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Main Sunni Group Vows No Deal with US
Agence France-Presse  |  January 07, 2008
The Islamic Army, the main Sunni insurgent group in Iraq, is adamant it will not make common cause with the Sunni militias tackling al-Qaeda with U.S. support, and will instead fight the Americans "to the end."

"The Islamic Army has nothing to do with the Awakening councils," Ibrahim al-Shimmari, official spokesman of the Islamic Army in Iraq, told AFP in an email interview.

"No one can be a member of the Islamic Army and the Awakening at the same time. Our war is for self-defence and we are targeting those who attacked us."

The Islamic Army is branded a terrorist group by the U.S. military and has been implicated in a number of high-profile kidnappings and gruesume beheadings since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

French academic Jean-Pierre Filiu, an expert on the insurgency, says there are signs of cross-membership between the Awakening and the Islamic Army.

"On the evidence, the Islamic Army has a foot in these militia," Filiu told AFP. "And in any case, they do not fight them."

According to Shimmari, the so-called Sahwa or Awakening forces -- Sunni paramilitaries organised by the U.S. military to fight al-Qaeda -- have emerged due to the "misconduct" of al-Qaeda.

Made up largely of former insurgents, the Awakening councils began their rise more than a year ago in the west of the country, where they put al-Qaeda to flight.

They have since proliferated in Baghdad and to the north of the capital with American military support.

"The occupation forces seized the opportunity (the conflict between al-Qaeda and Sunni insurgents) and supported the Awakening to help the troop 'surge' strategy of (President George W.) Bush," said Shimmari.

Founded in February 2004, the Islamic Army (Al-Jaish Al-Islamy) has become Iraq's most powerful Sunni insurgent group.

Well-established in the west and mainly Sunni centre-north of the country, the movement represents the nationalist wing of the country's "resistance."

It is responsible for many attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces, and posts videos of its lethal exploits on the Internet almost daily.

Since 2006, its fighters have been battling with al-Qaeda jihadists who have tried to rule over the Sunni insurgency in Iraq.

"Our fighters are often the target of al-Qaeda attacks, forcing us to respond," said Shimmari. "We think that what has affected the resistance is the internal fighting that al-Qaeda has waged against other factions.

"So we have changed our tactics, from focusing on a large number of operations to more selective, intelligence-based operations."

Shimmari bemoaned what he said was the absence of a legitimate political process in Iraq.

"All the political measures since the occupation, such as the elections and the referendum on the constitution (in October 2005), have been instituted in the interests of the occupier," he said.

The Islamic Army has no intention of joining the political process "under the occupation."

The formation in April 2007 of the "Reform and Jihad Front", which groups four Sunni insurgent groups including the Islamic Army, was "to activate the resistance and to unify our political vision."

The resistance, said Shimmari, is a "continuous and the natural response to the violence of the occupation forces."

"But we are against killing any innocent people. Our policy is not to target innocent people but to defend them," said the spokesman, adding that not all operations against civilians are carried out by al-Qaeda.

"Shiite militias supported by Iran and death squads are still playing a large role in the violence," he said, adding however that violence across Iraq has dropped because "the U.S. exerted pressure on Iran."

"We realise that our battle will not be a short one. We will resist the U.S. forces as long as they are in Iraq, until the departure of the last American soldier from our country."

The U.S. military in Iraq describes the Islamic Army as a "terrorist group".

"(It) conducts a brutally violent campaign against foreigners within Iraq, specifically anyone believed to be cooperating with the U.S.-led coalition," the military says on its website.

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