Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Shi'ites and Iraqi al-Qaeda

The National reports on an increasing number of Shi'ite-al-Qaeda alliances in Iraq:
"Shiite gangs are joining the Sunni extremists of al Qa’eda to form new and dangerous alliances that threaten stability in southern Iraq, government officials and community leaders have warned.

"A series of deadly attacks last month in once secure areas, including the southern cities of Kut and Basra, caught the Iraqi authorities by surprise and, they say, indicate that al Qa’eda has made contacts with Shiite groups willing to carry out strikes in the region.

"The cooperation, driven by a mixture of money, fear and a mutual hatred of Iran, represents a stark reversal. Since the formation of al Qa’eda in the late 1990s, the radical Sunni Muslim group and its affiliates have regularly targeted Shiites, whom they consider heretics. That hostility continued following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the factional fighting that broke out soon thereafter.

"There are signs, however, that this longstanding acrimony has given way to the desire of al Qa’eda sympathisers to penetrate Iraq’s Shiite-dominated southern provinces. To that end, they have found willing Shiite allies, according to regional officials."

Insofar as the al-Qaeda label has been a banner flown by local militants seeking to convey a unity with transnational militant Sunni Salafism, and that movement has largely been opposed to Shi'ism as a heresy within Islam, this is an uncommon development. It is, however, not an impossible one. For starters, the obsessive targeting of Shi'ites in the days of Abu Musab az-Zarqawi was controversial even within al-Qaeda circles. Furthermore, the decentralized nature of the al-Qaeda movement leads to significant variation at local levels, and some groups will easily decide to prioritize attacking the U.S. or a related power even if it means you might also have issues with your allies.

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