Rebel Groups in Iraq
IMK pre pre 1996 – present
The Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK) is a Sunni Muslim organization in the Kurdish region of Iraq. The IMK was founded in 1987 by a group of Kurdish Islamic scholars who were members of the “Union of Religious Scholars” (Yaketi Mamostayani Ayni Islami), led by the late Shaykh Uthman Abd-Aziz. During the 1990s the group was one of the most powerful political and military organizations in the region, behind the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdish Democratic Party. In 1999 the group merged with another armed Islamic group, Al-Nahdah, to form the Islamic Unity Movement in Kurdistan, but the coalition broke down in 2001 and the original name was readopted. The IMK has lost political support as indicated by its poor performance at the polls in 2013 and 2014.
Badr Org pre 1996 – present
The Badr Organization of Reconstruction and Development, previously the Badr Corps/Brigade, is a Shiite organization, which operates in Iraq. The Badr Brigade serves as the militia wing of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), even though the US demanded that the militia be disbanded.
(SCIRI)/(ISCI) pre 1982 – present
The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), known since 2009 as the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (ISCI), is a Shiite political party in Iraq with an active militant wing. ISCI was established by Shiite exiles in Iran, who, in 1982, formed the group with a mission to overthrow Saddam Hussein and install an Iranian-style government. After Saddam Hussein was overthrown, the party quickly tried to establish power in Iraq under the guidance of its new leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. Al-Hakim led the group to increased power through a series of image reforms coupled with pragmatic political decisions to distance the group from its unpopular linkages with Iran and the United States. ISIC’s militia is still active, and is by some estimates 10,000 strong. The militia mainly active in the north, where it has in recent years clashed with the British army and Mahdi forces. The group continues, to varying degrees, advocate a separate Shiite-run region in the oil-rich southern Iraq. In 2009, its leader al-Hakim died and was succeeded by his son, Ammar al-Hakim, but doubts remain about his ability to effectively lead the group.
SSU 1998-2001 (now part of Jund al-Islam)
The Second Soran Unit (SSU) was a Sunni Kurdish militant group that was led by Asad Muhammad Hasan (also known as Asa Hawleri), and operated independently from 1998-2001. In 2001, the SSU merged with two other Kurdish Sunni groups to form Jund al-Islam. The organization that would later become Ansar al-Islam.
Tawhid 2001 – 2001 (now part of Jund al-Islam)
Formed as a splinter group from the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan, Al-Tawhid Islamic Front (TIF) was only an independent group for three months in the summer of 2001. Being accredited with no major attacks, TIF merged with the Second Soran Unit to form Jund al-Islam in September 2001.
Ansar al-Islam (AI), formerly known as Ansar al-Sunna, is a Sunni extremist group made up primarily of Iraqi Kurds intent on establishing a Salafi Islamic state in Iraq governed by its Wahhabi-style interpretation of Sharia. The group was formed in July 2001, and continues to carry out attacks today. AI has clashed with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in the past. AI has strained relations with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and may have expanded its operations into Syria, particularly around Aleppo.
ISIS 2002 – present
Jama’at al-Tawhid wa’l Jihad was formed by Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi in 2002 as a militant group in Jordan. Shortly afterwards, the group entered Northern Iraq, pledging allegiance to al-Qaeda and changing its name to al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in October 2004. In 2010, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took control of AQI. In 2014, al-Baghdadi announced that AQI had begun operation in Syria, would soon merge with Al Nusra Front, and would change its name to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri publicly rebuffed al-Baghdadi’s statement and ordered that the group limit its operations to Iraq. After al-Baghdadi spoke against al-Zawahiri’s statement, al-Zawahiri renounced all connection between ISIS and AQ Central. ISIS has recently experienced military success, taking the cities in both Syria and Iraq, including Raqqa, Fallujah and Mosul.
Small Groups 2002 – 2006 (various mergers with AQI)
At least one dozen small groups have merged with AQI since its birth in 2002. There have been two major waves of small groups merging with AQI: during early 2006 upon the creation of the Mujahidin Shura Council and during October 2006 upon the creation of the Islamic State of Iraq.
Hamas Iraq 2002 – present
The National Islamic Resistance in Iraq formed in 2003 during the infancy of the coalition in Iraq, establishing itself as a political force. In March 2007, the group restructured itself to adapt to the changing environment in Iraq and renamed itself Hamas in Iraq. Until October 2007, attacks were carried out for the group against coalition forces by the 1920s Revolution Brigades, but a divergence in ideologies caused the groups to split. As recently as 2010, the group has been combating al Qaida in Iraq rather than coalition forces.
Mahdi Army 2003 – present
The Mahdi Army is a radical Shiite militia loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. The group was created in 2003 and was most active from 2004 through 2008. It provided social services to the Shia community and attacked coalition forces, mostly in Baghdad, Najaf, and Nasiriyah. The Mahdi Army was considered the most fearsome group in Iraq until early 2008 when US and Iraqi forces began to break it apart. However, after al-Sadr’s bloc won 40 seats in the Iraqi parliament in the 2010 elections, the group regained strength. While al-Sadr changed the purpose of the Mahdi Army to the provision of social services in 2008, al-Sadr announced the revival of the Mahdi Army under a strategy of direct, armed opposition to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in June 2014.
Mujahideen Army 2004 – present
The Mujahideen Army (MA) is a militant organization in Iraq, composed almost entirely of native Sunni Muslims, first emerging in late 2004. Though the group claimed in 2005 that it would consider working with the Iraqi government, it announced soon after that it would be allied alongside the Islamic Army of Iraq and Ansar al-Islam instead. These groups collectively formed a Sunni insurgent coalition, the Jihad and Reform Group, in 2007. The MA has not directly combatted al-Qaeda in Iraq, but it has refused to join the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) as a result of its killing of Shi’ite civilians. Most of the Mujahideen Army’s militant activities have consisted of kidnappings and shooting down American helicopters.
KH 2006 – present
Kataib Hezbollah (KH), also known as the Hezbollah Brigades, is a Shiite Iraqi insurgent group based central and Southern Iraq. Formed following the dissolution of the Mahdi Army, the group is suspected to receive large amounts of training, logistical support, and weapons from the Iran Quds Force, the special military of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. Since 2006, KH has claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks against Coalition troops in Iraq. KH fighters frequently record their attacks, and subsequently post these videos online in an effort to deter further Coalition presence in Iraq. The U.S. State Department officially designated KH as a foreign terrorist organization on July 2, 2009.
1920s Revolution Brigades 2007 – present
Initially the armed wing of Hamas in Iraq, the 1920s Revolution Brigades split and became its own organization by early 2007. The group’s attacks remained focused on American troops until 2007, when it started battling Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Many from the 1920s Revolution Brigades stopped fighting Americans, opting to work with them as part of the Sons of Iraq (SOI). In April 2010, representatives from the group met at a conference in Turkey with representatives from 20 other Sunni insurgent groups with the intention of staging a comeback following the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
AS Shariah 2007 – present
A nationalist-Jihadi organization, AS Shariah split from Ansar al-Islam in 2007 because of AS’s objections to Al Qaeda’s invocations to kill civilians. AS Shariah is led by Abu Wail and is a member of both the Jihad and Reform Front and the Political Council of Iraqi Resistance.
JRTN 2006 – present
Jaysh al-Tariq al-Naqshbandia (JRTN) formed in 2006 after the execution of Saddam Hussein. The group is comprised of ex-Baath Party members and former Hussein Regime officials. Support from JRTN members to ISIS operations in Iraq have been crucial to ISIS’s success.
Fatah al-Islam 2006 – present
is a radical Sunni group in Northern Lebanon that broke off from Fatah al-Intafada. The group was created in 2006, and received national recognition after fighting the Lebanese Army in the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr el-Bared. The group was highly active in 2007 and 2008, attacking the Lebanese Army, Israel, and UN workers. While group funding and its political intentions remain polemic topics, the presence of Fatah-al Islam members in Iraq has raised high suspicions that the group is linked with Al-Qaeda. As of 2010 the group appears subdued, especially after tenacious Lebanese efforts to capture group members, yet it is unclear whether or not the group will reemerge.
AAH 2006 – present
Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) is a Shiite, Khomeinist militant group established in 2006 by the religious leader Qais al-Khazali with support from the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Following the withdrawal of coalition troops, AAH shifted its focus from anti-coalition operations to the provision of social and religious services; at this time, AAH also focused on becoming a legitimate political force in Iraq. AAH is the main rival of Moqtada al-Sadr, competing with the Mahdi Army and the National Alliance Party for control of Iraq’s Shiite population. AAH also opposes the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), with many of its members joining the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to fight ISIS.
PDB 2007 to present
The Promised Day Brigades (PDB) is one of several Iraqi “Special Groups,” a U.S. military term or designation assigned to Iranian-backed Shiite militias operating primarily in and around Sadr City and Baghdad. The PDB, like most Special Groups, is considered a faction of the Madhi Army that broke away during 2007 and 2008 infighting. These Special Groups were recently reactivated to serve Iran’s strategic agenda as U.S. forces withdrew, including waging war on the Baghdad government if it seeks to become too independent of Tehran or maintains relations with the U.S.
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