The Dissolution of Al-Qaeda in Iraq

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 17 January 2021

One of the few pictures in existence of Abd al-Munim al-Badawi (Abu Hamza al-Muhajir)

Abd al-Munim al-Badawi (Abu Hamza al-Muhajir) had become the leader of Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia (AQM) after its founder, Ahmad al-Khalayleh, much better known as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, had been killed in June 2006. AQM was the dominant faction within the Islamic State (IS) when it was announced in October 2006 as a merger of jihadist insurgents, and for that reason most analysts at the time considered IS a “front” for AQM. When IS’s emir, Hamid al-Zawi (Abu Umar al-Baghdadi), made his first speech in December 2006 affirming the statehood declaration, most read this as the foreign-led AQM putting an Iraqi face on their enterprise. In fact, as can now be seen, dynamics were essentially as presented by the jihadists.

Crucial was a speech Al-Badawi gave on 10 November 2006, his fifth of what would prove to be fifteen, released by Al-Furqan Media Foundation within IS’s “ministry of information”, entitled, “I’na al-Hukm I’la Allah” (إن الحكم إلا لله), something like “Judgment is Only for God” or “Judgment is God’s Only”, where he gave his bay’a (oath of allegiance) to Al-Zawi, put AQM’s troops under Al-Zawi’s command, and effectively dissolved Al-Qaeda’s presence in Iraq. A transcript of the speech is available here, and a summary of the speech is below.

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After opening with religious invocations, Al-Badawi says: “The day we promised you has come faster than we hoped … for here is the State of Islam”, established in Mesopotamia with its flag fluttering over the land, causing believers to rejoice and angering the disbelievers. “Today, your enemy is reeling from the horror of what he has tasted”, Al-Badawi goes on, referring to the United States. The “storms of the mujahideen” have left the Americans “unable to bear their burden” and wishing “only to flee”.

“In view of all this, I cannot but thank the stupidest and most despicable President that the state of slaves and drugs has ever known”, says Al-Badawi, obviously referring to President George W. Bush. (These insults to the President led in the coverage there was of this speech in the Western media at the time, as did the commentary on the elections and the apparent numbers of jihadists Al-Badawi signed over to IS.)

Bush “allowed us this great historical opportunity”, Al-Badawi goes on, by bringing American soldiers into “a state of direct combat” with the jihadists “in a way that we had not dreamed about” and with the power of God, Iraqi farmers, who “in many cases are not able to read and write, have detonated their explosive devices against the fake civilization of America and sent flying the remains of its soldiers and experts, ending the dreams of Uncle Sam in the country of oil and water”.

Al-Badawi says that he has to mention that this “obedient fool” (ahmaq al-muta’a), i.e. Bush, “was able in a very short period to restore the glory of the ancient Persian Empire”, now extending through the Levant, including Syria, where the “Rafidhi al-Nusayri” (Bashar al-Asad) had been in danger because of Bush’s pressure campaign, but Asad had turned to Iran and “opened his country to hundreds or even thousands of Persians”, who were naturalised to stabilise his rule, buttressing the Iranian imperial system that runs into Lebanon under “that charlatan agent Nasr al-Lat, named [Hassan] Nasrallah, who had just emerged from an alleged victory over a top Roman military machine”, a reference to the summer 2006 war between Iran’s proxy Hizballah, which Nasrallah leads, and Israel. The Iranians have thus been “restored [to] their ancient glory without firing a single bullet or sacrificing a single soldier”, says Al-Badawi, who asks rhetorically: “Do the wise people among the Romans [Westerners] realise they have become the slaves of Persia and mercenaries who fight without pay?”

“The American people [have] taken their first steps on the right path to get out of their predicament, and begun to realize the betrayal and subordination of their President and his cohorts to Israel, by voting in favour of something more reasonable at the last elections”, says Al-Badawi, whose speech was released three days after the 7 November 2006 mid-terms. Al-Badawi wonders aloud if the Democrats, who took over both Houses of Congress from Bush’s Republicans in the elections, will “fulfill what they promised their citizens … by bringing their children away from the teeth of the lions in Mesopotamia”. Al-Badawi also wonders whether they will do anything about “the terrible budget deficit”, before adding, “I say to the lame duck [Bush], do not hasten to flee like your lame Defense Minister did”, referring to Donald Rumsfeld whose resignation was announced the day after the elections, “for we have not yet quenched our thirst for your blood and be patient on the battlefield, oh coward”.

Al-Badawi proclaims the beginning of a new phase in the jihadist project, the setting up of a caliphate in Iraq that will expand to cover the rest of the region:

O monotheistic Muslims, o mujahideen around the world, today we announce the end of one of the stages of jihad and the beginning of a new, important stage in which we lay the foundation stone from which to launch the Islamic Caliphate project and restore the glory of the religion. …

We are not the children of Sykes-Picot. We are the children of [the Prophet] Muhammad bin Abdullah … who began his blessed state in that pure and pleasant spot in the heart of the desert, where there are no resources or water, except that which the Lord of the earth and sky brings to them. Was he seeking to divide and fragment the Arabian Peninsula when he declared his state in Medina and fought his relatives in Mecca?

This last part is Al-Badawi’s response to the criticism of the Islamic State movement for seeking to divide Iraq by proclaiming a state in parts of the country. Iraq’s Sunni Arab population in particular—IS’s theoretical base—were sensitive to secessionism. One of the primary political battles in post-Saddam Iraq was over federalism: the other two big segments of the population, the Shi’a Arabs and Kurds, were open to a looser relationship between their areas and Baghdad; the Sunni Arabs insisted on a centralised state structure, partly because they simply rejected the demographic fact of their minoritarian status. Al-Badawi was seeking to cut through this mindset by delegitimising the entire construct of the Iraqi state as a nationalist heresy based on borders drawn by infidel colonialists, and pointing to the Prophet having launched the faith with less territory to call his own than the IS movement controlled and by fighting his own kin.

In a phrase of the kind that would become much more famous after 2014, Al-Badawi says: “By God, we will not rest from our jihad until we are under the olive trees in Rumiya, after we have blown up the Filthy House, known as the White House”. Al-Badawi then condemns those insurgents who are meeting with “the treacherous [King] Abdullah” of Jordan as part of an effort to “conclude an agreement with the American occupier. … Repent, and do not betray your religion, your brothers, and your jihad, for Satan”. The key, says Al-Badawi, is to unite around implementing the law of God, the shari’a.

The crucial section of the speech is next:

The time has come for honesty and decisiveness. I say to the beloved Shaykh and heroic warrior, the Qurayshi Hashemite, who is of a Husayni descent, al-emir al-mu’mineen [the commander of the faithful], Abu Umar alBaghdadi: I pledge allegiance to you, to listen and obey, during difficulty and ease, whether in pleasant or unpleasant situations, even against our preference.

This is a promise not to dispute for power with the leader, to tell the truth wherever we are, and not to fear the criticism of anyone in the cause of God. I announce the dissolution of all the formations that we have established, including al-Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen, and on behalf of my brothers on the shura, under the authority of the Islamic State of Iraq, put at your disposal and under your direct command 12,000 fighters, who are the Army of Al-Qaeda, all of whom have pledged allegiance unto death in the cause of God, plus 10,000 more who have not yet completed their training.

Al-Badawi thereafter became Al-Zawi’s deputy, formally IS’s “war minister”, and the allegiance of the IS movement to Al-Qaeda, given by Zarqawi in 2004, was undone. Things were, in fact, a little more complicated, with Al-Qaeda retaining significant influence over IS’s “foreign policy”, as IS itself admits, but there was significant practical truth to IS’s later narrative of having split with Al-Qaeda at this moment, at least within Iraq.

Having asked that Al-Zawi use AQM’s men as the arrows in his bow to be thrown at the enemy, Al-Badawi concludes by addressing the “honourable mujahideen brothers”:

Do you not seek to make the word of God supreme, and to cast down those who disbelieve? Aren’t you shedding your blood to establish an Islamic state on earth? So, if our religion and our goal are one and our enemy is one, then what prevents us from being a single row? “Truly, God loves those who fight for His cause in battlefield array as if they were a [single] solid structure” [Quran: 61:4].

Oh heroes of Jaysh Ansar al-Sunna, and oh lions of Jaysh al-Islamiyya [The Islamic Army]; oh, our hearts in the Jaysh al-Mujahideen, oh you who were a thorn in the enemy’s side, … bless the Islamic State of Iraq and pledge allegiance to the honourable emir.

This effort, just as the Sahwa (Awakening) is beginning, and months before the Surge will join in with it, to unify with the other Islamist insurgents in Iraq will be a constant feature of IS’s policy—it is just that in different times and places the mix of inducement and terror will vary.

At this time, the stress is on inducements, not simply for the insurgents but for the Sunni Arab population generally:

Remember that you are fighting to get people … to the worship of the Lord … The peasant on his farm, the worker in his factory, and the teacher in his school … we protect their honour and their money, and hold back from criticising them … you have to be kind about enjoining good and forbidding evil, especially since the infidel Ba’th Party has confused people about their religion.

Al-Badawi signs off as: “The soldier, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir”.

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