Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia (JRTN)

FormedDecember 30, 2006
DisbandedGroup is active.
First AttackFebruary 2009: Hamas Iraq troops used Rocket Propelled Grenades to attack US forces in Baqouba, the provincial capital of Diyala. It was not until the Hamas Iraq cell was apprehended that the U.S. discovered that the cell had been subcontracted by the JRTN, which was responsible for planning, financing, and facilitating the attack. (Casualties unknown).[1]
Last AttackJune 6, 2015: According to the JRTN’s official website, the group was responsible for launching several rockets into the city of Hawija near Kirkuk. (Casualties unknown) [2]
UpdatedJuly 27, 2015

Narrative Summary

The Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia (JRTN), also known as the Naqshbandi Army, derives its name from the Naqshbandi Sufi movement, a mystical branch of Sunna Islam that emphasizes spiritual connection with God and the renunciation of worldly desires. [3] [4] [5] [6] However, by the mid-20th century the Naqshbandi Order in Iraq had become more of a political and business patronage network than a religious association. [7] [8] In the late 1970s, Naqshbandi Order members recruited Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, Saddam Hussein’s second in command, to be their leader. Douri was ordained as a Naqshbandi Sheik and used his influence in the Hussein regime to create an alliance between the Ba’ath party and the Naqshbandi Order. [9] 

After the execution of Saddam Hussein in December of 2006, many of the remaining Ba’athists and Naqshbandi Order members in Iraq looked to Douri for leadership as the most senior remaining Ba’athist in the country. They coalesced around him in January 2006 to form the JRTN. [10] Although the group chose a name that emphasized its Sufi roots, the group itself has always been vehemently secular in its ideology. [11] [12] Douri established the group with the explicit aim of expelling the US-led coalition partners in Iraq and replacing the government formed under Coalition guidance with a Ba’athist state. To this end, the JRTN repeatedly attacked coalition forces, utilizing a network of high-quality fighters and an arsenal that included mortars, Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs), road bombs, and rockets. [13] In response, U.S. coalition forces targeted the JRTN; the most notable instance of which was when the U.S. captured several JRTN minor leaders in a raid on December 12, 2009. [14]

While the JRTN carried out its own attacks, it more commonly coordinated other organizations’ attacks on coalition forces.  In particular, they helped finance, organize, and provide intelligence for attacks carried out by the 1920s Revolutionary Brigades, Ansar al-Islam, and Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), among other groups. [15] [16] [17] Although it occasionally worked with AQI, the predecessor organization to the Islamic State (IS), the JRTN also often condemned AQI for using tactics that resulted in the deaths of Iraqi civilians.  In stark contrast, the JRTN chose to limit its own attacks to “the unbeliever-occupier” and denounced any groups that targeted civilians based on their ethnic or sectarian association. [18]

After the US Coalition’s withdrawal in 2011, the JRTN shifted its efforts to focus on the overthrow the Maliki government. [19] Reports also suggest that the organization funneled resources towards quelling the Kurdish independence movement that it deemed incompatible with its Arab Nationalist agenda. [20] Around this time, the JRTN also established an activist branch known as the Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq (IAAI), which is responsible for managing the public image of the group, often releasing statements and videos of JRTN attacks. [21] [22] 

In 2013, the JRTN played an active role in organizing the General Military Council for Iraq’s Revolutionaries (GMCIR). [23] The GMCIR’s leadership is predominantly composed of former Ba’athist army officers of Arab tribal descent and its fighters are largely Arab Sunni tribesmen, many of whom fought in the 2007 Anbar Awakening. The group, whose most prominent member is the 1920’s Revolutionary Brigades, coordinates the actions, attacks, and resource allotment of its component groups, which are often local tribal militias. [24] Although the JRTN is not technically a member group, it continues to help advise and direct the GMCIR. Like the JRTN, the GMCIR is vehemently anti-Iranian, anti-Maliki, and seeks to overthrow the government in Baghdad. [25]

Although IS and the JRTN are ideological rivals with the JRTN seeking to form a secular Ba’athist state within the internationally recognized borders of Iraq and IS aiming to establish a Salafist caliphate stretching across the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Europe, there have been several instances of cooperation between the two groups in recent years. [26] [27] Both groups hatred of for the United States and Iraqi government made them unlikely allies. [28] The JRTN was instrumental in IS’s conquest of Fallujah in January 2014 and was responsible for the seizure of five vital bridges in Mosul when IS captured that city on June 10, 2014. [29] [30] Yet within days of the fall of Mosul the two groups began to clash, including in Hawija where a firefight left 17 IS and JRTN fighters dead. There are conflicting reports as to the cause of the skirmish; some sources attribute the fighting to a dispute over two oil tankers, while others allege that it begun after JRTN fighters refused to acknowledge al-Baghdadi as their caliph. [31] [32] After additional skirmishes between JRTN and IS forces in May 2015, Douri released a statement making clear that no alliance could or ever would exist between the two groups. [33] [34] Douri also condemned IS’s tactics, namely its expulsion of Christians from Mosul and massacre of the Yazidis, implicitly comparing these atrocities to JRTN’s policy of not targeting civilians. [35] [36]

Today the JRTN is widely considered the second most powerful insurgent group operating in Iraq after the Islamic State (IS). [37] [38] [39]

Leadership

  1. Azhar al-Obeidi (Unknown to Present): Obeidi is a former Ba’athist army general who holds a leadership position in the JRTN. After the fall of Mosul on June 10, 2014, IS named Obeidi as the governor of Mosul as a show of friendship to their JRTN allies. Obeidi is no longer the governor of Mosul but his current whereabouts are unknown.[40]
  2. Wathiq Alwan al Amiri (Unknown to December 12, 2009): Amiri was JRTN’s media coordinator before his arrest by Iraqi and US forces in Tikrit Iraq in December 12, 2009.[41]
  3. Abd al Majid Hadithi (Unknown to December 12, 2009): Hadithi was the JRTN’s media manager and propaganda distributor before being arrested by Iraqi and US forces in Tikrit Iraq in December 12, 2009.[42]
  4. Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri (December 30, 2006 to April 17, 2015): Following Saddam Hussein’s execution in December of 2006, Douri became the de facto leader of the remaining Ba’athists in Iraq and founded the JRTN. On April 17, 2015, Iraqi state-run television reported that Douri had been killed by Iraqi security forces and Shiite militia fighters in the mountains between Kirkuk and Tikrit. The report was corroborated by the Governor of the Salah al-Din province, in which the alleged assassination took place. Photos were released of what appears to be Douri’s corpse. However, the JRTN repudiated these claims and in May 2015 released an audio clip of Douri in which he addressed events that occurred after his purported death. [43]

Ideology & Goals

The JRTN is a Sufi organization that derives its name from the Naqshbandi Order of Sufism, which was founded in the 14th century and known for its peaceful, apolitical ideology. [44] However, under the regime of Saddam Hussein, the Order began functioning as more of a political and business network than a religious organization. [45] [46] It was during this period that the Order began recruiting top Ba’athist officials, most notably Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri. [47] Thus, when al-Douri founded the JRTN in 2006, he chose to emphasize the group’s Ba’athist rather than Sufi ideology. [48] Indeed the group is known for being tolerant of all the major religious groups in the region—Shiites, Sunnis, Sufis, Jews, and Christians—and has condemned IS’s targeted killings of civilians based on their religious affiliation. [49] [50]  The group seeks the re-unification of Iraq, including all its religious and ethnic groups, under a secular (Ba’athist) government similar to that of Saddam Hussein. [51] [52] In this vein, the JRTN employs vehemently nationalistic rhetoric, which echoes the Arab Nationalist sentiments popularized by Egypt’s Gamal abd al-Nasser in the 1950s and 60s. [53] In order to achieve its goal of a reunified Iraq, the JRTN has directed the majority of its attacks against coalition forces (prior to 2011), the Maliki government, Iran, and Iraq’s Kurdish separatist groups. [54] [55]

Size Estimates

Designated/Listed

Despite primarily targeting American and Coalition forces, the JRTN has not been officially designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States, UN, or EU. However the JRTN was listed by the Department of the Treasury pursuant to E.O. 13438: Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq. E.O. 13438 proscribes certain actions intended to disrupt international financing of listed organizations and individuals.  [58]

Resources

The JRTN relies heavily on large-scale contract and small business level extortion as well as donations from tribal leaders for revenue. [59] Ba’ath Party diasporas, particularly former Republican Guard officers, that now reside in Jordan, Yemen, and Syria also appear to be a key source of funding for the JRTN. [60]

External Influences

Beginning in early 2015, the JRTN began cultivating a relationship with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and other Arab states, making public statements praising the late Saudi king, eulogizing the Jordanian pilot burned alive by IS, congratulating Saudi Arabia’s new King Salman, and extolling the Saudi air campaign in Yemen. [61] [62] The main assistance these states provide to the JRTN appears to be safe havens for the group’s leaders, such as al-Douri, who purportedly ran JRTN operations from Qatar for a period of time after being taken there for emergency medical treatment. [63] [64]

Geographical Locations

Although there are scattered cells of JRTN fighters across Iraq, the JRTN is concentrated in Salah al-Din, Ninawa, Tikrit and Kirkuk. [65] [66] It has been particularly active in and around Mosul, Hawija, and the “occupied territories” in the north of the country where Kurdish forces have seized control and asserted their autonomy. [67] [68]

Targets & Tactics

The JRTN often hires other groups to carry out attacks on the targets it chooses and helps coordinate the finances, logistics, and intelligence collection of these groups in return. [69] [70] It is unclear exactly why the JRTN utilizes this strategy.  One possibility is that the group does not want to risk being associated with attacks in which citizens are accidentally harmed.  The group has made clear its policy of only targeting government and coalition fighters and protecting Iraqi citizens regardless of their religion or ethnicity.  To be seen as going back on this policy would harm to the group’s relationships with the communities in which it operates. [71]

Although the JRTN often hires other groups to carry out its attacks, it also has its own well trained and organized, if small, military branch.  Immediately after the JRTN’s formation in 2006, local cells consisting of around 7-10 JRTN fighters, each lead by an Emir, were established in almost every province. [72] The JRTN quickly became known for its military-like structure and precision in its attacks; forward deployed cells were organized into brigades, platoons, battalions, and companies. [73] However, despite the video propaganda it has released extolling this professional organization, the actual structure of JRTN’s army is likely more ad hoc than this nomenclature may suggest. [74]

Regardless, there is evidence that the JRTN utilizes an intricate and sophisticated system for planning and executing attacks, which is at least partially responsible for the noticeably high quality of their fighters and the precision of their attacks. [75] When an attack is first conceived, the initial step in the preparation process is the collection of personal recommendations concerning cells’ reliability. [76] Then, JRTN leaders personally visit and evaluate the chosen cell, after which trainers, who are usually former Revolutionary Guard elites, are sent in to prepare the cell tactically. [77] This usually includes an extended 90-day course during which fighters are physically and mentally pushed to their limits. [78] Reports suggest that the JRTN uses this process for both its own cells and cells from other insurgent groups that it subcontracts for individual attacks. [79]

The JRTN chooses its targets very carefully.  It only targets fighters who operate in the name of the Maliki government, Iran, coalition forces, or insurgents groups that oppose the creation of a Ba’athist state in Iraq.  The JRTN has explicitly forbidden its fighters from killing Iraqi citizens, regardless of their sectarian or ethnic affiliation. [80] [81]  

In carrying out its attacks, the JRTN has used light and medium rifles, IEDs, anti-tabk RPG-7s, RKG-3 grenades, and unspecified missiles. [82] [83]

Political Activities


Major Attacks

Although the JRTN was known to be carrying out attacks prior to 2009, none were verifiably documented.  This may be in part due to the JRTN’s strategy of subcontracting other militant organizations to carry out the attacks that it organizes and finances. [84]

 

  1. 2009: A child recruited by JRNT threw an RKG-3, an anti-vehicle grenade, at a passing US convoy in the Kirkuk province. The attack was taped and circulated on the Internet. (Casualties unknown).[85]
  2. February 2009: Hamas Iraq troops used Rocket Propelled Grenades to attack US forces in Baqouba, the provincial capital of Diyala. It was not until the Hamas Iraq cell was apprehended that the U.S. discovered that the cell had been subcontracted by the JRTN, which was responsible for planning, financing, and facilitating the attack. (Casualties unknown).[86]
  3. August 31, 2010: The JRTN claimed responsibility shooting and killing a US soldier in the city of Tikrit in Iraq's Salah ad Din province. (1 killed, 0 wounded).[87]
  4. October 4, 2010: The JRTN made a statement on Al Jazeera claiming responsibility for attacking a US soldier in Baghdad on an unspecified date. However, the claim could not be independently verified. (0 killed, unknown wounded).[88]
  5. February 18, 2011: Senior commander of JRNT accused of being involved in an IED attack in a car showroom in the town of Muqdadiyah. (7 killed, unknown wounded).[89]
  6. June 10, 2014: The JRTN played a critical role in IS’s capture of Mosul and was responsible for seizing control of the five bridges that connect the western and eastern sections of the city. (Unknown Casualties).[90]
  7. June 21, 2014: JRTN soldiers clashed with IS fighters in the city of Hawija near Kirkuk. Reports differ as to whether the skirmish occurred because there was disagreement over which group would assume control of several captured oil tankers or because the JRTN fighters refused to lay down their weapons and swear fealty to al-Baghdadi. (17 killed, unknown wounded).[91]
  8. January 3, 2015: The JRTN used a RKG-3 to target an Iraqi Army convey west of Mosul. (0 killed, 3 wounded).[92]
  9. June 6, 2015: According to the JRTN’s official website, the group was responsible for launching several rockets into the city of Hawija near Kirkuk. (Casualties unknown).[93]

Relationships with Other Groups

One of the central messages promulgated by the JRTN is the need for cooperation and unity among Iraq’s Sunni insurgent organizations. [94] [95] The JRTN cooperated with Hamas Iraq, the 1920s Revolution Brigades, Ansar al-Sunna, the Islamic Army, and Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) before it became IS, often hiring them to carry out attacks on its chosen targets. [96] [97] [98] There is also evidence that the JRTN has assisted in managing the finances, intelligence collection, and other logistics of these groups in exchange for video recordings of their attacks, which JRTN then posts on its own online media outlets. [99] In the summer of 2013, the JRTN formalized several of these cooperative relationships when it helped to created the General Military Council for Iraq’s Revolutionaries (GMCIR), an umbrella organization comprised of several moderate Sunni militant groups including the 1920s Revolution Brigades. [100] The JRTN also belongs to the Supreme Command for Jihad and Liberation (SCJL), another umbrella organization in which the JRTN is the largest militant group. [101] [102] 

The alliance of convenience between the JRTN and IS has become increasingly strained as cooperation born out of common interest has given way to ideological rivalry. [103] Whereas IS seeks to establish a global caliphate, the JRTN seeks the resurrection of a secular Ba’athist state within the internationally recognized borders of Iraq. [104] [105] Despite these differences, however, the two groups initially cooperated in an effort to overthrow their mutual enemy, the Maliki government.  [106] [107] However, as early as June 16th, reports surfaced of skirmishes between IS and JRTN fighters over the proliferation of Saddam Hussein banners in Mosul. [108]  Then on June 21st, 17 JRTN and IS fighters were killed when the two groups clashed in Hawija. [109] [110] Reports vary on whether this clash was the result of the JRTN fighter’s refusal to swear allegiance to Baghdadi or if it was simply a tussle over control of two oil tankers. [111] [112] [113] Yet despite these clashes, on July 13th, Douri publically praised IS for its leadership in taking Mosul and expressed “the love and pride” he felt for the group. [114] It was not until April of 2015 that the JRTN directly denounced IS, when Douri stated that “the bitterest enemies” of the Arab nation are those that subscribe to “Takfiri ideas.”  Takfiri ideas are those that brand Muslims of different sects as infidels and call for their deaths—an ideology that IS subscribes to.  As an Arab Nationalist group that claims to represent the Arab Nation, the JRTN was making clear its opposition to IS’s ideology. As this tension between the JRTN’s secular, Arab Nationalist goals and IS’s vision of a Salafist caliphate heightened, the groups’ alliance of convenience dissolved. After additional clashes between JRTN and IS forces in May 2015, Douri released another statement stating definitively that no alliance existed between the two groups. [115] [116] However, neither group has openly declared war on the other. 

Community Relationships

The JRTN works hard to foster positive relations with the communities in which it operates. By virtue of its Ba’athist roots, the organization has strong relations with many tribes across Kirkuk, Rashad, northern Diyala, Salah al-Din and Hawija. [117] Mimicking an old Hussein regime strategy, the JRTN typically cultivates alliances with a wide range of sub-tribes rather than attempting to negotiate with the preeminent tribes, which are more prone to ideological interagency that could destabilize a larger alliance network. [118] From 2007-2011, JRTN tailored its rhetoric to match the specific dispositions of local populations, particularly playing on Sunni fears of an Iranian sponsored Shiite rebellion and framing the Coalition as the "unbeliever-occupier." [119] After the Coalition’s withdrawal in 2011, the JRTN turned its focus to the growing anti-Maliki sentiments among Iraq’s Sunni population, capitalizing on such events as Maliki’s arrest of Sunni MP Ahmed al-Awani or the Iraqi Security Force’s (ISF) brutal crackdown on a protest in Hawija in April 2013 to bolster recruitment. [120] [121] [122]

Additionally, the JRTN publishes a local monthly magazine that promotes group ideology, reports recent military accomplishments, requests donations, and even has a question and answer section where readers can write in to ask theological questions that are then answered in the next addition by prominent Naqshbandi sheiks. [123] The group also posts videos detailing its military endeavors as well as speeches by prominent Baathist and Sufi leaders on its official website and YouTube channel. The JRTN uses all of these platforms—its magazine, website, and YouTube channel—to put out propaganda and recruit new members. [124] [125]

Another important aspect of the JRTN’s public relations campaign is its repeated promises not to kill Iraqi citizens, regardless of their religious affiliation or ethnicity, as long as they are not cooperating with the al-Maliki government. [126] [127] The group makes a point to target the “occupiers” and “oppressors,” perpetuating their reputation as an “Iraqi first” group. [128] Where many other militant organizations in Iraq have large foreign components, the JRTN is almost entirely comprised of Iraqis—a fact that lends it credibility in the public’s eyes. [129]


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  101. ^ “Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order.” On War, Date unknown. Web. 30 June 2015. <https://www.onwar.com/actors/type43/amnaqo.htm>
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  113. ^ “Iraq Crisis: Isis allies ‘Turn on Jihadists’ as 17 Killed in clashes near Kirkik.” The Telegraph, 21 June 2014. Web. 6 July 2015. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/10916360/Iraq-crisis-Isis-seize-Syria-border-crossing-as-Obama-blames-Iraqi-government-for-sectarian-divisions-latest.html>
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