Ba’athist comeback feared in Diyala
BAQOUBA, Iraq | Former officials and military officers of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime are helping facilitate attacks by disparate insurgent groups in Diyala province and tapping both nationalist sentiments and public discontent to destabilize the country’s central government, U.S. military officers say.
The Ba’athists are members of the Jaish Rajal al-Tariqah alNaqshbandia (JRTN) insurgency group, which is linked to a faction of the New Ba’ath Party, thought to be led by Izzat Ibrahim alDouri, vice president under the Saddam regime.
Al-Douri is a member of the Naqshbandia sect of Sufism, a mystical form of Sunni Islam that officials think he is using to add a religious veneer to the group’s terrorist activities.
Formation of the JRTN was announced on Dec. 30, 2006, the day Saddam was executed by the Shi’ite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
“This group has [increasing] popular support, whether they advertise themselves as JRTN or as an umbrella organization to justify their cause,” a U.S. Army intelligence officer said on the condition of anonymity. “We believe now that JRTN’s intent is to coalesce as many insurgent groups [. . . ] under a common theme of removing the occupiers from Iraq and, second, to overthrow the government of Iraq for a Ba’athist regime or something similar.”
JRTN, the officer said, is doing so through a calculated information campaign that includes the Internet and satellite television as well as word of mouth.
From hiding, al-Douri continues to taunt U.S. authorities, claiming he will never be taken alive.
“The Americans will only have me as a martyr,” Saddam’s former deputy told the Algerian Arabiclanguage daily Ennahar, according to Agence France-Presse.
Al-Douri also boasted that the Ba’athists would retake power: “We will invite [President] Obama to negotiations soon.”
“Iraqi resistance is causing the American Army human and material losses that terrify the American administration itself,” he reportedly said.
In return for access to funding, weapons and other support from JRTN facilitators, disparate insurgent cells must videotape their attacks, U.S. officers said. Those videos are then posted on the Internet and appear on al-Ra’y satellite television, a broadcasting entity thought to be based in Syria and with ties to al-Douri’s wing of the New Ba’ath Party.
That channel’s programming — through the videos, interviews with jihadist leaders and commentaries — nurture and propel the idea of unity of effort and that violence against American forces in Iraq is heroic and patriotic, that continued violence will force coalition forces to leave Iraq sooner than the 2011 date stipulated in last January’s Strategic Framework accord between Washington and Baghdad.
Since its announced inception, JRTN has claimed responsibility for a number of bombings around the country.
It’s reportedly active in Ninevah province and its major city of Mosul, where al Qaeda — as well as nationalist groups such as Ansar al Sunna, 1920s Revolutionary Brigade, Hamas-Iraq and ISI (Islamic State of Iraq) — remain a serious challenge to government and coalition force security efforts.
Diyala is fertile ground for JRTN and the groups it is attempting to bring together. Diyala, an agrarian region of Sunnis, Shi’ites, Kurds and other ethnic groups, is often referred to as Iraq in microcosm.
All the country’s fault lines, it is said, can be found here. There is the Sunni-Shi’ite sectarian divide, an explosive ethnic divide in its north between Arabs and Kurds, tribal and political rivalries, widespread poverty and growing discontent with the central government’s slow pace of job-producing reconstruction.
Added to the volatile mix are the Sons of Iraq guards — both Sunni and Shi’ite — which earlier had helped coalition forces degrade al Qaeda.
They were transferred from U.S. to Iraqi control earlier this year with the promise that many of those not eventually absorbed into the regular Iraqi Security Forces would obtain government jobs or helped to find other employment.
Some, especially Sunni-dominated guards that are also known as Awakening Councils, now complain they have not been paid in months and/or promised work never materialized as the central government struggles with a budget hamstrung by falling oil revenues.
Insurgent groups in the past, as well as now, pay nonmembers to carry out tasks for them.
“The biggest danger now from JRTN is the potential threat it poses, not the current threat. They are steadily getting their doctrine turned into dogma, reaching out to see what’s possible, looking at conditions, trying to create an environment favorable to them and the return of a Ba’athist government,” said Col. Burt Thompson, commander of the 1st Stryker Combat Brigade, of the 25th Infantry Division in Diyala province.
“They know coalition forces aren’t going to be here much longer, they know there are certain challenges the central and local governments face and they can exploit. They’ve got their pulse on the situation. They’ve got a strategy and are waiting us out,” Col. Thompson said.