BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – An al Qaeda-linked militant group named a new “war minister” in Iraq and threatened majority Shi’ites with “dark days coloured in blood”, after two of its commanders were killed by U.S. and Iraqi forces.
Attacks that have left dozens dead in the past weeks were seen as al Qaeda in Iraq’s response to the killing in May of its leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri, also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the purported head of its affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).
The al Qaeda statement, posted on Islamist Internet forums on Friday and translated by SITE Intelligence Group, identified the new ISI war minister as al-Nasser Lideen Allah Abu Suleiman, who replaced Masri.
Abu Suleiman declared the launch of a new campaign against Iraq’s military and police as well as the country’s majority Shi’ites in revenge for the death of al Qaeda in Iraq’s leaders and what he called abuse of Sunni Muslims in Iraqi prisons.
“How can the men of the state close their eyes while they see… (Shi’ites) transgressing against the people of Islam, men and women, in the prisons of the apostates in Baghdad, Mosul, and Diyala,” Abu Suleiman said in the statement.
“The matter has become unbearable, patience has run out… We named this invasion, ‘The Attack of the Monotheists in Revenge for Honors in the Prisons of Apostates’.” He said ISI would deliver “a long gloomy night and dark days coloured in blood” to Shi’ites.
Overall violence in Iraq has dropped sharply since the height of sectarian carnage in 2006-07, but bombings are still common and a March 7 election that produced no outright winner has fuelled tensions.
Gunmen and bombers killed about 125 people on Monday in a series of attacks across the country, in what appeared to be at least in part a message to Iraqis that insurgents are still powerful despite suffering a series of setbacks.
ISI is believed by intelligence analysts to have been created by al Qaeda in Iraq as a local umbrella group for insurgent organisations.
Iraq’s minority Sunnis feel they have been marginalised by the political ascent of the Shi’ite majority since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.
At least 100,000 Iraqis have been killed in the seven years since the invasion.