Islamic State of Iraq traces its origins to Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad
, which was formed by the Jordanian
national Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
in Jordan in 1999. Al-Zarqawi led the group, under numerous name changes, until his death in June 2006. Jama'at participated in the Iraqi insurgency (2003–2011)
following the 2003 invasion of Iraq
by Western forces, and on 17 October 2004 al-Zarqawi had pledged allegiance
to Osama bin Laden
network; and the group became known as Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn
(commonly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq).
In January 2006, Tanzim and five other Iraqi insurgent
groups formed the Mujahideen Shura Council
, which on 15 October 2006 merged to form Islamic State of Iraq.
At their height in 2006–2008, ISI had military units or strongholds in Mosul
and in the governorates of Baghdad
, Al Anbar
, and they claimed Baqubah
as their capital. The area under its control decreased dramatically following the 2007 troop surge
, during which dozens of ISI leaders were killed by coalition forces.
The new group continued to be commonly referred to as al-Qaeda in Iraq. Shortly after al-Zarqawi's death, al-Qaeda in Iraq named a new leader, Abu-Hamzah al-Muhajir
, thought to be a pseudonym, which the US military named as Abu Ayyub al-Masri
, an Egyptian militant based in Baghdad.
Al-Masri and ISI leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi
were killed during a military operation on a safehouse on 18 April 2010. Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was succeeded as leader of ISI by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
. On 14 May 2010, al-Masri was succeeded by Abu Suleiman al-Naser
(also known as al-Nasser Lideen Illah Abu Suleiman),
who was in turn killed some time in 2011.
Following Suleiman's death, the position of "War Minister" was replaced by a Military Council composed of former regime military officers under the leadership of Haji Bakr
On 7 April 2013 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi transformed ISI into the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
(ISIL, ISIS, IS), which is still active today. Haji Bakr, whose name was Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi
, was killed in January 2014,
and was succeeded by Abu Abdulrahman al-Bilawi
as head of the ISIL Military Council.
Al-Bilawi was killed on 4 June 2014,
and was reportedly succeeded by Abu Mohannad al-Sweidawi
as leader of the ISIL Military Council.
There were reports in November 2014 that al-Sweidawi had been killed in an Iraqi airstrike that reportedly also injured Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The Daily Beast
reported that al-Sweidawi was succeeded by senior ISIL figure Abu Ali al-Anbari
who was in turn killed on 24 March 2016.
Al-Anbari was considered the ISIL second-in-command in Syria and was viewed as a potential successor of ISIL's present leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The second-in-command in Iraq was Abu Muslim al-Turkmani
, who was killed on 18 August 2015, and who was succeeded as the ISIL leader in Iraq by Abu Fatima al-Jaheishi
and 15 October 2006, messages on the Internet in the name of the Mujahideen Shura Council declared the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), which should encompass the governorates of Baghdad
and parts of Babil
– a swathe of central and western Iraq where most Sunni
In 2003–2004, under its earlier name Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, the group's targets had included Shi'ite
mosques and civilians, Iraqi government institutions, and the US-led Multi-National Force in Iraq
. In 2005, under its name al-Qaeda in Iraq, its goals
were: expelling the US from Iraq; turning Iraq into a (Sunni
) Islamic state or caliphate
and extending this program to neighboring countries. These continued to be its goals when it became the Islamic State of Iraq.
When ISI was formed in October 2006, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi
was presented as its leader or emir
The US government initially believed Omar al-Baghdadi to be a fictitious persona, invented to put an Iraqi face on the leadership of ISI which the US saw as a front organization of the foreign-driven Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)
However, US military officials later came to believe that the Baghdadi 'role' had been taken by an actual ISI leader.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
, who in May 2010 would become the new leader of ISI, was before April 2010 the general supervisor of ISI's provincial sharia
committees and a member of its senior consultative council.
Funding and financing
According to American authorities, the group lost considerable funding sources and popular support from 2007 onwards.
A 2008 report on the group's funding reported that its most lucrative source of income was stolen oil in the region of Bayji
), which yielded them $2 million a month. Other sources of income were kidnappings of wealthy Iraqi people for ransom
, car theft, robbery, hijacking fuel trucks, counterfeiting, commandeering rations and shaking down Iraqi soldiers for ammunition, these activities brought in tens of millions of dollars.
In addition, jihadists in Saudi Arabia and Syria and other elements outside Iraq provided funding.
Between 2005 and 2010, according to an analysis by RAND Corporation
of 200 documents—personal letters, expense reports and membership rosters—captured by US Forces between 2005 and 2010, 95% of the group's budget was raised in Iraq, from the oil business, kidnappings, extortion, cash of members from Mosul, etc. Only 5% of the budget came from outside donations.
In 2006, Iraqis effectively ran Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)
in positions like internal security and battalion commanders, with foreign fighters' often relegated to suicide attackers, however the upper tiers of the organization were still dominated by non-Iraqis.
AQI was a well-oiled and bureaucratic organisation with a high degree of documentation of its activities, from records of payments to its members, lists of opponents to be killed, and verdicts and sentences given to its prisoners.
In 2008, AQI appeared to have at least 80 execution videos, mostly beheadings, lying on the shelf that had never been distributed or released on the Internet: a former AQI commander told CNN
that they were used to verify the deaths to their superiors and to justify continued funding and support.
By the end of 2009, AQI was, according to US and Iraqi officials, a mostly Iraqi network of small, roving cells, still relying on fighters and weapons smuggled through the Syrian border.
For speculations about its later management structure, see section 2010, revival ISI
2006–2008 military presence or control The Washington Post
reported that AQI came to control large parts of Iraq between 2005 and 2008.
In Autumn 2006, AQI had taken over Baqubah
, the capital of Diyala Governorate
, and by March 2007 ISI had claimed Baqubah as its capital.
In 2006, AQI/ISI had strongholds in Al Anbar Governorate
, from Fallujah
and were the dominant power there, according to the US.
In 2007, ISI had military units in Baghdad Governorate
and in 2007–2008, ISI had strongholds in Mosul
in Ninawa Governorate
Between July and October 2007, AQI/ISI lost military bases in Anbar province
and the Baghdad
and between April 2007 and April 2009, it lost considerable support, mobility and financial backing.
2006–2007 attacks claimed by or attributed to AQI/ISI
The 23 March 2007 assassination attempt on Sunni Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq Salam al-Zaubai
was claimed by ISI: "We tell the traitors of al-Maliki's infidel government, wait for what will destroy you".
The 25 June 2007 suicide bombing
of a meeting of Al Anbar
tribal leaders and officials at Mansour Hotel
, killing 13 people, including six Sunni sheikhs
and other prominent figures,
was claimed by ISI who in a statement on the Internet said this attack was revenge for the rape of a girl by "members of the apostate police force at Anbar".
For the August 2007 Yazidi communities bombings
, which killed some 800 people, US military and government sources named al-Qaeda as the "prime suspect", but there was no claim of responsibility for those attacks.
ISI expelling Christians
In 2004, Sunni militants bombed churches
and kidnapped Christians in the Baghdad
district of Dora
. The US military briefly 'cleared' Dora in autumn 2006, but militants tied to Al Qaeda in Iraq
reestablished themselves in Dora in late 2006 and began harassing Christians.
By January 2007, ISI proclamations appeared on walls in Dora and leaflets were circulated: women should wear veils; shorts and cellphones were prohibited.
Christians were given the choice: either pay a tax, or become a Muslim, or leave the district. By May 2007, 500 Christian families had left Dora.
ISI also targeted Christians in the 2010 Baghdad church massacre
For continued persecution of (Christian) Assyrians in 2014 by ISIL, see: Persecution of Assyrians by ISIL
In July 2007, ISI's leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi
with war: "We are giving the Persians, and especially the rulers of Iran, a two-month period to end all kinds of support for the Iraqi Shia government and to stop direct and indirect intervention ... otherwise a severe war is waiting for you." He also warned Arab states against doing business with Iran.
2007 conflicts with Sunni and nationalist Iraqi groups
In February 2007, a truck bomb exploded near a mosque near Fallujah
where the imam had criticised AQI, killing 35 people, the BBC suggested this attack may have been a retaliation from AQI.
On 16 March 2007, three attacks near Fallujah
(50 km west of Fallujah) killed eight people: a BBC correspondent assumed two of those attacks to have been targeting tribal leaders who had spoken out against AQI.
On 27 March 2007, the leader of Sunni Arab insurgent group 1920 Revolution Brigades
was killed. An official of the group blamed AQI for the attack. The 1920 Revolution Brigades had been rumored to have taken part in secret talks with American and Iraqi officials who tried to draw Sunni groups away from AQI.
Around 10 April 2007,
a spokesman of Islamic Army in Iraq
(IAI), a significant Sunni Arab insurgent group fighting Iraqi and US forces,
accused AQI of killing 30
members of his group,
and also members of the Army of the Mujahideen
and the Ansar Al-Sunna resistance group
and called on AQI to review its behaviour: "Killing Sunnis has become a legitimate target for them, especially rich ones. Either they pay them what they want or they kill them", their statement said; "They would kill any critic or whoever tries to show them their mistakes. Assaulting people's homes became permitted and calling people infidels became popular".
In a 42-minute audiotape released on 17 April, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi
responded: "To my sons of the Islamic Army (…) We swear to you we don't shed the protected blood of Muslims intentionally", and, calling for unity: "One group is essential to accomplish victory".
The first week of June 2007, AQI fighters exchanged heavy fire with Sunni insurgents, including IAI members, in several Baghdad neighborhoods.
On 6 June 2007, the Islamic Army in Iraq "reached an agreement with al-Qaeda in Iraq, leading to an immediate cessation of all military operations between the two sides", according to an IAI statement. An IAI commander explained to Time
: IAI and ISI still disagree on some things, but "the most important thing is that it's our common duty to fight the Americans".
On 23 September 2007, ISI in a statement accused Hamas of Iraq
and the 1920 Revolution Brigades of killing its fighters. On 25 September, a bomb in a Shiite mosque in the city of Baqubah
, during a meeting between tribal, police and guerrilla leaders, killed leaders of Hamas of Iraq and the 1920 Revolution Brigades and others: local reports said the attack was the work of ISI.
US' rhetorical focusing on "al Qaeda (in Iraq)"
During 2007, US authorities and President George W. Bush
strongly emphasized the role of "Al Qaeda (in Iraq)" in violence, insurgency and attacks on US troops, and the threat of them acquiring 'real power' in Iraq.
While some 30 groups claimed responsibility for attacks on US troops and Iraqi government targets in an examined period in May 2007, US military authorities mentioned the name 'al-Qaida (in Iraq)' 51 times against only five mentions of other groups.
Observers and scholars (like US Middle East specialist Steven Simon,
US terrorism analyst Lydia Khalil,
and Anthony H. Cordesman of the US Center for Strategic and International Studies
) suggested that the role played by AQI was being unduly stressed.
2007 US arming militias against AQI
Starting early in 2007 in Anbar Province
, according to American commanders and officials, Sunni groups in several Iraqi provinces that had grown disillusioned with AQI tactics like suicide bombings against Iraqi civilians, agreed to fight Al Qaeda in exchange for American arms, ammunition, cash, pick-up trucks, fuel and supplies, and in some cases had agreed to alert American troops on locations of roadside bombs and booby traps.
This practice of negotiating arms deals with "Sunni insurgents" was approved of by the US high command in June 2007.
By December 2007, the so-called "Awakening movement", a Sunni Arab force paid by the American military to fight AQI, had grown to 65,000–80,000 fighters.
The Iraqi government and some Shiites expressed their worry that this would lead to tens of thousands of armed Sunnis in autonomous tribal "Awakening groups", leading to Shiite militias growing in reaction, and potentially leading to civil war.
2007 US and others fighting AQI/ISI
US Marines in Ramadi
, May 2006, conducting a snap vehicle checkpoint patrol to disrupt insurgent activity
31 May 2007, in Baghdad
's Amariyah district, gunmen shot randomly in the air, claiming through loudspeakers that Amariyah was under control of the Islamic State of Iraq. Armed residents are said to have resisted, set the men's cars on fire, and called the Americans for help; the Americans came in the afternoon, and "it got quiet for a while", according to one resident.
Between March and August 2007, US and Iraqi government forces fought the Battle of Baqubah
in the Diyala Governorate
against AQI, "to eliminate al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorists operating in Baqubah and its surrounding areas",
resulting in 227 AQI fighters being killed and 100 arrested, and 31 US and 12 Iraqi soldiers being killed. By July 7,000 US troops and 2,500 Iraqi troops were fighting AQI/ISI in that battle, the US army claimed that 80 percent of AQI leaders had fled the area.
The US troop surge went into full effect in June 2007, and supplied the military with more manpower for operations targeting Islamic State of Iraq. According to US Colonel Donald Bacon, 19 senior al Qaeda in Iraq operatives were killed or captured by US and Iraqi Security Forces in July; 25 in August; 29 in September; and 45 in October.
By October 2007, US military were believed to have dealt devastating blows to AQI, but a senior intelligence official advised against a declaration of victory over the group, because AQI retained the ability for surprise and catastrophic attacks.
2008 US and others fighting AQI/ISI
In Operation Phantom Phoenix
, over January–July 2008, the multi-national force in Iraq
attempted to hunt down the last 200 Al-Qaeda
extremists in the eastern Diyala Governorate
, which resulted in 900 'insurgents' being killed and 2,500 captured, and 59 US, 776 Iraqi, three Georgian
and one UK soldiers killed. By May 2008, according to Newsweek
, US and Iraqi military offensives had driven AQI from Al Anbar
Provinces, leaving AQI holed up in and around the northern city of Mosul
US soldiers and Sunni Arab tribesmen scan for enemy activity in a farm field in southern Arab Jibor
, January 2008
2009 attacks (possibly) by ISI/AQI; revival
Beginning of April 2009, 'Sunni insurgent groups' warned that they would step up attacks against US troops and Iraq's Shiite-led government.
Between 7 and 22 April, 10 bomb attacks killed 74 people. Two more suicide attacks on 23 April 2009
, causing 76 deaths, were without evidence attributed to 'AQI-affiliated' groups. Additional suicide bombings brought the number of Iraqis killed in bombings that month on 350.
On 19 August 2009, three car bombs exploded in Baghdad
, targeting the Iraqi Finance and Foreign Ministries, a hotel and a commercial district, killing 101 and injuring 563 people. The attacks were claimed, two months later, by Islamic State of Iraq, calling the targets "dens of infidelity".
8 December 2009, ISI committed five bomb attacks in Baghdad
targeting government buildings and a police patrol, killing 127 people and injuring 448 more. ISI declared the targets "headquarters of evil, nests of unbelief".
2010 revival ISI, new attacks The New York Times
reported that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had a preference for his deputies to be former Ba'athist
military and intelligence officers who had served during the Saddam Hussein
regime and who knew how to fight.
He built a management structure of mostly middle-aged, Hussein-era Iraqi officers overseeing the group's departments of finance, arms, local governance, military operations and recruitment.
These leaders added terrorist techniques, refined through years of fighting American troops, to their traditional military skill, and so made ISI a hybrid of terrorists and army.
Analysts believe a Saddam-era officer, known as Haji Bakr
, was appointed as military commander of ISI, heading a military council including three other former regime officers.
13 June 2010, suicide bombers disguised in military uniforms attacked the Central Bank of Iraq, killing 18 people and wounding 55. ISI claimed the attack in a 16 June message on the Hanein jihadist forum.
17 August 2010, ISI executed a suicide bomb attack on army recruits queuing outside a recruiting centre in Baghdad, killing 60 people. 19 or 20 August, ISI claimed the attack, saying it targeted "a group of Shias and apostates who sold their faith for money and to be a tool in the war on Iraqi Sunnis".
2009–2010 US and others fighting ISI/AQI
In May 2009, Iraqi officials said they again needed US troops in Diyala Governorate
, because of suicide bomb attacks.
In June 2010, US General Ray Odierno
said that 34 of 42 top leaders of AQI had been killed or captured, not specifying the period in which that had happened, and announced that AQI had "lost connection" with its leadership in Pakistan and would have difficulties in recruiting, finding new leaders, establishing havens, or challenging the Iraqi government.
In November 2010, 12 suspects, including Huthaifa al-Batawi
, al-Qaeda in Iraq's
"Emir of Baghdad", were arrested in connection with the October 2010 assault on Our Lady of Salvation church in Baghdad. Batawi was locked up in a counter-terrorism jail complex in Baghdad's Karrada
district. During an attempt to escape in May 2011, Batawi and 10 other senior militants were killed by an Iraqi SWAT
Revival in Iraq
According to the United States Department of State
, AQI operated in 2011 predominantly in Iraq but it also had carried out an attack in Jordan, and maintained a logistical
network throughout the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and Europe.
In a speech on 22 July 2012, Al-Baghdadi announced a return of ISI to Iraqi strongholds they had been driven from by US forces and allied militias in 2007 and 2008 (see section 2007–2008, US and others fighting AQI/ISI
), and a campaign to free imprisoned AQI members, and urged Iraqi tribal leaders to send their sons "to join the ranks of the mujahideen (fighters) in defense of your religion and honor … The majority of the Sunnis in Iraq support al-Qaida and are waiting for its return".
In that speech, Baghdadi also predicted a wave of 40 attacks across Iraq the next day,
in which more than 107 were killed and over 200 wounded.
Between July 2012 and July 2013, ISI carried out 24 waves of car bomb attacks
and eight prison breaks in Iraq.
By 2013, the Sunni minority increasingly resented Iraq's Shi'ite led-government, and Sunni insurgents regrouped, carrying out violent attacks and drawing new recruits.
Expansion into Syria
In August 2011, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and al-Qaeda's central command authorized the Syrian ISI member Abu Mohammad al-Golani
to set up a Syrian
offshoot of al Qaeda, to bring down the Syrian Assad government and establish an Islamic state there. Golani was part of a small group of ISI operatives who crossed into Syria, and reached out to cells of militant Islamists who had been released from Syrian military prisons
in May–June 2011 and were already fighting an insurgency against Assad's security forces. Golani's group formally announced itself under the name "Jabhat al-Nusra l'Ahl as-Sham
" (Support Front for the People of the Sham) on 23 January 2012.
On 22 July 2012, Al-Baghdadi released a 33-minute speech, mostly devoted to the Syrian uprising or civil war
: "Our people there have fired the coup de grace at the terror that grasped the nation [Syria] for decades … and taught the world lessons of courage and jihad and proved that injustice could only be removed by force", he said.
By the second half of 2012, Jabhat al-Nusra stood out among the array of armed groups emerging in Syria as a disciplined and effective fighting force. In December 2012, the US designated Nusra a terrorist organization and an alias of al Qaeda in Iraq. By January 2013, Nusra was a formidable force with strong popular support in Syria.
On 8 April 2013, ISI-leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi publicly announced that he had created Jabhat al-Nusra and was now merging them with ISI into one group under this command, the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
" (ISIL), also known as "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).
Golani rejected this merger attempt. Nusra split up, some members, particularly foreign fighters, followed Baghdadi's edict and joined ISIL, others stayed with Golani.
Comments on Egypt
On 8 February 2011, when Egyptian mass protests
ran in their 15th consecutive day, ISI called on Egyptian protesters to wage jihad
and strive for an Islamic government: "The market of jihad (has opened) … the doors of martyrdom
have opened … (Egyptians must ignore the) ignorant deceiving ways of rotten pagan
nationalism … Your jihad is for every Muslim touched by oppression of the tyrant of Egypt
and his masters in Washington
and Tel Aviv
2011 US designation
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Last edited on 23 April 2021, at 16:19
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