Ba’athist come­back feared in Diyala

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY RICHARD TOMKINS

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.

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