The following day, April 10, al-Baghdadi’s statement was refuted by the al-Nusra Front, which did stress, however, that it supported ISI’s mission in Iraq. It is unclear why al-Baghdadi made this statement at this time. It may be that al-Baghdadi sees ISI in a similar fight to that of al-Nusra, and had not thought his statement through prior to speaking it. His statement may also have been a boast about his group’s ties to al-Nusra, due to al-Nusra’s successes against the Syrian military.
News that al-Qaeda in Iraq and the al-Nusra Front for the Levant are amalgamating, and want an Islamic Caliphate in a possible post-Assad Syria, bears the question of how the country will be governed after Assad. If the rebels win, there will be a very deep divide on how the country will be run. The militant Salafist Islamist factions will fight to set up a Caliphate, and the Free Syrian Army and other organizations will probably want a more secular style of government. The country will be awash with weapons, as with Libya, security would not be guaranteed, and the Syrians themselves will probably want stability in their lives.
The country will be ripe for another type of revolution that will go on for some time, or the country will be divided similar to Lebanon. At this time, it is only clear that there will most likely be fighting for control of a post-Assad Syria. Salafist militant groups will no doubt see this as their best chance of creating a Caliphate. The supporters of the FSA will need a lot more from their backers to stop the Salafist militants from achieving a Caliphate. Towards this goal, al-Qaeda’s global leader Ayman al-Zawahiri recently urged the Salafist rebels to continue fighting in order to establish a Caliphate in Syria.
In addition, the border between Iraq and Syria is not well-secured, and the cross-border flow of weapons between Iraq and Syria is a tremendous security concern. It is quite possible that Salafist militant organizations operating in Iraq will have plenty of weapons, ammunition, and explosives to carry out attacks. This will only help these groups towards their goal of demonstrating to Iraqis that the Iraqi government cannot, or will not, protect them. Groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq can then claim to be the “defenders” of the Sunni population of the country.
Paul Ashley is the Senior Counter-Terrorist Analyst at 361 Security