Terrorist Rivalry Exposed By Iraq Conflict

The conflict in Iraq has become a proxy struggle between rival terrorist groups Al-Qaeda and splinter group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Terrorist Rivalry Exposed By Iraq Conflict
Flickr / Andres Pérez

There's a very interesting side story that isn't really making headlines when it comes to the conflict in Iraq, which you could say has become the latest proxy struggle in the ongoing fight between rival terrorist groups in the Middle East. 

Call it a terrorist rivalry of sorts. Abu Bakr ​al-Baghdadi is the shadowy leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS — a group U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has compared to Al-Qaeda. (Via The Guardian)

"They're more extreme even than Al-Qaeda, and they are threatening the United States and Western interests." (Via NBC)

But condemnation of ISIS has also come from a surprising source — Ayman al-Zawahiri, who replaced Osama bin Laden in 2011 as the leader of Al-Qaeda. (Via The Telegraph)

After all, until recently ISIS was better known as "Al-Qaeda in Iraq" and was responsible for promoting Al-Qaeda's jihad in the region.

But relations between the global organization and Iraqi insurgents had always been tense. In 2005 The Guardian quoted insurgent leaders saying, "We don't need al-Qaida."

And in 2013 Al Jazeera reported that ISIS, then called the Islamic State of Iraq, had openly rejected orders from Zawahiri.

In February of 2014, Al-Qaeda formally cut ties with the group. A statement Al-Qaeda made to Al-Bawaba said ISIS "is not a branch of the Al-Qaeda organization" and Al-Qaeda was "not responsible for its actions​."

That statement was largely interpreted to mean Al-Qaeda thought ISIS was too extreme. (Via Press TV)

"So violent, so extreme, he was essentially excommunicated by Ayman al-Zawahiri."

ISIS is infamous for its ruthless tactics, willingness to target Muslim civilians and provocative use of social media. (Via Amnesty International, Al-MonitorFox News

"It's on Facebook, it's on Twitter, it's on YouTube." 

In contrast, letters captured from bin Laden's compound and reported on by Slate's William Saletan revealed Al-Qaeda's policy of avoiding Muslim civilian casualties and "words that will affect the people's support."

The recent successes of ISIS in Iraq have cast doubt on whether Al-Qaeda can maintain its status as the chief agent of global jihad. (Via Jerusalem PostAl Arabiya)

Zawahiri has been criticized for his rudderless leadership of Al-Qaeda. William McCants of Foreign Affairs says, "If Zawahiri wants to assign blame for the lack of order, he should look no further than himself." 

​Al-Qaeda will be looking to see if ISIS can consolidate its territory in the face of a numerically superior opponent with U.S. backing.  

The leaders of both organizations are targets of the U.S. The Justice Department currently has a $10 million bounty for Baghdadi. Zawahiri? $25 million.