Editor’s note: I am delighted to introduce a new contributor, Truls Tønnessen, who is a FFI research fellow as well as a PhD candidate in History at the University of Oslo. He works on jihadism in Iraq and will be covering Iraq for Jihadica.
The alleged arrest of the emir of al-Qaida led Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), Abu Umar al-Baghdadi, has not incited a torrent of reactions on the jihadi web forums so far. Interestingly, the major Iraqi insurgent groups, including the ISI itself, have not commented upon the alleged arrest.
There may be several reasons for this lack of reactions. One reason may be concern over security. A participant on the Falluja forum recently recommended his fellows not to comment on news concerning arrests of any leaders unless the information stems from reliable jihadi sources. One of his arguments was that their enemies may be putting forward a rumour in order to monitor the reactions on the jihadi websites, so as to determine whether they have arrested al-Baghdadi or not.
However, the most important reason may be related to the confusion over the identity (and existence) of al-Baghdadi and his leadership role in the Islamic State of Iraq. I will not venture into the confusing debate over the identity of al-Baghdadi, but those interested in more details should check out these postings by the Long War Journal and Talisman Gate.
Most of the reactions on the jihadi forums so far relate to the identity question. Several contributors have argued that the contradictory information from different Iraqi and US sources indicates that they don’t know who they have arrested. This is notably the view of Akram Hijazi who concludes that is it not possible to confirm Baghdadi’s arrest at this point. He writes that only a statement from the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) may clarify the issue. However, Hijazi argues that it may take a while before ISI does so, especially if al-Baghdadi is in fact arrested, in order to protect his family and relatives.
The question of al-Baghdadi’s identity is further complicated by his alleged position as Amir al-mu’minin or Commander of the faithful of the al-Qaida led Islamic State in Iraq. Al-Baghdadi has been presented as a member of the Quraysh (the Prophet’s tribe), presumably in an attempt to buttress his credentials. His alleged full name is Abu Umar al-Qurashi al-Husayni al-Hashimi al-Baghdadi. If al-Baghdadi has indeed been arrested, we will soon know his lineage. If he is not a Qurashi, the credibility of the Islamic State of Iraq will suffer.
There is in other words much at stake here, which makes ISI’s silence all the more deafening.