A note on Jaysh al-Muhammad
In a post on alphabet city, Robert brings up the idea that Jaysh al-Muhammad, which was involved in the planning of the Palestine Hotel attack on Monday, was founded by Saddam Hussein right before the war. He’s sorta right, but there are more details. As usual, it’s more complicated than just saying it’s a creation of Saddam.
Just after the war, Saddam instructed his subordinates to “rebuild your networks.” These networks became the core of the insurgency that included Jaysh al-Muhammad. The majority of JAM’s members are former military men who, by definition, were members of the Ba’ath Party, but that does not mean they subscribe fully to the Ba’athist ideology or that they follow Saddam. They are _generally_ more nationalistic than Ba’athist, but their ideology is a complicated mishmash of Iraqi nationalism and pan-Arabism. (The latter is a plank of Ba’athist ideology, though.) The JAM also attracts money and support from former regime elements and exiles in Syria and Jordan because of a) its relative effectiveness and b) its surface Ba’athist trappings.
How do the _jihadis_ such as Zarqawi fit into this? While Zarqawi was present in Iraq prior to the war, he was confined to the Kurdish area in the north and was working with Ansar al-Islam, a group mainly made up of Kurdish salafists and some veterans of Afghanistan. It was only after the Ba’athist and nationalist insurgency began to make some gains that they were able to get into the fight. They established a great deal of momentum and have been riding it ever since, struggling for control of “the insurgency” against the Ba’athists and nationalists.
The weapons in this internecine struggle are money and appeals to religion. While the Ba’athists can command great sums of cash through old accounts in Syria, Jordan and elsewhere, the _jihadis_ can call on equal funds from the oil-rich sympathizers in the Gulf states. (I’m talking individuals, not necessarily government support — but I wouldn’t rule it out, either.)
The _jihadis_ gain influence within the insurgency by initially providing money and materiel to smaller nationalist groups, but then start lobbying for their new-found beneficiaries to starting being better Muslims. More help, more preaching follows, and soon enough, a group of nationalists have grown their beards, stopped drinking beer and smoking cigarettes and start praying five times a day. What they may have originally seen as a struggle of national resistance has become jihad, with the original leaders of the nationalist group either eliminated or pushed aside in favor of more religious-minded men.
This fight over nationalism/secularism and jihad/fundamentalism is happening all over Iraq, not just in the insurgency. It’s happening in the society at large and within the Iraqi government. It’s also happening all over the Muslim world, and in many ways is the real war on “terror.”