On the heels of Turkey’s entry into the war against ISIS in Syria, its precipitous loss of territory, and the death of Abu Muhammad al-Adnani — the group’s spokesman and frontman for “lone wolf” attacks abroad — al-Qaeda is already planning its resurgence in war-torn Iraq.
According to Reuters reporter Maher Chmaytelli, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called on Iraq’s Sunni population – who (nominally) share the sect of Islam with ISIS and al-Qaeda – to prepare for what he called a “long guerilla war.”
Within the last 18 months, the Islamic State has lost half its territory in 2016 to various groups in Iraq and Syria. Syrian government forces are poised to capture the de facto ISIS capital of Raqqa. Kurdish and U.S.-backed Syrian rebels are at the gates of Aleppo, and now the Turkish army is squeezing the terrorist movement from the North.
In Iraq, security forces and Peshmerga units have recaptured the key cities of Ramadi and Fallujah in June, and are poised to recapture the major Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State. Many strategists and U.S. officials say when Mosul falls, so too does ISIS.
“The Sunnis of Iraq should not just surrender upon the fall of (their) cities into the hand of the Shi’ite Safavid army,” Zawahiri said in a video on social media. “Rather they should reorganize themselves in a long guerrilla war in order to defeat the new Crusader-Safavid occupation of their areas as they defeated them before.”
“Safavid” is a derogatory comment for Iraq’s Shia-led government. You can probably guess what he means by “Crusaders.”
He also implored Syrian “mujahideen” to help those in Iraq because they are “fighting the same battle.”
It’s unclear which group he was addressing. The Syrian rebel al-Nusra Front cut ties with al-Qaeda and rebranded, just as ISIS did when it stopped being known as al-Qaeda in Iraq. And there’s friction between the terror groups, since ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi doesn’t recognize Zawahiri as the successor to Osama bin Laden.
Some believe Iraq’s Sunni minority may be forever changed by its experience under occupation and may not respond to the al-Qaeda leader’s video.
After the liberation of Fallujah by Iraq’s security forces in June 2016, Vocativ’s Gilad Shiloach reported its citizens celebrating “a Fallujah without terror,” and residents tweeting things like, “From today on, Fallujah will never send explosives to Baghdad and the Shiite provinces.”
Some Iraqis think ISIS was somehow a creation of the U.S. Even so, they’re glad when the terrorists leave.
“The legend that was created by America has been smashed in Fallujah today,” wrote an Iraqi Twitter user. “It has appeared as a paper tiger in front of the strikes of our army and militias.”