Al Qaeda in Iraq to Target Sunni Leaders

Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, the apparent successor to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has announced that Al Qaeda in Iraq will start targeting Sunni leaders deemed collaborators with the enemy.

The newly named leader of al Qaeda in Iraq threatens to attack Sunni government officials in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, according to a statement published Tuesday on a Web site often used by insurgents. The statement, addressed to “my dear nation,” came the day after Islamist Web sites said Abu Hamza al-Muhajer had been named the successor to terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike Wednesday.


Tuesday’s message also called Sunni Arabs who take part in Iraq’s new government traitors, saying they have “sold their soul to the crusaders” and threatening that “our swords are ready for your necks.” “Your punishment is near, and your vain towers in the Green Zone won’t protect you,” it states, referring to the Baghdad compound housing a U.S. military base, embassies and the Iraqi government headquarters. CNN could not immediately authenticate the statement.

Sunni Arabs had enjoyed a relatively unfettered existence under the regime of Saddam Hussein, a fellow Sunni. But after Hussein’s ouster, the Sunnis expressed their disenchantment with efforts to form a new government and were blamed for much of the insurgency.

However, in the December 2005 elections to select a Council of Representatives, or parliament, minority Sunnis — who make up about 20 percent of the Iraqi population — voted in much higher numbers than they had in earlier elections. Though they came in third behind Shiites and Kurds, four Sunni blocs won a collective 59 posts in the 275-seat council, up from 17 seats previously. Other government posts, too, have been filled by Sunnis, including Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who was named speaker of the Council of Representatives.

The Web message did not specify why Sunnis were being singled out, but al-Zarqawi, a Sunni, and his followers were largely blamed for aggravating sectarian tensions between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites, resulting in hundreds of deaths and other violence.

This is a huge strategic blunder. The “insurgency” has long given up defeating Coalition forces, redirecting its efforts at fomenting civil war in Iraq and undermining attempts to institute a stable, democratic government. The primary lever in that fight, aside from the alien presence of foreign troops, was stoking the fears of the Sunni minority about being governed by Shiites. Intentionally targetting their fellow Sunnis undercuts that message and makes it even more clear that the mostly foreign terrorists are motivated by destruction rather than Sunni solidarity.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    Well, it’s a step forward for equal opportunity in Iraq. Zawahiri had fussed at Zarqawi for putting the war against the Shiite heretics too high-up on his priority list. So doubtless Shiites will be thrilled to know that al-Qaeda is killing Sunnis and Shiites alike.

  2. McGehee says:

    And people say that taking out al Qaeda’s leadership people hasn’t done us any good. They’ve gone from, “We will defend all fellow Muslims against the infidel aggressor” to, “Well, we called for a holy war between Sunnis and Shi’ites, and the Sunnis didn’t obey, so we’ll declare war on Sunnis too.”

  3. Hey, give the man a break. He’s new at the job. He’s not flip flopping, he is just making mid-course corrections to rectify fundamental policy issues of the previous management deemed to be lees than optimum in the current market.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    They’re wrangling up strays. It seems to me that this “my way or the highway” quite literally cutthroat approach is part and parcel of al-Qaeda’s philosophical approach: anybody who disagrees with me is an apostate.