Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Jaysh al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia

The Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia (JRTN), which is rendered in English as the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order, is a large and prominent Sunni insurgent group in Iraq. JRTN endorses violent strategies and is a nationalist/Ba’athist group rather than a quasi-religious group.

JRTN was established in December 2006 following the execution of Saddam Hussein ostensibly as a reactionary force to protect Naqshbandis from extremists such as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (the predecessor to ISIS from which ISIS evolved). It works closely with and is part of the Baathist “Majlis al Askeri” or General Military Council which meets in Mosul. JRTN is the lead Baathist command and is the second largest military force in the uprising after ISIS (indeed it almost certainly is actually numerically superior to ISIS but ISIS is far better equipped and has far greater financial resources).

The Naqshbandia (i.e. the religious movement rather than the JRTN military force) is a major spiritual order of Sunni Sufism which traces its spiritual lineage to the prophet Muhammad through Abu Bakr, the first Caliph and Muhammad’s companion. There are other Naqshbandia orders that trace their lineage through Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law and the fourth Caliph. Izzat al-Douri has been a Naqshbandi sheikh since the late 70s.

The JRTN military force has Ba’athist colouring and is also led by Saddam’s former deputy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the last surviving plotter of those who brought the Ba’ath party to power in the 1968 Iraq coup (and the man elected to the leadership of the Iraqi Ba’ath after the execution of Saddam). It is unclear as to what extent al-Douri has a role in the day-to-day running of the group. He has rarely been seen since the 2003 invasion though a video surfaced in 2012 showing him to be alive. There are reports that he requires regular dialysis and if these reports are true, as is likely, al-Douri is more of an insurgent figurehead than an operational leader.

Al-Douri’s authority and history as a member of the Ba’ath party leadership has been important in driving up recruitment numbers among Sunnis. He is a regarded as a veteran networker and coalition builder, with extensive contacts. Izzat al-Douri has up till recently been outside Iraq fundraising for the insurgency and for its monthly magazine publicising the group’s operations and promoting its ideology through which it solicits donations. He is in Iraq now. According to local sources, al-Douri visited the Mosul governorate headquarters of JRTN on 12th June in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Mosul prior to which he was hiding in a “country in the region” (presumed by many to be Qatar).

The group operates in Baghdad, al-Anbar, Ninaweh, Diyala and Salah al-Din provinces. JRTN utilises guerrilla tactics that include attacking soft targets first to minimise its own casualties. The group uses a two-pronged strategy which has a so called “defensive phase” which involves attacks from a distance, typically with missiles, followed by an assault phase.

Role played in the 2014 Iraq Conflict
The JRTN played a significant role in the capture of Mosul earlier this month. The JRTN took responsibility for “liberating” the five bridges that connect the western and eastern parts of Mosul. They have assumed an increasingly commanding role in the administration of the insurgent occupied cities. Some of their generals have been proclaimed “governors” of captured cities. For instance Ahmed Abdul Rashid has been appointed the governor to Tikrit.

JRTN has been increasingly prominent in this anti-government insurgency taking an active part in what are known as the Tribal Military Councils since the commencement of the Anbar crisis in January 2014.

There are three or four strands to the insurgency:

1.      The smaller Islamist groups like Jaish Ansar al Sunnah
2.      The neo-Baathists of the General Military Council, foremost among which are the JRTN. Sunnis who want to restore a Saddam-style dictatorship but don’t share ISIS’s hard-line interpretation of Islam.
3.      The tribal groups.
4.      ISIS, the strike force spearheading much of the combat.

JRTN is very well organised, but they’re not as large as ISIS and they don’t have the financial resources that ISIS do.

It might seem that ISIS and the JRTN will sooner or later have a fall out. At a local level there was a minor squabble that resulted in some infighting over the spoils of war but by and large the two theoretically diametrically opposed forces have coexisted on the age old formula of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”. Ever since 2003, when the Ansar al-Islam group, the Kurdish Islamists thrown out of Halabja by US Special Forces, took refuge in Mosul, Islamist and Baathist groups have coexisted.

The story of how ISIS evolved is convoluted and perhaps appropriate for a separate report; but sufficient to say that after 9/11 2001 these Islamist groups gradually grew stronger and they ended up headquartered in Mosul from 2003 on - along with the former Baathists – and these groups have a history of working closely, very closely, together, despite their totally incompatible ideologies. Having said which, ISIS holds a very specific and particular view of Islam, which is not compatible with the views of the JRTN (a group which only has a nominal quasi-Sufi affiliation). In any case, both Sufism and Baathism stand in stark contrast with Salafism (Islamic Puritanism) and Takfirism (the rejection of those who do not share your beliefs as heretics). Both groups currently push their religious differences aside to unite against their common enemy. However, any such Sufi-Salafi alliance is unlikely to survive in the absence of a common enemy, and in time may provoke a new and bitter conflict in strife-torn Iraq. ISIS wants to create an Islamic Caliphate whilst JRTN want to restore Baathist rule. These differences are not going to go away anytime soon.

Furthermore, JRTN was opposed to AQI (led by Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi who leads ISIS today) when the group was first founded in 2006. This past conflict between JRTN and AQI suggests that there would be tensions between the JRTN and ISIS leadership. In May 31, there were clashes between the JRTN and ISIS, which took place in Salah ad-Din (admittedly between local militia men over who would take home captured oil tankers) and recently there have been clashes in Hawija, near Kirkuk, between the two groups. Other clashes have taken place, including in Mosul itself, which are often reported as having been over ideology, but the sordid truth is that these are invariably squabbles over money at a local level.

The Naqshbandi Sufi movement from which JRTN takes its name has a formulaic spiritual code which involves watchfulness, solitude, contemplation and restraint.

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