London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Former senior Iraqi military officers and members of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s now-outlawed Ba’ath Party are among Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Emir Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s top aides, a member of the party told Asharq Al-Awsat.
An Iraqi insurgent, who identified himself as a former Iraqi official and Ba’ath Party member, said that a broad coalition of ISIS fighters, Sunni Arab tribesmen and secular Ba’athist military officers have allied to depose the Shi’ite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki. The insurgent, who went by the nom de guerre of “Abu Louay,” portrayed the situation unfolding in Iraq as a broad national revolt against the Baghdad central government.
“The majority of insurgents in [eastern Iraq] are Iraqi nationals, not Arab or foreign fighters,” the Ba’athist official said, maintaining that the insurgents’ objective is to “liberate Iraq from [Maliki’s] regime and the Iranian and US presence.”
Asked about Ba’athist coordination with ISIS, Abu Louay maintained that Ba’athist militias share the same objective as ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
“[Baghdadi] is an Iraqi Jihadist who demonstrates a zeal for his country and wants to liberate Iraq from the US and Iranian presence,” Abu Louay said.
The former Iraqi official said he was not concerned about ISIS hegemony in a post-Maliki Iraq. “The forthcoming system of governance will be determined by the Iraqi people,” he said.
He also sought to play down fears of ISIS imposing its own medieval-style Islamic caliphate across Iraq as a whole, saying “we will cross that bridge when we come to it.”
After last month’s takeover of Mosul by ISIS, reports emerged suggesting the Islamist group was benefiting from the military experience of former Iraqi officers. The Naqshbandi Army, an armed group made up of former army officers as well as Ba’ath Party loyalists, is participating in the armed insurgency, with reports that Saddam Hussein’s former vice president Izzat Al-Douri—said to be the current leader of the outlawed Ba’ath Party—has been seen alongside Islamist fighters in Mosul.
The Ba’athist factions operating alongside ISIS are “led directly by comrade Izzat Al-Douri,” Abu Louay said.
“There are powerful and coherent organizations affiliated with the Ba’ath Party in the western provinces, southern Iraq and Baghdad which are not limited to a specific ideology or religion,” he added.
Meanwhile, Iraq’s political system remains deadlocked by infighting as Baghdad struggles to address the collapse of its authority across much of northern and western Iraq.
The Iraqi parliament ended its latest session on Sunday without selecting a new prime minister, speaker of parliament and president, three months after inconclusive parliamentary elections left no party with an overall majority.
While many outside Maliki’s State of Law coalition remain opposed to him serving a third term as prime minister, he remains the choice of his own bloc, which won the largest number of seats in recent elections, despite falling short of an outright majority.
Fears stoked by the advance of ISIS and its allies have also meant many Shi’ite politicians have become more reluctant to challenge Maliki, who has sought to position himself as the champion and defender of Iraqi Shi’ites.
The continuing deadlock also came despite Iraq’s Sunni parties announcing on Saturday that they had agreed on their candidate for the speaker’s post, MP Salim Al-Jabouri.
Under an informal agreement that has emerged over the previous decade, the Iraqi presidency is reserved for a Kurd, the premiership for a Shi’ite leader, and the post of speaker of parliament for a Sunni.
The next parliamentary session is scheduled for Tuesday.