Al Qaeda, Islamic Army of Iraq Gird for Showdown in Samarra
Bill Roggio reports that "Abu Ibrahim, an Islamic Army commander in the region, told the Associated Press that he informed the Iraqi Police in the region that his fighters intended to attack al Qaeda. Ibrahim requested US forces stay out of the fight, as the insurgent groups could not be distinguished by uniform."
The request to "stay out of the fight" is interesting in itself and suggests that Abu Ibrahim is at least hopeful it will be granted. Why should the authorities stay out of Samarra? Maybe from the principle of "divide and conquer".
The Islamic Army in Iraq has issued numerous statements denouncing al Qaeda's tactics. The Islamic Army in Iraq and al Zawraa, its propaganda wing, have feuded with al Qaeda in Iraq over the terror group’s brutality and attempts to dominate the Sunni insurgency.
Recently, two new insurgent councils were formed, both of which ignored al Qaeda and its Islamic State of Iraq. Wanted Baathist Izzat Ibrahim al Douri formed the Supreme Command for Jihad and Liberation, a grouping of largely unknown and defunct Sunni insurgent groups.
Days after that formation, elements of the Islamic Army of Iraq, the Mujahideen Army, Ansar al Sunna, the Fatiheen Army, the Islamic Front for the Iraqi Resistance (JAMI), and the Islamic Movement of Hamas-Iraq formed a political council. The formation of these councils is a direct affront to al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq and has sparked a series of reprisals by al Qaeda.
Much has been written about the supposed invincibility of the networked insurgency and less about its single most glaring weakness. Movements loosely held together only by a "shared narrative" and decentralized command structures are vulnerable, like most historical religions in their expansionary phase to schism and bitter infighting. After all, why should Osama Bin Laden's version of the Jihad be any better than anyone else's? Once prophecy becomes the basis of political discourse before long there will be a prophet on every street corner.
One response to the emergence of a rival franchise is to attempt a negotiated division of market share. Osama Bin Laden has apparently tried this, but it doesn't work.
In Osama bin Laden's latest speech on Iraq, he ordered al Qaeda's leadership to be more accepting to rival insurgent groups and to stop alienating Iraq's influential Sunni tribal leaders. Bin Laden was concerned about alienating their natural Sunni allies.
But al Qaeda in Iraq has continued its assassination campaign against sheikhs and insurgents who have resisted al Qaeda's attempts to impose its Islamic State. In Diyala province, al Qaeda assassinated yet another influential tribal leader involved in the Awakening, the grouping of tribal leaders and former insurgents who have banded together to form security forces and resist al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda detonated a bomb inside the home of Sheikh Fayez Lafta, "an influential leader in ongoing reconciliation efforts" and a leader in the Obeidi tribe in Khalis. Latfa and two others were killed in the blast.
Why do negotiated settlements between Jihadis fail? Groups of armed men whose primary source of legitimacy (and income) is the control of neighborhoods and towns have no incentive to share it. Without an overarching legal system to govern the division of spoils between Jihadi groups there can be no basis for sharing territory, money and authority except force of arms. In this case it means Samarra ain't big enough for the al-Qaeda and the Islamic Army of Iraq. Somebody's got to leave town before sunset or there'll be a showdown, which there apparently is going to be.
This creates an opportunity for a central force, like the Iraqi Army or Coalition Forces, to become the arbiter of what gang gets which territory. In diplomatic terms the US holds the balance of power between gangs. By simply staying out of Samarra, the Iraqi Army and the Coalition can affect the outcome.
But in the end all armed groups must be brought to heel and replaced by a single one. The Iraqi police forces and the army. The monopoly on violence is the essential attribute of a state. The insurgent political council must know that their lifetimes are essentially numbered, but the temporal structure of incentives compels them to strike at the immediate threat -- al-Qaeda in Iraq -- and hope for the best in the future.