ISIL fighters withdraw support for 'caliph'

By Khalid al-Taie


A screenshot taken from a video circulated online shows ISIL fighters in the old part of Mosul. Tensions have been emerging among ISIL fighters in the city as the group comes under fire, local officials say. [File]

New divisions have been emerging within the ranks of the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) as the group comes under fire in Mosul, Iraqi monitors and experts tell Diyaruna.

A number of ISIL elements have withdrawn their support for ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, they said, and have joined the ranks of al-Qaeda and other armed groups that espouse a similar extremist ideology.

This development shows another pattern of divisions that has nothing to do with managing the group's affairs or fighting over the "spoils of war", they said.

Rather, they point to a faltering of loyalty to al-Baghdadi and the pledge ISIL fighters made upon joining the group to support him until the very end.

Current tensions within the group are mostly concentrated in Tal Afar, to the west of Mosul, and in al-Hawija in Kirkuk province, both still under ISIL control, said Kurdistan Democratic Party in Mosul media officer Said Mamuzini.

"In recent days, these two cities, as well as the 17 Tamuz area (west Mosul), have witnessed the defection of quite a few members of ISIL," he told Diyaruna. "There may be as many as hundreds of ISIL members leaving the group."

"Most of the dissidents are foreign fighters who have gone back on their support for al-Baghdadi and have now pledged their allegiance to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups," he said.

Distrust of leadership

These defections are emerging as many ISIL elements now see al-Baghdadi as "a coward that fears death", instead of as a "true leader", Mamuzini said, quoting local sources.

"Al-Baghdadi’s distance from his followers on the battlefield and his abject failure to commandeer the battles, in addition to suspicions about his fate since he stopped making speeches" are all factors driving these defections, he said.

"These new divisions are the latest in a series of conflicts that have plagued the group, which primarily revolved around complaints about al-Baghdadi’s unilateral decision-making and his control of the group’s money," he added.

The shift of allegiance or "revocation of the pledge" gives the conflict a more significant dimension, Mamuzini said, noting that ISIL has shown little respect for its mother organisation, al-Qaeda, and for other extremist groups.

On more than one occasion, al-Baghdadi has publicly attacked al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and accused him of deviating from the path of his predecessor, Osama bin Laden.

In several of his speeches, al-Zawahiri in turn directed scathing criticism towards his rival, describing his self-created title of "caliph" as void.

Growing rift between extremists

The ongoing war of words between the leaders of ISIL and al-Qaeda provides mounting evidence of the rift between them, as each group struggles with external challenges, infighting and fighter recruitment and retention.

Iraqi MP Iskandar Witwit, who serves on the parliamentary security and defence committee, said these divisions are "a severe blow to the foundation of ISIL and its strategy to exist longer and set itself apart from other terror groups like it".

ISIL is on its way to "disintegration" as a result of the losses it has suffered in Mosul, he told Diyaruna.

"This disintegration is inevitable," he said, referring to the growing resentment of al-Baghdadi’s leadership and the feeling among ISIL fighters that they have been deserted by their leaders.

The more losses ISIL faces, the more cornered its elements feel, Witwit said, adding that "now they have no other option but to throw themselves at al-Qaeda and other affiliate groups in order to find a way out of this conundrum".

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