The new Iraqi Sunni resistance organization al-Jama’a al-Salafiya al-Mujahida offers a radical Islamic platform that contains many points in common with al-Qaeda.
It views Americans not just as modern crusaders waging a religious war in the name of Christianity against Islam, but as an infidel people who believe in a new infidel religion – democracy – that is striving to achieve world hegemony.
On this basis, the September 11 attacks are seen as “blessed” and worthy actions in which the “enemies of Allah” were defeated, actions which brought hope and vitality to those forces seeking the awakening of Islam throughout the world.
Support from Saudi Arabia could be of key importance to the group, both as a source of inspiration and ideological authority, and for raising funds to support al-Jama’a’s activities.
At a White House press conference on July 23, 2003, President Bush lauded the American forces in the city of Mosul that killed Uday and Qusay, the two sons of the deposed president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein. Bush emphasized that since his announcement of the end of major combat operations in Iraq, the U.S. had made “steady progress in restoring hope in a nation beaten down by decades of tyranny.” The primary achievement, he said, may be found in the fact that the Iraqi people know that the previous Iraqi government is gone and will never return. Administration officials, quoted in the Boston Globe, claimed that the American army had succeeded in stabilizing the security situation in 80 percent of the territory of Iraq.
Yet despite the optimism displayed by the American government, there is growing criticism in the U.S. over security-related complications in Iraq which – from May 1 to July 23 – cost the lives of 40 American soldiers. U.S. military intelligence sources estimate that 90 percent of the attacks against American forces are by Sunni elements, particularly those loyal to the deposed regime of Saddam Hussein. The killing of Saddam’s two sons, and certainly the capture or killing of their father, is considered an event that will result in a loss of hope for militant Iraqi opposition forces and thus lead to restraint in their actions against American forces.1
In this context, however, it is important to be aware of a new radical Islamic organization that has recently joined the opposition forces active against American forces in Iraq – one that has a holy war against the United States engraved on its flag. The organization, called al-Jama’a al-Salafiya al-Mujahida, offers a radical Islamic platform that contains many points in common with the Qaedat al-Jihad (al-Qaeda) organization headed by Osama bin Laden.
The principal points in al-Jama’a al-Salafiya’s platform are as follows:
Hatred of the West and America in Particular as the Leader of the Free World
The U.S. is seen as an infidel force that has declared total war on Islam. The first steps in its war were seen in Afghanistan and Iraq. Americans are viewed in a particularly bad light, not just as modern crusaders waging a religious war in the name of Christianity against Islam, but as an infidel people who believe in a new infidel religion – democracy – that is striving to achieve world hegemony and sees Islam as its prime enemy.
This means that the attitude of al-Jama’a al-Salafiya toward the American people is not the same as toward a Christian people – who are entitled, according to Islam, to protection under Islamic rule – but rather Americans are seen as a nation of unbelievers whose fate, according to Islam, is conversion to Islam or death. On this basis, al-Jama’a al-Salafiya does not see the September 11, 2001, attacks as terror attacks or mass murder of innocents, but rather as “blessed” and worthy actions in which the “enemies of Allah” were defeated, actions which brought hope and vitality to those forces seeking the awakening of Islam throughout the world. Osama bin Laden, whose Qaedat al-Jihad organization carried out the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, and Sheikh Abdallah Azzam, the spiritual leader (killed in Afghanistan in 1989) who helped form bin Laden’s worldview, personify the correct model for al-Jama’a supporters to follow in carrying out jihad against the West.2
Total Rejection of Any Ideology Not Based on Islam
The democratic parties, nationalist parties (Ahzab Wataniya) including Arab nationalists (Qawmiya), communists, Baathists, and socialists are all viewed as “deviations from Islam” and essentially heresies. The Baath regime of Saddam Hussein is seen to have failed because it was a tyrannical regime that ruled the Iraqi people through oppression. Al-Jama’a al-Salafiya also opposes any Islamic parties that cooperate with regimes that are based on the infidel “religion” of democracy, and considers participation in parliamentary elections as bid’a, that is, an innovation that in its essence is forbidden by Islam, which offers its own unique system of governance – the Islamic caliphate and its institutions.3
Jihad as a Solution to the Ills of the Islamic People
Similar to al-Qaeda, al-Jama’a al-Salafiya recognizes two elements of jihad – knowledge (learning and indoctrination) and the sword (the armed struggle). Only through armed struggle will Islam be able to save itself from its historic suffering at the hands of the dominant “infidel forces in the world,” renew itself as in days of old by expelling the West from the precincts of Islam, and prepare for the Islamic caliphate to be based on the spread of Islam throughout the entire world, as in the days of Muhammad and the caliphs who succeeded him.4
Sunni Salafi Islam is the Only Correct Path
Al-Jama’a al-Salafiya is based on the Salafi Islamic commentaries of Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab and Ibn Taymiyya that emphasize the tawhid (the uniqueness of Allah as one God and the rejection of assigning any physical attributes to Allah). It places the highest importance on walking in the path of the prophet Muhammad and the first four caliphs, and on jihad as the proper instrument to disseminate Islam. Shi’ism is the target of vicious hostility and its followers are regarded as unbelievers who have strayed from traditional Islam and represent “evil.”5
The influence of Salafi Islam in its Wahhabist version (upon which the Saudi Arabian regime is based) can be seen at the official website of al-Jama’a al-Salafiya, where a central place is reserved for the religious edicts and writings of Saudi religious scholars (headed by Suliman bin al-Olwan, Ali al-Khudier, Hamud bin Uqla al-Shuaibi) and others (Omar Abdul Rahman, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi) approving of suicide attacks, and teaching jihad as the preferred way to fight against the unbelievers, supporting the view of “al-walla and al-barra” (the sole belief in Islam and active rejection of infidels) as one of the bases of the Islamic religion, with an absolute prohibition on rendering any aid to non-Muslims by Muslims. The site also features links to the al-Qaeda website, the Islamic Taliban emirate in Afghanistan, the writings of Ibn Taymiyya, the sermons of Sheikh Abdallah Azzam, a library of Salafi writings, and Internet forums of a radical Islamic Salafi nature.6
Al-Jama’a al-Salafiya has positioned itself as a fighting opposition, seeking to block American moves in Iraq designed to establish a pro-Western government, and to bring about the removal of American forces by means of armed struggle. It has declared the new Iraqi Governing Council to be a group of traitors and infidels who have removed themselves from all of Islam due to their cooperation with America and their implementation of its “Crusader-Zionist” plans. Those who have been recruited to the new Iraqi security forces established by the Americans are also considered “infidels” who “deserve to die…as is the fate of every traitor who assists the enemies of Allah.”7
The Beginning of Military Operations
In addition to its ideological aspect, al-Jama’a al-Salafiya claims that since the beginning of July 2003 it has begun to take an active role in jihad in Iraq.
In an announcement published on July 11, the group took responsibility for attacks against the “infidels” and the American forces in Iraq, including:
- An attack on the offices of the Freemasons.
- An attack on the airport, the destruction of 2-3 planes, and the killing and wounding of a number of American soldiers.
- A grenade and shooting attack on two American military vehicles parked under a bridge.
- An attack on an American target (no additional details were reported).8
On July 26, the organization claimed responsibility for additional attacks conducted during the third week in July, including:
- An attack on a regional police headquarters.
- An attack on a group of American soldiers. As its forces withdrew, they were ambushed by American forces and four activists of al-Jama’a al-Salafiya were killed.
- An attack on a police station in which the group claimed to have killed one person and wounded another.
- An ambush shooting at two vehicles. In this attack, the group claimed that three “American Zionists” (their term for American soldiers) were killed and three wounded.
- An ambush shooting at an American patrol. The group claimed that in this attack two vehicles were destroyed and all their passengers killed.
- Two ambush shooting attacks on July 23 against a large American reconnaissance force. The group claimed that in these two attacks, 25 Americans were killed.9 The American army reported on two incidents in Mosul and Ramadi in which two soldiers were killed and at least eight wounded.10
Al-Jama’a al-Salafiya dedicated these attacks to Sheikhs Omar Abdul Rahman, Ali al-Khudier, Naser el-Fahed, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, Abdallah Azzam, and Hamud bin Uqla al-Shuaibi, to the “heroes of Palestine,” and to “the land of the Islamic emirate” in Afghanistan.11 Few details are known about the structure of al-Jama’a al-Salafiya. The underground name of the leader (“amir”) of al-Jama’a listed on its Internet site is “Abu Dajana al-Iraqi.” No other leaders’ names are listed. Working alongside the leadership is “al-Hay’a al-Shar’iya,” the source of religious authority for the organization, as can be learned from the published announcement against giving aid to the American forces.12
The role played by al-Jama’a al-Salafiya in the jihad against the Americans, even according to its own announcements, is limited when compared to all of the anti-American actions taken by armed Sunni groups operating in Iraq. (These include Sadaam’s fedayeen and Tanzim Saraya al-Jihad, which are loyal to deposed leader Saddam Hussein and which are apparently responsible for most of the attacks; Kataeb al-Faruk, the military wing of the Islamic movement connected to the Muslim Brotherhood; Ansar al-Islam that operates in northern Iraq; al-Qaeda; and Quwat al-Khandaq li-al-Jihad, that has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks.)13
However, in an Iraq that is currently in transition after the iron-fisted rule of the Baath party, al-Jama’a al-Salafiya is likely to find a receptive audience for its ideological platform among a considerable number of Iraqi Sunnis who want to see the removal of the occupying American forces and greatly fear the rise in power of the Shiites, who constitutes a majority in Iraq and who until now had been ruled by force by the Sunni minority.
The Salafi ideology of al-Jama’a is expected to open doors in Saudi Arabia as well, where the radical Islamic stream has been strengthened in recent years through the exploitation of the relative freedom of action granted by the Saudi regime. This support could be of key importance, both as a source of inspiration and ideological authority, and for raising funds to support al-Jama’a’s activities. The establishment of al-Jama’a al-Salafiya and the other militant Sunni groups that are ideologically radically anti-American and are springing up in Iraq like mushrooms after a rain, is evidence that the road to stabilizing the security situation in that country is still quite long, and that American forces are likely to be exposed to continuing and even escalating threats from the new Iraqi Islamic terror.
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1. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/07/21/iraq/main564159.shtml; http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/205/nation/Bush_sees_steady_progress_in_Iraq+.shtml
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Lt. Col. Jonathan D. Halevi is a researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam. His previous writings include “Understanding the Breakdown of Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations,” Jerusalem Viewpoints #486 (September 15, 2002). The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the IDF.