A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, June 13, 2014

Strange Bedfellows: ‘Izzat Ibrahim, the Naqshbandi Order, and ISIS

‘Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri
I think I may be beginning to understand how the world must have felt when it learned of the Hitler-Stalin Pact in 1939 (not to mention how Poland must have felt.) Two blood-stained totalitarians with utterly incompatible ideologies suddenly became best friends (for less than two years). Think Sauron and Darth Vader if you will.

Over the past several days, multiple press reports have said that ‘Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, the longtime number two man to Saddam Hussein and the only senior Ba‘athist of the ancien regime still alive, free, and active, is not just allied with ISIS but may be serving as an operational commander with their current offensive. Now ‘Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri is a longtime Ba‘athist with a commitment (presumably) to pan-Arab secular nationalists.

Complicating the picture still further is the fact that Ibrahim, who was somewhat more religious than other senior Saddam officials, and is an adherent of the large and influential Naqshbandi order of Sufism. He is frequently identified as leader of both the New Ba‘ath Party and of another Sunni militant group based on his al-Duri Clan and the Naqshbandi Order called the "Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order" (Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandiyya, or JRTN from its Arab acronym).

ISIS flag
Now, to the radical jihadis of ISIS there are few things more evil than secularist pan-Arab Ba‘athists, though Sufis like the Naqshbandis are certainly a nearly equal enemy. The only thing jihadis think worse than secularists and Sufis may be Shi‘ites; Ibrahim and his ilk despise jihadists but seek revenge against the regime that displaced them. Hitler and Stalin were Best Friends Forever until they had digested Poland and the Baltics, but were soon engaged in the most lethal front of World War II. If it reaches the point where the JRTN and ISIS have devoured the Maliki regime (something Iran is unlikely to stand aside for),they would doubtless turn on each other.

Yesterday I noted that the seizure of Kirkuk by Kurdish peshmerga might mean they were there to stay; if Iraq collapses the KRG, which already enjoys near-de facto independence,might simply opt for de jure. Also yesterday I noted Maliki's call for re-mobilization of the armed Shi‘ite militias of the civil war era, and reports that Iranian force were also engaged. The circle seems to be closing.

A hat tip to retired Colonel Pat Lang,  US Defense Intelligence Officer during Desert Storm, for calling my attention to this.

I have never believed that Iraq's dissolution into Sunni, Shi‘ite and Kurdish regions was inevitable. But I don't think I ever said it was impossible. The way it seems to be happening is appalling and alarming, and not just for Iraq.
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
— William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Actually, the Naqshbandis were well-established in the officer corps of Saddam's army, I think it was always tolerated as harmless but when Saddam started to pretend that he had gotten religion, the atmosphere was even better. "The Sons of..." during the earlier insurgency refused to fight along side jihadis. Their rules were supposedly strict...ONLY hit Americans, NOT Iraqis even those with the government and military and certainly NEVER civilians. After the US left, they were supposedly preying on the community until the Baathis started building up new militias in response to Maliki's actions. I'm not sure if there is a similar relationship, at least on the spiritual side, with the Qaderia, who are also big there. Who knows, after a big hurrah, the Sunnis get big concessions from Maliki and then turn on the jihadis as they did with the Awakenings!