Islamic Army in Iraq

Formed2003
DisbandedGroup is active.
First AttackAugust 2004: The IAI took two French journalists hostage in the area between Baghdad and Najaf, demanding that the French parliament lift its ban on Islamic headscarves in public schools. The two journalists were released unharmed in December 2004. (0 killed, 0 wounded) [1] [2]
Last AttackJune 10, 2014: The IAI fought along side the Islamic State (IS) when it captured Mosul from the Iraqi army on June 10, 2014. (unknown casualties) [3]
UpdatedNovember 10, 2015

Narrative Summary

The Islamic Army in Iraq (IAI), also known as the Jaysh al-Islamiya fil Iraq, is a Sunni Islamist militant organization that has was active from 2003-2011 and subsequently from late 2013 to the present. Although Islamist, the IAI’s rhetoric and membership is more inclusive than many other jihadist groups in the region; it has not only denounced the killing of Christians and Shiites, but also counts Shiites and Sunni nationalists among its members. [4] [5] [6]

The IAI was formed in 2003 in response to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.  Among the group’s founders was Sheikh Ahmed al-Dabash. An influential Sheikh in Baghdad and a leading figure in the Batawi family, one of the country’s largest Sunni tribes, Mr. Dabash was able to bring thousands of men into the IAI. [7] [8] The group’s initial aim was the expulsion of all foreign troops and influence, namely American and Iranian, from Iraq. In this vein, the group largely targeted U.S. coalition forces and was known for kidnapping and executing western nationals from 2003 to 2011. [9] Following the establishment of the Iraqi provisional government and subsequently the appointment of Nouri al-Maliki as Prime Minister in 2005, the IAI articulated a new set of goals that included not only expelling the U.S. from Iraq but also the deposition of Maliki, and the re-integration of Sunnis and Ba’athists, excluding those directly involved in the Hussein regime, into the Iraqi political process,. {Bayoumi, Alaa & Harding, Leah. “Mapping Iraq’s fighting groups: a synopsis of the various fighters in Iraq group by religion, culture, region and political agendas.” Al Jazeera, 27 June 2014. 17 July 2014. [10]  Despite its aversion to the Iraqi government, both the IAI and the Mujahideen Army (MA) allegedly reached out to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in December 2005 to encourage him to include more resistance groups in Iraq’s political process. [11] Also in 2005, former Iraqi Electricity Minister Ayhamal-Samarra'i claimed that he had met with the leadership of the IAI and the Mujahideen Army (MA) to discuss the possibility of brining the two groups into the political process. Both the IAI and MA denied that the meetings had occurred or that they had authorized anyone to speak with Samarra'i. [12]  In May 2006 Mr. Dabash was captured by U.S. and Iraqi government forces.  He subsequently spent two years in an Iraqi prison under interrogation about his alleged involvement in various terrorist attacks. [13] [14]

Throughout the 2000’s, AQI and the IAI’s relationship varied between one of cooperation and one of open hostilities. In the years immediately following the 2003 U.S. invasion, AQI and IAI worked closely with one another to the point that one of the founders of the IAI, Sheikh Ahmed al-Dabash, claimed to be like a “brother to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,” the leader of AQI. [15] However, by 2006 strains began to appear in the IAI-AQI relationship, predominantly due to the IAI’s objection to AQI’s tactics that resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties.  In May 2007, the IAI joined with Ansar al-Sunnah Shariah and the Mujahideen Army to form the Reformation and Jihad Front (RJF), an anti-AQI, anti-U.S. umbrella organization. In November 2007, the RJF joined with Hamas Iraq and the Islamic Front of the Iraqi Resistance (JAMI) to form the Political Council of the Iraqi Resistance (PCIR). [16] In coordination with the 1920s Revolutionary Brigades, the Mujahideen Army, and later the RJF, the IAI began to militarily oppose AQI in 2007.  [17] [18] [19] Many clashes occurred between the IAI and AQI, most notably in April 2007 when AQI fighters killed more than 30 IAI militants who had refused to join AQI. [20] There is some evidence to suggest that the IAI, or at least some elements within it, participated in the 2006-2007 Sunni Awakening, joining the Awakening Councils to fight AQI and possibly even negotiating with the U.S. [21] However, IAI leadership has always denied these accounts. On June 7, 2007, the IAI announced it had signed a ceasefire with AQI; however, fighting between the two groups appears to have restarted by the November 2007. [22] 

Following the U.S. withdrawal in late 2011, the IAI officially disbanded and its leaders and many of its members subsequently established a political group called the Sunni Popular Movement. The Sunni Popular movement sought to split Iraq into three federal units: a Sunni state, a Kurdish state, and a Shiite state. [23] [24] The Sunni Popular Front does not appear to have participated in any major elections. During the IAI’s period of de-activation from 2011-late 2013, many of the IAI’s former fighters joined the tribal police forces known as the Sahwa in order to fight the Islamic State (IS). Thus, when the IAI re-formed in December 2013, it was a significantly smaller and weaker organization than it had been in the mid to late 2000s. [25] [26]

Upon its remobilization in December 2013, the IAI’s initially reached out to the Iraqi government, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Maliki, the fragmentation of Iraq into three autonomous regions—one for each the Sunnis, the Shiites, and the Kurds—and compensation for the 1.5 million Iraqis it claims were killed by the Americans and Maliki regime.  It gave the government an ultimatum: comply with these demands or it would join the Sunni insurgency and march on Baghdad. Unsurprisingly, the government did not accept the IAI terms. [27] [28]

Despite its pledge to join the Sunni insurgency in 2014, the IAI’s relationship with the Islamic State (IS), the most powerful Sunni insurgent group in Iraq, has been far from harmonious. Although the IAI fought alongside IS in the summer and fall of 2014, first to take Mosul and then to push on towards Baghdad in Anbar, the groups are ideologically dissimilar. [29]  While IS seeks the creation of a radical Islamist caliphate stretching across sections of three continents, the IAI is pushing for a federation of autonomous Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish states within the current borders of Iraq that would be ruled by a “softer” and more “modern” version of Shariah Law. [30] [31] In addition, the IAI has publically denounced IS’s brutal tactics and targeting of Iraqi citizens. Nonetheless, the two groups were united behind the common cause of overthrowing the Iraqi government and expelling foreign troops from the region. [32] [33] However, in mid-2014, the group’s spokesman, Sheikh Ahmed al-Dabash, hinted that there may soon come a time when the IAI would feel obligated to turn its weapons on the Islamic State.  When or how such a change could be achieved remains unclear. [34]

Leadership

  1. Sheikh Ahmed al-Dabash (2003 to Present): Dabash is one of the founding leaders of the IAI and currently acts as the group’s spokesman when dealing with the international media. He was on the U.S.’s Most Wanted list in Iraq for much of the late 2000s. [35]
  2. Ishmael Jubouri (2004 to Unknown): Jubouri is a leader of Islamic Army in Iraq; however, little is known about his specific role in the group. He is a Sunni tribal member in central Iraq, and has supported increasing the frequency of the group’s attacks.[36]

Ideology & Goals

The Islamic Army in Iraq (IAI) is a nationalist, Sunni Islamist organization.  Although the majority of its membership is Sunni, the group also has ba’athists and Shiites members. [37] The group is relatively moderate; it seeks to establish an Iraqi federation with three autonomous regions—one Shiite, one Kurdish, and one Sunni—that would be unified under a national government that implemented a “softer” version of Islamic law. [38] [39] [40] Recently IAI spokesman Ahmed al-Dabash summed up the group’s concept of Islamic law as such: “We oppose the distorted version of Sharia that they [the Islamic State] endorse. Islam is a modern religion and has a lot of justice and mercy for everyone. There is no contradiction between civil development and our interpretation of Sharia law." [41] In line with this vision of Islam, the IAI strongly condemns tactics that target civilians, whether they be Sunni, Shiite, or any other religion. [42] [43]

In addition to its long-term goal of establishing an Iraqi federation, the IAI also has the more immediate aim of expelling foreign troops and influence from Iraq.  The group was primarily focused on ending the U.S. occupation of Iraq from 2003 until 2011, although it also targeted Shiite militias and Iraqi government troops because it believed they were Iranian proxies in Iraq. [44]

Beginning in 2013, the group called for the resignation of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (up until he left office in summer 2014), the inclusion of Kurds and Sunnis in the political process, and compensation for the 1.5 million civilians it claimed had been killed by the U.S. and Iraqi government between 2003 and 2013. [45]

Size Estimates

Although the number of IAI fighters post-2013 has not been reported, sources generally agree that the IAI is significantly smaller now than it had been in the mid and late 2000s. Many of its fighters are believed to have joined the tribal police forces known as the Sahwa to combat the Islamic State in 2012 and 2013. [46] [47]

Designated/Listed

The IAI has not been designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S., EU, or UN. 

Resources

The IAI has extensive tribal connections, but little is known about where its specific resources. [50]

External Influences

The IAI has no known external influences; however, the group was largely motivated by external parties' presence in Iraq, namely the United States and Iran. [51]

Geographical Locations

The IAI has historically been most active in the Diyala and Saladin provinces; since 2013 it has also participated in anti-government violence in Anbar and Northern Iraq. [52]  In April 2005, the group also announced the creation of the al-Aqsa Support Division, which it created to support the Palestinians in their fight against Israel.  However, it remains unclear if any troops were ever routed to the division or if it was even ever deployed to Palestine. [53]

Targets & Tactics

From 2003 to 2011, the IAI predominantly targeted U.S. coalition troops as well as Shiite militias and Iraqi government troops, both of which it believed were little more than Iranian proxies in Iraq. [54] [55] In 2006-2007, the IAI also reportedly targeted Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) operatives, although the extent to which they did so remains unclear. [56] [57] Since re-forming in 2013, the IAI has directed the majority of its attacks against the Iraqi army and police forces, although the group’s spokesman, Sheikh Ahmed al-Dabash, hinted that there might soon come a time when the group’s current ally, the Islamic State (IS), AQI’s sucessor, will find itself in the IAI’s cross hairs. [58]

Relatively little is known about the IAI’s tactics.  The group has been connected to attacks that have utilized weapons such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and others in which the group has taken western hostages. In some cases hostages have been released, while in others the IAI has executed its prisoners. [59] [60] [61] [62] [63] Additionally, the group has on many occasions claimed responsibility for shooting down U.S. coalition and Iraqi government helicopters. [64]

Political Activities

In December 2005, both the IAI and the Mujahideen Army (MA) allegedly reached out to Iraqi Prime Minister Jalal Talabani to encourage him to include more resistance groups in Iraq’s political process. [65] Also in 2005, former Iraqi Electricity Minister Ayhamal-Samarra'i claimed that he had met with the leadership of the IAI and the Mujahideen Army to discuss the possibility of ceasing hostilities and brining the two groups into the political process. Both groups denied that the meetings had occurred. [66]

Following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011, the IAI demobilized and its leaders and many of its members went on to create the Sunni Popular Front.  Much like the IAI, the Sunni Popular Front called for the establishment of an Iraqi federation comprised of three autonomous regions—one for each the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds—under the control of a moderate Islamist central government. [67] Although the Sunni Popular Front does not appear to have participated in any elections, it did participate and help to coordinate the anti-government protests that occurred across Iraq in 2012-2013. [68] The MA and other Iraqi Islamist groups condemned the IAI for joining the political process, and thus cooperating with the Iraqi government. [69] 

Major Attacks

  1. August 2004: The IAI took two French journalists hostage in the area between Baghdad and Najaf, demanding that the French parliament lift its ban on Islamic headscarves in public schools. The two journalists were released unharmed in December 2004. (0 killed, 0 wounded).[70]
  2. March 24, 2005: The IAI claimed responsibility for a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) that detonated at a city entrance checkpoint in Ar Ramadi, Anbar, killing 11 Iraqi police commandos and wounding 3 Iraqi civilians and 2 U.S. Marines. (11 killed, 5 wounded).[71]
  3. April 21, 2005: The IAI claimed responsibility for shooting down a commercial helicopter north of Baghdad. (11 killed, unknown wounded).[72]
  4. June 23, 2005: Ansar al-Sunnah, the Mujahideen Army, and the IAI claimed responsibility for two simultaneous vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) attacks in different areas of Bagdad in which seven civilians and three police officers were killed and ten other civilians wounded. (10 killed, 10 wounded).[73]
  5. November 2005: The IAI kidnapped U.S. security contractor Ronald Alan Schulz, demanding that all Iraqi prisoners held by the U.S. be released. When the U.S. failed to meet its demands, the IAI released a video of Schulz’s execution. (1 killed, 0 wounded).[74]
  6. April 2007: Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) militants attacked and killed 30 IAI fighters after they refused to pledge allegiance to AQI. (30+ killed, unknown wounded).[75]
  7. April 2007: Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) militants attacked and killed 30 IAI fighters after they refused to pledge allegiance to AQI. (30+ killed, unknown wounded).[76]
  8. April 2007: Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) militants attacked and killed 30 IAI fighters after they refused to pledge allegiance to AQI. (30+ killed, unknown wounded).[77]
  9. November 9, 2007: The IAI killed 18 AQI militants when it attacked an AQI-held compound near the city of Samarra. During the attack, 15 IAI fighters were also killed and 16 AQI fighters were captured. (33 killed, unknown wounded).[78]
  10. January 5, 2009: The IAI claimed responsibility for an IED attack at a gas station in the Karradah district of Baghdad. (0 killed, 4 wounded).[79]
  11. February 22, 2014: The Islamic Army of Iraq claimed that it and the Mujahideen Army had coordinated an attack on government forces near al-Karma. The groups purportedly downed a government helicopter during the fighting. (unknown casualties).[80]
  12. June 14, 2014: The IAI fought along side the Islamic State (IS) when it captured Mosul from the Iraqi army on June 10, 2014. (unknown casualties).[81]

Relationships with Other Groups

The IAI has had a long-standing alliance with the Mujahideen Army (MA). Although the groups have worked together since 2004, they did not officially announce their operational cooperation until 2005. [82] [83] On May 2, 2007, the MA, the IAI and Ansar al-Sunnah Shariah announced the formation of a new umbrella organization, the Reformation and Jihad Front (RJF), that would oppose AQI and cooperate in their efforts to expel U.S. troops and Iranian influence from Iraq. [84] [85] In November 2007, the RJF joined with Hamas Iraq and the Islamic Front of the Iraqi Resistance (JAMI) to form the Political Council of the Iraqi Resistance (PCIR). [86] However, tensions have risen between the two allies since the IAI decided to join the political process in Iraq following the U.S. withdrawal. [87] [88]  The MA has denounced the IAI not only for what they perceive to be participation in corrupt political system controlled by the U.S. and Iran, but also for the IAI’s alleged absence from “the battle” in western Iraq. The IAI repudiated the latter claim, insisting that the MA must not be in the field if it could not see the IAI’s presence there. Despite these tensions, however, the two groups do still cooperate. They purportedly carried out a joint attack on Iraqi Security Forces outside of al-Karma on February 22, 2014. [89]  

The IAI and Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) have both cooperated and clashed with each other during the first decade of the 2000s. In the years immediately following the 2003 U.S. invasion, AQI and IAI worked closely with one another to the point that one of the founders of the IAI, Sheikh Ahmed al-Dabash, claimed to be like a “brother to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,” the leader of AQI. [90] However, by 2006 strains began to appear in the IAI-AQI relationship, largely because IAI opposed the high levels of civilian casualties that resulted from AQI attacks.  In May 2007, the IAI joined with Ansar al-Islam and the Mujahideen Army to form the Reformation and Jihad Front (RJF), an anti-AQI, anti-U.S. umbrella organization. In coordination with the 1920s Revolutionary Brigades, the Mujahideen Army, and later the RJF, the IAI began to militarily oppose AQI in 2007. [91] [92] [93] Many clashes occurred between the IAI and AQI, most notably in April 2007 when AQI killed more than 30 IAI fighters because they refused to swear allegiance to AQI. [94] Additionally, there is some evidence to suggest that the IAI, or at least elements within it, participated in the 2006-2007 Sunni Awakening, joining the Awakening Councils to fight AQI and possibly even negotiating with the U.S. [95] IAI leadership has always denied these accounts. On June 7, 2007, the IAI announced it had signed a ceasefire with AQI; however, fighting between the two groups appears to have restarted by the November 2007. [96]  

Although not openly enemies, the IAI’s relationship with AQI’s sucessor, the Islamic State (IS), has not always been entirely cooperative. Although the IAI fought alongside IS in the summer and fall of 2014, first to take Mosul and then to push on towards Baghdad through Anbar, the groups are ideologically dissimilar. [97]  While IS seeks the creation of a radical Islamist caliphate `stretching across sections of three continents, the IAI is pushing for a federation of autonomous Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish states within the current borders of Iraq that would be ruled by a “softer” and more “modern” version of Shariah Law. [98] [99] In fact, the IAI has publically denounced IS’s brutal tactics and targeting of Iraqi citizens. Nonetheless, the two groups share the common goal of overthrowing the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government and expelling foreign troops from the region. [100] [101] However, in mid-2014, the IAI’s spokesman, Sheikh Ahmed al-Dabash, hinted that there may soon come a time when the IAI would feel obligated to turn its weapons on the Islamic State.  Dabash declined to elaborate on the statement. [102]

Community Relationships



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