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  Al Qaeda in Iraq (2)


  Description: At the center of the symbol is a yellow circle enclosed by a blue border. At the base of the circle are three outstretched arms evoking a mountain-like image and raising a black flag. The flag reads, in Arabic, “There is no God but the God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.”

Explanation: The mountain represents the mountainous region of northern Iraq where the group was established. The inscription on the black flag is the shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith, which signifies the group’s foundation in Islam. The multiple hands raising the flag represent the unification of Iraq’s terrorist Sunni organizations under one name. The clenched fists holding the flag also represent militancy.

| Name Variations | Overview | Focus of Operations | Major Attacks | Leaders | Ideology | Goals | Methods | Sponsors | U.S.- Related Activities |

Name Variations
Qaedat al-Jihad fi Bilad ar-Rafidayn, Al Qaeda in the Land of Two Rivers, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, Al Qaeda Group of Jihad in Iraq, Jam’at al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad, the Monotheism and Jihad Group.

Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) is a Sunni terrorist group in Iraq that seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate and defeat the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq.  The State Department lists the group’s membership between 2,000 and 4,000, indicating that AQI is the largest and most active Sunni terrorist group in Iraq.  It is composed mostly of foreign fighters and Sunni Iraqis.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi founded the group after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. At that time, Zarqawi joined forces with Ansar al-Islam (Arabic for “Partisans of Islam”), an Al Qaeda affiliate group of Islamic Kurds, under the name Jam’at al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad, Arabic for “the Monotheism and Jihad Group.” In 2004, Zarqawi changed the group’s official name to Al Qaeda Jihad Organization in the Land of Two Rivers, which is commonly known as Al Qaeda in Iraq.

AQI is responsible for some of the deadliest terrorist attacks in the country, often targeting Iraqi police recruits, government officials and Shi’i Muslims in an attempt to destabilize relations among the various Muslim groups in Iraq.  AQI also has a history of beheading its opponents, including American civilians in Iraq.

In an attempt to unify the various Sunni insurgent groups in Iraq, AQI formed the Mujahideen Shura Council in January 2006. AQI operated under this umbrella organization until Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike in June 2006.  After Zarqawi’s death, AQI’s membership shifted from being a predominantly foreign force to an Iraqi one, and Abu Hamza al-Muhajer was named the new leader of both the Mujahideen Shura Council and AQI.  A U.S. military spokesperson identified al-Muhajer (Arabic for “the immigrant”) as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, a former confidant of Al Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri.  As the head of AQI, al-Muhajer continued Zarqawi’s strategy of provoking violence in order to undermine perceptions that Iraq’s central government could govern effectively.

In October 2006, al-Muhajer established the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella organization of Sunni extremist groups in Iraq that replaced the Mujahideen Shura Council and perpetuated AQI’s goal to establish an Islamic caliphate in the region.  The U.S. military deemed the group’s purported leader, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, as a fictitious persona conceived to give the foreign-led group an Iraq-born legitimacy.  Al-Baghdadi, who has only appeared publicly in audio recordings, has been reported captured and killed on multiple occasions, most recently in April 2009 when Iraqi security services announced the alleged leader’s arrest.

The threat of AQI has weakened in recent years due to a backlash from local Sunnis and the surge of American troops in Iraq in 2007.  Local Sunni populations increasingly separated themselves from AQI and its affiliate groups because they used intimidation tactics to enforce allegiance and impose strict Islamic codes.  AQI has subsequently focused its efforts against the U.S. in Afghanistan, and, according to congressional reports, some AQI leaders have joined Al Qaeda in the remote tribal areas near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan. 

Focus of Operations
Iraq; the group has also perpetrated attacks in Jordan and Israel and has expressed intent to expand the Islamic caliphate throughout the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and Europe.  AQI has also expressed ambitions to make Iraq a base for attacks outside of the country.

Major Attacks
  • June 20, 2009: Truck bombing of a Shi’i mosque near Kirkuk blamed on Al Qaeda in Iraq: at least 75 killed, 163 wounded.
  • August 14, 2007: Multiple truck bombings of two Yazidi villages near Sinjar in northern Iraq: at least 500 killed, approximately 1,500 wounded.
  • March 6, 2007: Two car bombings at a Shi’i shrine in Hilla: 106 killed.
  • November 23, 2006: Series of car bombings and mortar attacks in the Shi’i Sadr City: at least 202 killed, approximately 250 injured.
  • February 22, 2006: Bombing of the Shi’i Al Askari Mosque in Samarra, which sparked a “civil war” between Sunnis and Shi’as in Iraq.
  • July 16, 2005: Suicide car bomb struck a fuel tanker truck in Musayyib: at least 98 killed, 82 wounded.
  • February 28, 2005: Suicide car bombing in Hilla: at least 125 killed, 170 wounded.
  • October 24, 2004: Coordinated vehicle bombings outside Baghdad’s Sheraton and Palestine hotels, which were frequented by members of the Western press: at least 20 killed.
  • May 17, 2004: Suicide car bombing killed Governing Council President Izzedin Salim.
  • October 27, 2003: Multiple car bombings at police stations and Red Cross Headquarters in Baghdad: 35 killed, 220 wounded.
  • August 19, 2003: Truck bombing at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad: 23 killed, including Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
  • August 7, 2003: Bombing of the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad: at least 11 killed, more than 50 injured.
  • Leader: Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, a.k.a. Abu Ayyub al-Masri
  • Leader: Abu Omar al-Baghdadi (U.S. military personnel purport that al-Baghdadi is fictitious)
  • Former leader: Abu Qaswarah, a.k.a. Mohamed Moumou (killed by U.S. troops in October 2008)
  • Former Leader: Mahir Ahmad Mahmud Judu al Zubaydi, a.k.a. Abu Assad or Abu Rami (killed October 2008 by coalition forces)
  • Founder and former leader: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (killed June 2006 in U.S. airstrike)
AQI advocates an interpretation of Islamic doctrine that rejects innovations and modernity, including Western influence on Muslim society.

AQI seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate in Iraq that can expand throughout the region. The group’s immediate goal is to defeat the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq and topple the current Shi’a-led government by provoking civil war between Iraq’s Sunni and Shi’i populations. AQI also seeks to create a safe haven in which Al Qaeda can recruit and train terrorists.

AQI uses high-profile tactics against civilian, military and religious targets, including suicide, car and roadside bombings, shootings, assassinations, abductions and paramilitary operations. The group increasingly employs Iraqi nationals and females as suicide bombers and, as its tactics have grown more sophisticated, has begun using chlorine-laden bombs, employing snipers and targeting U.S. helicopters

Al Qaeda’s senior leadership sends funding, direction and foreign fighters to AQI, according to U.S. authorities. Facilitators based in Syria provide financial, material and technical support to the group and have orchestrated the flow of terrorists, weapons and money to AQI, according to the State Department. Supporters based in Jordan and Saudi Arabia also provide funding for arms and training, and Shi’i Tehran reportedly gives financial support to AQI’s Sunni insurgency, according to documents confiscated from Iranian Revolutionary Guards operatives in northern Iraq. AQI gets the bulk of its financial and material support from internal sources, such as smuggling and crime.

U.S.-Related Activities
  • AQI targets Americans in Iraq, both U.S. soldiers and civilians alike.
  • AQI militants abducted, tortured and killed two American soldiers, Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Tucker, who were manning a checkpoint in Yusufiyah in June 2006.
  • AQI claimed responsibility for the multiple bombings of three American-owned hotels – the Radisson SAS, the Grand Hyatt and the Days Inn – in Amman, Jordan in November 2005 in which at least 58 people were killed.
  • The group was designated by the U.S. as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) in March 2004 under the name Ansar al-Islam. In October 2004, the FTO designation was applied to the new name, Al Qaeda Jihad Organization in the Land of Two Rivers, which is commonly known as Al Qaeda in Iraq.
  • In September 2004, AQI kidnapped and beheaded Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley, Americans working in Iraq for a reconstruction company.
  • AQI beheaded Nick Berg, a freelance telecommunications contractor from Pennsylvania, in May 2004.


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