation to “return” to Islam, al-Baghdadi has since described the president as “a hireling who apostatized from his religion [Islam]” (al-Furqan, May 30).

Addressing Iraqi Opposition to the Islamic State of Iraq

The ISI leader is critical of other mujahideen groups active in Iraq, mocking them as “phony names for groups visualized in the imagination of those who created them… These names, phony or real, were then blessed by the new leaders in a plan to overlook the Islamic State of Iraq under the pretext that it only represents 10 percent of jihad forces, and that it has no political program… according to their fabrications, [the ISI] is socially outcast as if it came from outer space.” Al-Baghdadi rebukes those who suggest the ISI has no political program; “Is lifting the banner of secularism in the name of democracy and the call for the return of the Ba’ath Party a political program while the Islamic State is not?… The time of patriotism, nationalism and Ba’athism has ended for good, along with its advocates, God willing. We believe that this is the time of the holders of the banner which says there is no god but God [i.e. the monotheist Salafists of the ISI]” (al-Furqan, July 7).

The statement accuses the Badr Corps, the Mahdi Army and the Da’wah Party of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of forming a “rejectionist [i.e. Shiite] tripartite” ruling group in Baghdad that was “raised in the embrace” of Ayatollah Khomeini and has “unprecedented aggression and hate toward anything that is Sunni or Arab” (al-Baghdadi here ignores the fact virtually all Iraq’s Shiites are Arabs). He alleges the Iraqi Shiites (a majority in Iraq) are using all the “tricks and cunning methods the Persians are famous for throughout their history,” including the utilization of democracy as a means of establishing a Shiite state in Iraq. Al-Baghdadi accuses the “dogs of the Awakening Council” of collaborating in this project (al-Furqan, July 7).

The Zionist-Christian Conspiracy to Drive Islam from Jerusalem

In late May, al-Baghdadi released a statement regarding Christian-Jewish ties on the occasion of the Pope’s visit to the Middle East (al-Furqan, May 30). In a 40 minute audio recording entitled “Al-Aqsa [Jerusalem] Between the Deviation of the Christians and the Deception of the Jews,” al-Baghdadi notes the importance some Protestant Christians (particularly those in America) place on the literal interpretation of the first five books of the Old Testament (corresponding to the Jewish Torah) and the prophecies found therein. According to al-Baghdadi, the Jews found this approach “beneficial to their objectives, especially since this movement [i.e. Evangelical Protestantism] began to work strongly toward the idea of the return of the Jews to the holy land in Palestine.”

Although Catholicism has traditionally rejected Zionism as a literal interpretation of symbolic texts, al-Baghdadi suggests the Roman Catholic Church has lately been infiltrated by Zionists, thus explaining the timing of Pope Benedict’s trip to Israel at a time when that nation is ruled by a “fanatical right-wing government” and his outreach to the Jews while ignoring the suffering of the Muslim and Christian Palestinians.

Al-Baghdadi ties the timing of the trip to Benjamin Netanyahu’s determination to reconstruct the Jewish temple in Jerusalem and the apocalyptic thread of Zionist Christianity that believes the temple must be rebuilt before the second coming of Christ will occur. He compares the “end-times” beliefs of each of the three religions of the book:

• The Muslims await the return of Issa ibn Maryam (Jesus, the son of Mary) to “break the cross… and kill his enemies the Jews and his Christian worshippers.”
• The Christians await the return of Jesus to “kill the Muslims and all those who do not believe in his religion at the battle of Armageddon.”
• The Jews await the descendant of David [i.e. the Messiah] so he may “kill the Christians and the Muslims.”

Both Christians and Jews believe the establishment of the state of Israel and the return of the Jews to Palestine are the first step in ushering in the return of their Saviour, according to al-Baghdadi, who accuses the Jews of building a tunnel beneath the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque that leads to halls inside the Temple Mount where Jews can pray as “they wait to move to the top floors” when the Islamic holy sites have been destroyed, allowing the reconstruction of the Jewish temple.

According to the ISI leader, Christians and Jews “have disagreed on many things, even on the God that they worship, but they do not disagree on the sanctity of Jerusalem, the return of the Messiah to it, their animosity to Muslims, or the necessity of annihilating them and rebuilding the temple… They are working hard to demolish al-Aqsa.” Al-Baghdadi warns that Muslims are coming from Khorasan [Central Asia], the Maghreb, Somalia and Yemen to foil these plans. The Pope’s call for peaceful coexistence between “the occupiers and the oppressed” demonstrated “his support for the [Zionist] entity’s existence and its right to our desecrated lands.” Al-Baghdadi threatens retaliation against the traditional Christians sects of the Middle East. A series of bombings targeted Christian churches earlier this month (AFP, July 13; Reuters, July 14).

Who Is the Real Baghdadi?

U.S. forces in Iraq have long maintained that al-Baghdadi was a fictitious character played by an actor named Abu Abdullah al-Naima, but later claimed the role of ISI leader had been filled by a real person after the police chief in Haditha claimed in May 2008 that interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects revealed al-Baghdadi was actually a former Haditha native named Hamed Dawood Muhammad Khalil al-Zawi, who had been dismissed from the security services for extremism (Al-Arabiya, May 7, 2008; CBS, May 7, 2008). On May 27, Iraqi security forces reported the arrest of a man they identified as “al-Baghdadi’s brother,” Zaydan Abd Ahmad al-Majmai (al-Sumaria TV, May 27).

U.S. forces have never confirmed the arrest of al-Baghdadi, obviously sharing the same suspicions that cut across Iraqi society. Many members of Iraq’s parliament have expressed their doubts about the identity of the arrested suspect, noting that there have been numerous false reports in the past of al-Baghdadi’s arrest or death (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, April 30). Al-Baghdadi’s arrest was reported three times in one week alone in March 2007.

According to the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat, voice analysts have confirmed the voice on the latest audiotapes is the same as the one that appeared on tapes for two years preceding the arrest of the man Iraqi authorities claim is al-Baghdadi (al-Hayat, May 28). Al-Hayat’s account included an interview with “a prominent Iraqi security source” who suggested authorities had arrested the wrong man: “Al-Baghdadi is a former Iraqi Army officer. He served as a mosque imam in the Al-Hashimiyat region in al-Anbar before he joined the al-Qaeda organization in December 2005… the person who is being held prisoner by the Iraqi Government is Ahmad al-Ahmadi, a former member of the local council in Bahraz.” Various jihadi web forums presented their own versions of the arrest, including suggestions the arrest had been fabricated to attract foreign investment to Iraq, or claims that al-Baghdadi had been detained in Syria and handed over to Iraqi security forces.

The individual claiming to be the true al-Baghdadi has rejected the arrest as a ruse designed to force him into the open; “The key purpose of their lie is to force me to appear, undisguised, in a video. This is a stupid trick that will not force me to do anything. I will appear to the whole world when I want to and when it benefits the mujahideen in the midst of the upcoming victory, God willing… the voice in my audiotapes belongs to me, not to a spokesperson who speaks on my behalf or others and without retouching or alterations (al-Furqan, May 30).

On May 18, Major General Qasim Atta displayed footage of the interrogation of the alleged ISI leader at a media conference. The individual shown stated; “I was born in 1969 and I’m from Diyala [province]. I joined al-Qaeda in 2005 and I formed the Islamic State of Iraq in 2006… I named myself Abu Omar al-Baghdadi because the name Abu Omar represents the Sunnis and al-Baghdadi [represents] the centre of Iraq…” The suspect then went on to describe the internal and external financing of al-Qaeda in Iraq and claimed responsibility for the February 2006 bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra that nearly sparked an all-out sectarian war between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites (AFP, May 18). According to General Atta, al-Baghdadi’s real name is Ahmad Abd Ahmad, a 40-year-old former military officer. The general was contradicted by Iraq’s National Security Minister, Sharwan al-Wa’ili, who claimed the detained suspect is a former associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi whose real name is Ma’ad Ibrahim Muhammad: “He is a former officer of the Republican Guard. Saddam Hussein pardoned him after he was sentenced to death on charges of belonging to Salafi groups. The U.S. and Iraqi forces arrested him several times, but did not discover his identity.”


As the controversy over al-Baghdadi’s alleged arrest continues, the latest audiotapes show a use of language, phrases and ideas based on a wide knowledge of history, political trends and intellectual concepts consistent with statements released before the arrest of the man Iraqi security forces claim is the real Baghdadi. This consistency and the content of the messages raise questions about the true identity of the ISI’s Amir. The audiotapes seem unlikely to be the work of a former low-level security officer or the imam of a local mosque. Baghdad has been unable so far to convince American security forces or even most Iraqis of the legitimacy of their claim to have arrested the real ISI commander. The recent surge in al-Qaeda bombings and assassinations suggests the group remains a dangerous security threat to a restructured Iraqi state, regardless of the real identity of the man giving confessions from an Iraqi prison.


This article first appeared in the July 17, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor


Struggling al-Mustafa Army Pledges Kurds Will Take Ninawa Province “Over Our Dead Bodies”

Andrew McGregor

May 26, 2009

A spokesman for Iraq’s Jaysh al-Mustafa (Mustafa Army) used an internet question and answer session to admit setbacks but vowed to prevent the Kurdish takeover of the northern Iraqi province of Ninawa (Nineveh), the main base of the Sunni militant group (Media Commission of the Al-Mustafa Army in Iraq, May 15).

al-Mustafa ArmyAccording to the spokesman, Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Iraqi, the group was formed in Ninawa Governate two months after the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. At first they operated under the name “al-Fatihin Army” during their earliest operations in Mosul. In time, the group expanded to Salah al-Din Governate and even into the outskirts of Baghdad. This continued until April 2004, when “occupation forces broke into our locations and arrested our most prominent leaders.” After this serious setback, the group slowly recovered and today consists of 12 “brigades,” though only four of these are operational due to “poor resources and lack of funding.”  Shaykh Abu-Abdallah al-Ansari is the Amir of the Al-Mustafa Army in Iraq.

Abu Abd al-Rahman also attributed the lack of internet videos depicting al-Mustafa Army operations to “weak financial capabilities” and “the geographical nature of the city Mosul,” though the latter point was not explained. The Mustafa Army relies on “the charitable people in Ninawa Governorate” for their funding, though these contributions have declined dramatically after threats were made to those funding the group. This has resulted in a decrease in the number of operations. Al-Mustafa Army supports the use of martyrdom operations (suicide bombings), but has not conducted any due to a “lack of assets.” Despite this, Abu Abd al-Rahman insists the jihad in Iraq is mandatory for every man, woman and child.

Admission of new fighters is made on the recommendation of a trusted person or a mosque cleric. Recruits must meet certain requirements regarding religious observance, good manners, etc. Abu Abd al-Rahman denies that foreign fighters are in the ranks of al-Mustafa Army. “In fact, we have not received any admission request from expatriate brothers, but we do not deny their fraternity and we are grateful to them.” The group claims to have Kurds as well as Arabs as fighters and leaders.

Abu Abd al-Rahman commented on al-Mustafa’s relations with a number of other Iraqi armed groups:

• Army of Men of the Naqshabandi Order (a Sufi militant group): Al-Mustafa Army has good relations with this group and is ready to cooperate with them in all jihad activities.

• Gaza Martyrs Brigade: Three individuals broke from al-Mustafa two months ago and have since formed this group. “We wish them success, but we confirm there has not been any split in the group.”

• The Shi’a:  Al-Mustafa Army has “no relations” with the Shi’a public and the group does not fight them. However, the group considers the “Persian Safavids” (a reference to Shi’a militias) to be their enemies.

• Ba’athists:  Abu Abd al-Rahman denies the Mustafa Army is composed of Ba’athists, saying these are rumors designed to undermine the group, though it “does not belittle” the Ba’athists.

• The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI – al-Qaeda affiliated):  The group has good relations with ISI and has worked with several of its field commanders in the past.

• The Sahwa (Awakening) Councils:  These individuals have made mistakes by joining with the occupation forces, but the “door of repentance” remains open for them.

Though the group has suffered from security round-ups and financial shortfalls, it is still determined to resist efforts by the Kurdish Regional Government of northern Iraq and its peshmerga militias to annex parts of Ninawa like Sinjar, Rabi’ah and the Ninawa plain. “We have future plans to anticipate events and pre-empt any attempt to tear up the governate of Ninawa, which will have to be over our dead bodies…”

This article was first published in the May 26, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Iraq-Based Komala Party Describes the Struggle for Iranian Kurdistan

Andrew McGregor

April 24, 2009

The leader of an armed Kurdish-Iranian opposition group recently described his group’s continuing struggle for an autonomous Iranian Kurdistan and his views on the future of the Islamist Shi’a regime in Tehran. Details were provided in an interview with Abdullah Mohtadi, the secretary-general of the Komala Party (the short form for the group’s full name, Komalay Shoreshgeri Zahmatkeshani Kurdistani Iran – The Revolutionary Organization of the Toilers of Kurdistan), who spoke from al-Sulaymaniya in Kurdish northern Iraq (al-Sharq al-Awsat, April 1).

Komala 1Iraqi Kurdistan (UNPO)

The party was formed in 1969 by Ibrahim Alizadeh to promote an autonomous status for the Kurdish community in Iran. The group took up arms in 1979 as one of a number of leftist groups to oppose the Shah. Since then it has focused on creating an autonomous Kurdish region based on the northwestern Iranian provinces of Kurdistan, Ilam, Kermanshan and Western Azerbaijan, all of which have significant Kurdish populations, as well as Assyrian and Armenian minorities. The four provinces roughly cover the area included in the short-lived Kurdish Republic of Mahabad (1946).

Komala was driven out of Iran and into Iraq in 1983, where they were initially greeted coldly by the Ba’athist regime, though they were later accepted by Baghdad as a card that could be played against Iran. This did not prevent the group from being attacked with artillery and poison gas during Saddam’s anti-Kurdish Anfal campaign in 1988-89. Today Komala has split into a smaller Communist faction intent on preserving the group’s original Marxist-Leninist orientation and a larger and more moderate socialist faction led by Abdullah Mohtadi.

Inside Iran, the party led a brief rebellion in the largely Kurdish city of Mahabad in 2005 but backed down when it realized the revolt was incapable of toppling the regime and would only bring heavy reprisals (Jerusalem Post, August 23, 2007). As a result of this experience, the movement remains an armed force but concentrates on political activities. Estimates of the number of available fighters range from 200 to 1,000. Komala fighters and officials are based in the Kara Dagh mountains outside the Kurdish city of al-Sulaymaniya in northern Iraq.

Secretary General Mohtadi views the creation of a “Greater Kurdistan” or even secession from Iran as “unrealistic,” preferring the establishment of a “democratic, secular, federal Iran” (, July 3, 2007). The party blames Tehran for a host of ills in Iranian Kurdistan, including “the military occupation of Kurdistan, widespread poverty… the suppression of Kurdish culture, drug addiction, religious suppression, forced migration, imprisonment, terror, torture, and the killing of whoever opposes these tyrannical policies” (

Komala 2Abdullah Mohtadi with Komala Guerrillas

While Mohtadi urged Komala splinter groups to return to the mainstream party during the al-Sharq al-Aswsat interview, he also condemned the activities of the better-known Parti bo Jiyani Azadi la Kurdistan (Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan – PJAK); “PJAK is the other face of the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party]. It is not an independent party and was not established by the true Kurdish people in Iran. It does not serve the interests of the Kurdish liberation movement…”

Mohtadi opposes the methods and objectives of his fellow leftists in the PKK:

“The problem with the PKK… I mean, the Kurdish toilers have every right to fight for their rights and their freedom. But the PKK as an organization is not reliable. They are very fanatic in their nationalism. They are very undemocratic in nature. They have no principles. I mean, they can deal with Satan. They can fight the Kurds… They have fought the Kurds much more than they have fought the Turks. When you study the history of the PKK, you find out that they have been against every single Kurdish movement in every part of Kurdistan. At the same time they have had good friendly relations with all the states where the Kurds live, where the oppressed live” (, July 3, 2007).

Komala demanded the overthrow of the Tehran regime in a 2006 manifesto signed by two other Kurdish-Iranian groups, but Mohtadi says the movement no longer wishes to “repeat the Iraqi scenario in Iran by overthrowing the regime.” The Komala leader views the Iraqi decision to expel the Iranian opposition group Mojahedin-e Khalq (MeK) with some alarm, not through any common ideology or objectives, but as a possible precursor to the expulsion of the Iranian-Kurdish opposition groups based in northern Iraq. Mohtadi used the interview to remind Baghdad of the strategic importance of these groups; “The Kurdish forces constitute huge pressure cards against Iran. If these cards are lost, the Iraqi government will not have anything with which to bargain with Iran.” When the Iranian regime “inevitably” collapses, the Iranian-Kurdish opposition groups will have a strong presence on the ground.

Mohtadi maintains that the Iranian reformers led by former President Mohammad Khatami have little chance of taking power after the coming elections in Iran because of the support the current regime has from the armed forces, the Revolutionary Guards, the Basiji paramilitary and the intelligence and security services.


This article first appeared in the April 24, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Controversial Security Chief of Iraq’s Kurdish Enclave Discusses War on Terrorism

Andrew McGregor

September 24, 2008

Masrur Barzani, the 39-year-old chief of Asayish, the leading security and intelligence service of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), gave a rare interview earlier this month (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, September 13). As the oldest son of KRG President Masud Barzani and cousin of KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, the American-educated Masrur is centrally placed in the KRG’s hierarchy and is often touted as a possible successor to his father as president. Masrur insists his appointment was based solely on merit.

Kurds 1Masrur Barzani

Masrur described the continuing efforts to unify Kurdistan’s various intelligence agencies under a single legal framework. The main intelligence agency of Masud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is the Parastin (“Protection”), while Jamal al-Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) operates the Dazgay Zanyari (“The Information Apparatus”). Both parties also maintain a number of smaller intelligence agencies.

After achieving de facto sovereignty in 1991, Kurdish authorities created Asayish in 1993 as a means of unifying the separate intelligence services under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior. In practice the PUK and KDP ran separate Asayish organizations out of Sulaimaniyah and Irbil, respectively. This situation continued until 2004 when efforts began once again to unify operations, undoubtedly in response to the increased threat of terrorist attacks in the north following the American invasion of Iraq.

Responding to suggestions that Asayish receives training from the CIA and Israel’s Mossad, Masrur stated: “Frankly, if you want the whole truth from me, this news is totally untrue.” Masrur cites al-Qaeda, the Kurdish Ansar al-Islam, and the mixed Kurdish-Arab Ansar al-Sunnah as the main terrorist threats in northern Iraq. According to Masrur, Kurdish intelligence has operated against terrorist formations in Baghdad, Kirkuk and Mosul “in coordination with Baghdad, not on our own initiative.” They have also acted against spies from “neighboring countries.” In the past, this has usually referred to Turkey, Syria, and Iran, each of which host Kurdish minority populations.

On the dispute between the KRG and Baghdad over the status of the town of Khanaqin, Masrur stated: “The Iraqi Army’s entry was not for the purpose of combating terrorism, for Khanaqin is very secure. The army entered for political reasons… Khanaqin is the most secure area in the Diyala Governorate. Saddam Hussein’s regime tried for many years to seize these areas by force but failed. Now, attempts are being made to take these areas from us by other means.”

Kurds 2Kamal Sayid Qadir

Kamal Sayid Qadir, an ethnic Kurdish law professor with Austrian citizenship, has emerged as Masrur Barzani’s personal nemesis. In October 2005, Qadir was arrested in Kurdistan and sentenced to 30 years in prison for “disgracing the Kurdish leadership… inappropriate articles… and cursing the Barzani tribe.” In a retrial a month later the sentence was reduced to 18 months. Following foreign appeals on his behalf, Qadir was pardoned and released a week later, but continued his attacks on the Barzanis (, August 17). In December 2006, Qadir filed a lawsuit in Austria charging Masrur Barzani and four other members of the KRG and Kurdish intelligence services with kidnapping and torture (, December 28, 2006). Last February, Masrur and five of his bodyguards were arrested in Austria after Qadir was beaten and shot in the streets of Vienna (, February 20; Kurdistan Post, February 20; Kurdish Aspect, February 26).

Though some human rights groups have portrayed Qadir as a righteous victim of a regime determined to suppress legitimate criticism, Qadir has frequently strayed from critiques of KRG corruption to make personal attacks on KRG leaders. In a culture highly sensitive to personal insult, Qadir has accused members of the Barzani clan of frequenting Russian prostitutes, referred to one clan member as a “homosexual” and publicly described Masrur Barzani as a “pimp.” His efforts to expose the Barzanis as KGB agents have also failed to win him any friends in the KRG (, August 31, 2005; Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2007). In a 2006 interview, Qadir acknowledged that some of his language was inappropriate, adding: “I want to mention that the gentlemen of the Asayish in Irbil said they did not want to prohibit me from writing, but that the thing they do not want me to do is to use words that I have used in some articles” (RFE/RL, March 7, 2006).

Masrur was not questioned directly about the Qadir case in the interview, but in denying reports of security service responsibility for the murders of a number of journalists, he noted “There are writers and journalists who can tell the difference between freedom of expression and assaults on others. There are some who cannot tell the difference and think that whatever they write falls under the heading of freedom of the press even if it slanders others.”


This article first appeared in the September 24, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

The Amir of the Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq al-Salafi Army Describes the State of the Iraqi Resistance

Andrew McGregor

September 2, 2008

A jihadi website recently hosted an opportunity for its readers to pose questions to Abu Muhammad al-Iraqi, the Amir of Iraq’s Abu Bakr al-Siddiq al-Salafi Army, a Salafist group active since 2003 (, August 19). The movement is named for the first of the “righteously guided Caliphs,” Abu Bakr, who during his short rule (632-634) initiated the Muslim conquest of Iraq from the Sassanid Persians under his outstanding general, Khalid ibn al-Walid.

Abu BakrPersian Representation of Caliph Abu Bakr

Abu Muhammad denies the participation of any Ba’athists in the Abu Bakr Army, asking how Salafis could possibly cooperate with secularists, though he acknowledges a small number of former Iraqi Army officers have joined the ranks of his movement – “they are few and with a righteous doctrine.” According to the Amir, there are no foreign Arab mujahidin in the Abu Bakr Army as a result of an early decision that such a move might prove divisive. Nonetheless, the movement “opened our homes for them and provided them with food, drinks, and assistance.”

The Abu Bakr Army has carried out a number of suicide operations. Abu Muhammad declares “the martyrdom-seeking operations are blessed because they denied the enemies sleep and terrified them.” In response to a question seeking the reason for an apparent decline in jihadi operations, Abu Muhammad suggested; “the decrease is general, and not limited to a specific faction, due to the recent situation,” possibly referring to the Coalition “surge.” The Amir also says that the Abu Bakr Army does not claim responsibility for military operations unless it has videotape of the action it can post on the internet; “If we cannot film any operation, regardless of its importance, we do not announce it. For years, this has been our approach and we have carried out innumerous operations of great importance that were tackled by media outlets, but we did not claim responsibility for them.”

Abu Muhammad describes the Baghdad government as followers of “the Jews and Christians,” and thus incapable of negotiating any settlement with the occupiers.

Our goal is the establishment of an Islamic state that is governed by the Koran and the Sunna, which are interpreted in the Salafi way. This will be the beginning of the declaration of the Islamic Caliphate that will include all Muslims from all different countries and ethnicities. The Caliphate cannot be based on nationalism and patriotism.” The Amir rejects the legitimacy of the Kurdish peshmerga militias and the Shi’a Mahdi Army (which he calls the Jaysh al-Dajjal, or Army of the Antichrist). He condemns the American-allied Awakening Councils, but suggests “many of the Awakening Councils were deceived and were given fatwas allowing them to enter the arena to protect the Sunni areas with the pledge not to attack the mujahideen.

Unification of the various resistance movements has proven difficult because of “the diversity of different methodologies, the lack of harmony among hearts, the trading of accusations, the hegemony attempts, the interference of external parties, wrong Shari’a policies, and blood shedding.” The leaders of the Abu Bakr Army have discussed the possibility of civil war between these groups, but Abu Muhammad does not expect such a development until the departure of the Americans.

This article first appeared in the September 2, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Identity of Leader of Islamic State of Iraq Revealed?

Andrew McGregor

May 13, 2008

A police chief in the Anbar Province city of Haditha has put a name and photo to the elusive figure of Amir Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the leader of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) (al-Arabiya TV [Dubai], May 7).

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi 2Abu Omar al-Baghdadi

According to the police chief, al-Baghdadi is actually a former officer in the Saddam-era Directorate of General Security (al-Amn al-‘Amm) named Hamid Dawud Muhammad Khalil al-Zawi. The alleged ISI leader is said to move between Mosul, Kirkuk, Baghdad and the northern Makhmur region, where Kurds have resettled after evicting Sunni Arabs who were settled there as part of Saddam Hussein’s Arabization efforts. Al-Zawi is reported to have been dismissed from the security services before becoming a preacher in a mosque in Haditha, close to his hometown of al-Haqlaniya. He reportedly joined al-Qaeda after the U.S. invasion of 2003. Al-Baghdadi’s identity and photo were said to have been obtained from documents and computers seized in a raid on an al-Qaeda hideout in al-Haqlaniya. U.S. officials are reported to be still trying to confirm the information.

Last summer U.S. and Iraqi government forces claimed a man killed by U.S. forces (Muharib Abdulatif al-Juburi) was actually Abu Omar al-Baghdadi (al-Jazeera, July 9, 2007). A little more than a week later U.S. Brigadier Kevin Bergner declared that al-Baghdadi did not exist, based on the interrogation of an alleged senior al-Qaeda member, Khalid Khalil Ibrahim al-Mashadani. Bergner claimed al-Baghdadi’s audiotape statements were actually read by an actor (Reuters, July 18, 2007). Al-Baghdadi has made numerous audio statements since the creation of ISI, but has issued no video recordings. In March, Ahmad Salah al-Din, a spokesman for the Sunni insurgent group Hamas Iraq, insisted that al-Baghdadi was only a prop designed to put an Iraqi face on Egyptian Abu Ayub al-Masri’s al-Qaeda in Iraq organization (Al-Arab [Qatar], March 26).

The claim that al-Zawi is the real figure behind al-Baghdadi was actually first made last summer in a posting to a jihadi website (, July 17, 2007). The posting added that al-Zawi was born in 1958 and had worked as an oil-heater repairman after retiring from the security services. Al-Arabiya’s latest revelation came several days after a false report from the Dubai TV station regarding the alleged capture of al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Ayub al-Masri.

This article first appeared in the May 13, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Iraqi Mujahideen Claim to Have Decoded U.S. Military Robots

Andrew McGregor

May 13, 2008

The Iraqi mujahideen are claiming that resistance engineering units have successfully “decoded” U.S. military robots designed for urban combat and turned them against U.S. soldiers. After redirecting the robots against U.S. forces, the American military was forced to withdraw the robots from service, according to the statement (Quds Press Agency, May 7). With the much vaunted robots never having seen combat service, however, it appears that the Iraqi resistance is attempting to capitalize upon unsubstantiated rumors that the robots had turned their M249 light machine guns on their U.S. operators.

RobotsA Variety of SWORD Robots

Designed for “high-risk combat missions” in urban settings, the twin-tread Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV) were deployed in Iraq last June and cost $250,000 each—not including development costs—though the manufacturer states that the cost per unit could be halved in orders of 100 or more units.

The SWORD (Special Weapons Observation Remote Reconnaissance Direct Action System) robots are manufactured by Massachusetts-based Foster-Miller (owned by British Qinetiq) and were tested at the New Jersey Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC). SWORD is basically a modified version of Foster-Miller’s Talon bomb-disposal UGV, 2,000 of which have been delivered to the U.S. military. Robots have long been used for bomb disposal and reconnaissance, but combat-capable robots are an innovation that is being strongly pursued in Israel and the United States.

Only three of the combat robots have been deployed in Iraq. While the Army has authorized the purchase of as many as 80 of the systems, funding is currently not available (National Defense, September 2007). Most of the projected systems are committed for use by the six U.S. “Stryker Brigades,” rapid intervention forces using 8-wheeled Stryker Light Armored Vehicles. Special Operations Command has also taken an interest in further development of the SWORD robots.

The Iraqi mujahideen are unlikely to have actually been able to “decode” and reprogram the SWORD robots. Each system is equipped with deadly anti-tampering devices and there are no reports of Iraqi fighters capturing or even encountering any of the three active systems, each of which is now safely secured.

The controversy over SWORD deployment began when Kevin Fahey, the Army’s program executive officer for ground forces, stated at a RoboBusiness conference that the unit had been pulled from service before use in a combat situation as “the gun started moving when it was not intended to move” (Popular Mechanics, April 9). Fahey later clarified that SWORD was still deployed in Iraq, while a spokesman for Foster-Miller described reports of the gun moving without commands as “an urban legend” (Wired News, April 15). Apparently, only three incidents of movement without command were recorded, all minor incidents that were corrected during the testing phase. Despite the improbable claim by the Iraqi resistance, the army and the manufacturers have still not provided a full explanation of why the robots are not in use. According to Robert Quinn, an executive at Foster-Miller: “If you have a mobile weapons platform that can’t be mobile, and it becomes nothing more than a fixed position, then why not just put it on a tripod?” (National Defense, May 2008)

This article first appeared in the May 13, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Mosul Suicide Bomber Former Prisoner in Guantanamo Prison

Andrew McGregor

May 6, 2008

Three suicide bombers struck on April 26 in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, where U.S. and Iraqi government forces are struggling against well-established al-Qaeda militants. The first attack involved a suicide car bomber who targeted a police patrol, killing six people; in the second attack a suicide bomber blew up a car packed with explosives at an army checkpoint, killing three civilians; in the third attack the bomber ignited an explosives-filled fuel tanker, wounding 15 (al-Jazeera, April 26).

Abdullah Salih al-AjmiAbdallah Salih al-Ajmi

According to a message sent to his family from Iraq on May 1, one of the bombers was Kuwaiti citizen Abdallah Salih al-Ajmi, who spent nearly four years in U.S. detention at Guantanamo Bay before being released. One of the other suicide bombers was reported to be fellow Kuwaiti Nasir al-Dawsari, who is believed to have traveled through Syria to Iraq with al-Ajmi after leaving Kuwait with false passports on April 6.

Al-Ajmi was repatriated to Kuwait along with four other Guantanamo prisoners in November 2005, where he was immediately granted bail before a trial in his homeland. After his release from Guantanamo, al-Ajmi alleged that the Kuwaiti prisoners were tortured in the camp and were subjected to insults to their religion (Arab Times [Kuwait], May 3). All five former Guantanamo prisoners were acquitted in July 2006 after the defense argued that the American charges did not exist in Kuwaiti law and the confessions obtained in Guantanamo were inadmissible as they were never signed (Kuwait Times, July 23, 2006).

Al-Ajmi was accused by U.S. authorities of going AWOL from the Kuwaiti army to travel to Afghanistan to join the Taliban’s jihad. He was further accused of fighting Northern Alliance and Coalition forces in 2001 before escaping through Tora Bora into Pakistan, where he was arrested. Al-Ajmi served his entire detention at Guantanamo in the unit’s disciplinary blocks, where he was described as “aggressive and non-compliant.” A member of the Tabligh missionary movement, al-Ajmi recanted an early confession he claimed was obtained under duress, saying that he had traveled to Pakistan for Quranic studies and had never set foot in Afghanistan.

According to his cousin, al-Ajmi’s financial situation was good—due to assistance to the returnees from the Kuwaiti government—and he had married, leaving behind a son and a pregnant wife to go to Iraq (al-Arabiya, May 1).

Kuwait is considering sending a team of investigators to Iraq to confirm the identities of the suicide bombers. Both men were supposed to be under surveillance by Ministry of the Interior forces, yet their absence was not noted until the bombings. In response to a report that the father of one of the suicide bombers would sue the Kuwaiti government for negligence, Interior Minister Shaykh Jabar al-Khalid al-Sabah suggested that the father blame himself for failing to raise his son correctly (Arab Times [Kuwait], May 3).

This article first appeared in the May 6, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Former Iraqi al-Qaeda Leader Reveals Divisions in Resistance

Andrew McGregor

April 30, 2008

In a 50-minute interview with a Dubai-based television station, a former leader in Iraq’s al-Qaeda movement described the disillusionment with the militant group that led him to abandon it and join an anti-al-Qaeda Awakening Council (al-Arabiya TV, April 19). Al-Mulla Nazim al-Juburi was a senior member of the Islamic Army, a member of the five-man Mujahideen Shura Council, the leader of the Ghuraba Brigades and a close associate of Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

ZarqawiAbu Musab al-Zarqawi

Al-Juburi has returned to his hometown of al-Duluiyah, once an al-Qaeda stronghold, after serving a period of imprisonment. As the imam of the Duluiyah mosque, al-Juburi joined the Salafist Islamic Army after the U.S. invasion of 2003. He was eventually arrested and sent for a five-month term in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, where he met many imprisoned al-Qaeda members.

Many of al-Juburi’s most interesting statements concerned the deadly rivalry between Iraqi and non-Iraqi Arab leaders of al-Qaeda. Al-Juburi claims that many Iraqi jihad leaders were murdered because of their refusal to permit non-Iraqis to lead the resistance. Eventually many of these non-Iraqi leaders and outside groups like al-Qaeda came under suspicion from Iraqis like al-Juburi: “After meeting with these groups outside Iraq, we reached the conclusion that they maintained suspicious ties with foreign intelligence services, which provided logistic support and helped fighters infiltrate into Iraq and carry out bombing operations against Sunnis and civilians.” According to al-Juburi, interference from foreign intelligence agencies has “destroyed the jihadist project in Iraq, harmed the Sunnis and dwarfed the mission of many jihadist groups in Iraq.”

After disagreements over extremism with al-Qaeda’s foreign leaders, al-Juburi says: “I quit al-Qaeda and declared war on its extremist line, which shed blood, humiliated people, usurped people’s rights, violated human values, and blocked Islamic law from protecting religion, property, and lives.” Al-Juburi cited attempts by foreign leaders to take control of Sunni cities, the massacres of Shiites and sadistic acts such as killing people with electric saws as reasons why al-Qaeda would never gain a popular following in Iraq. Al-Qaeda’s application of takfir (declaring certain other Muslims to be apostates) to anyone who disagreed with their operational or ideological line also drove many leading jihadis from the movement. Al-Juburi suggests the main problem for the Sunni resistance in Iraq is division: “Each 10 Sunnis establish an army and speak in the name of the Sunnis.”

In the interview, al-Juburi claimed that the elusive al-Zarqawi was betrayed to the Americans by a close aide before his safe-house was destroyed in a U.S. bombing in June 2006. There were no kind words for the current leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Egyptian native Abu Hamza al-Muhajir (a.k.a. Abu Ayyub al-Masri), especially when compared to al-Zarqawi: “Al-Qaeda was in its best condition when al-Zarqawi was in charge because he was committed to jihad, which is one of the constant principles of the Sunnis in particular and Muslims in general… [al-Zarqawi] was an attractive man, capable of recruiting young men in and outside Iraq, and more acceptable to Sunnis than Abu-Hamza.”

This article first appeared in the April 30, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus