Power Struggle Atop Al Qaeda in Iraq

With Abu Musab al-Zarqawi reportedly seriously wounded in Operation Matador, there is speculation in the Middle Eastern press as to who might emerge as his successor. Newsday looks at several likely candidates.

Militants’ Power Struggle (Long Island Newsday)

Islamic militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has been badly wounded and his lieutenants are engaged in a power struggle over who would replace him if he dies, according to a senior Iraqi security official. The two top contenders to succeed the Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi are Iraqis who served as military officers in Saddam Hussein’s regime, said the official, who asked not to be named. If one of these men ascended to the leadership of al-Zarqawi’s group, al-Qaida in Iraq, it would illustrate that the different strands of the Iraqi insurgency are melding together.

For months, some Iraqi security officials have argued that the insurgency is being driven more by former Baathists and members of Hussein’s security services than by foreign Islamic militants such as al-Zarqawi. The Iraqi assessment contradicts that of many U.S. officials, who have focused heavily on al-Zarqawi.


Already, several of al-Zarqawi’s deputies are jockeying to replace him, according to the official and reports in the Arabic press. The pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat reported yesterday that at least five associates were competing to lead al-Qaida in Iraq. The paper said the two leading contenders are known by the noms de guerre Abu Maysara al-Iraqi and Abu al-Dardaa al-Iraqi. Abu Maysara is the propaganda chief of al-Qaida in Iraq, and he frequently signs Internet statements in the group’s name. Abu al-Dardaa is the group’s top military commander in Baghdad and surrounding areas. The official said the two men began developing Islamic leanings during Hussein’s “faith campaign” in the mid-1990s, which was intended to promote religious fervor in Iraqi society. The men also trained special forces units in the Iraqi military, according to the official.

In a sign of the competition within al-Zarqawi’s group, the Web site that had announced his injury on Tuesday posted two contradictory statements yesterday about whether a deputy had been appointed to lead the group in his absence. The first posting said a Saudi militant named Abu Hafs al-Gerni would take control until al-Zarqawi’s recovery. A few hours later, the site posted a statement signed by Abu Maysara denying that anyone had been appointed.


His potential successors

Potential successors to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Most names are aliases (al-Iraqi means “the Iraqi” and indicates birthplace).

Abu Maysara al-Iraqi: Head of the information department of al-Qaida in the Land of Two Rivers (also known as al-Qaida in Iraq). A former military officer in Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Abu al-Dardaa al-Iraqi: Top military commander (in Baghdad and surrounding area) of al-Qaida in Iraq. Former military officer in Hussein’s regime.

Abu Azzam al-Iraqi and Abu Saad al-Dulaimi: Military commanders (in western Anbar province) of al-Qaida in Iraq.

Suleiman Khaled Darwish (alias Abu al-Ghadiya): a Syrian and a longtime associate of al-Zarqawi’s. The two men first met in Afghanistan.

Abu Hafs al-Gerni: A Saudi who has served as al-Zarqawi’s military adviser and head of the military committee of al-Qaida in Iraq.

Interesting speculation. One suspects the new boss will be, to quote The Who, much like the old boss. One hopes, at least, that the group will be weakened during the transitional period, however.

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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.