In Iraq, Sunni insurgents still aim to oust U.S., Shiites
In an interview, a member of the Islamic Army of Iraq speaks of his group's long-term goals.
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Abu Abdullah says that most attacks by his group, the IAI, focus on the US military. The IAI's website features an up-to-date list of all its purported attacks – most involving rocket or mortar fire and roadside bombings against US troops. Some attacks are also against Shiite militias and government forces. "We are fighting a battle for our existence," says Abu Abdullah.Skip to next paragraph
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He also maintains that while the US has succeeded in driving a wedge between AQI and Sunnis in Anbar Province, many of the tribesmen there who are now on the American payroll are still aiding IAI and other insurgent groups.
"Chasing out Al Qaeda has benefited us a lot," he says, explaining that AQI militants have largely been driven out of Anbar and Baghdad and are now concentrated in parts of Diyala, Nineveh, and Salaheddin provinces to the north. He says AQI used indiscriminate violence to subdue other Sunni insurgent groups. Petraeus has offered a similar assessment.
Abu Abdullah, a former Iraqi military officer who was briefly jailed during Saddam Hussein's rule for his Islamic sympathies, says he first joined the insurgency shortly after the US-led invasion in 2003 and belonged at the time to a group known as the 1920 Revolution Brigades. He left that group to join the IAI in May 2004 after he realized the Brigades were being swayed by the secular ideology of Hussein's Baath Party. One IAI goal is to turn Iraq into a state similar to Saudi Arabia, which adheres to a puritanical form of Sunni Islam.
He says most Sunni Arab insurgent groups, including IAI, sympathized and in some cases cooperated with AQI when it was led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born militant who was killed in a US airstrike in June 2006.
Abu Abdullah says clashes with AQI began when its new leader, Egyptian-born Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, also known as Abu Ayub al-Masri, along with the Islamic State of Iraq, started targeting Iraqi insurgents. He blames Iran for infiltrating AQI after Zarqawi's death.
He says the situation pushed Sunnis to the brink of a protracted internal battle, so siding with the US military to root out AQI and preserve Sunni unity made sense.
"Some people joined ... while others are still in the resistance.… We wanted to prevent fitna [discord] among Sunnis, and to unite our front," he says.
Members of these US-backed militias now number almost 91,000 and are paid a total of $16 million a month in salaries by the US. They are often lauded by President Bush in his speeches on Iraq.
The US military now calls these Sunni militias "Sons of Iraq." Iraqis simply refer to all these groups as sahwas. But the Shiite-led government is resisting US pressure to fold these groups, especially the ones in Baghdad and Diyala provinces, into the Army and police. "Trust me, the sahwas are ultimately with the resistance, heart and mind," says Abu Abdullah.