Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center
THE PROJECT FOR THE RESEARCH OF ISLAMIST MOVEMENTS (PRISM)
Volume 3 (2005), Number 1 (March 2005)
Director and Editor: Reuven Paz.
The Project for the Research of Islamist Movements is part of the Global
Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center. Site: www.e-prism.org.
All material copyright Reuven Paz unless otherwise stated.
GLORIA is part of the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL
Abstract: This is a series of papers that translate and analyze articles,
reports, religious decrees, and other documents, written in Arabic by
Islamist scholars, clerics, operatives, or intellectuals.
Arab volunteers killed in Iraq: an Analysis
By Reuven Paz
(PRISM Series of Global Jihad, No. 1/3 - March 2005)
Since the end of the major phase of the war in Iraq and the collapse of the
former Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein in May 2003, Iraq-like Afghanistan
in the 1980s, and Bosnia and Chechnya in the 1990s-has turned into a magnet
for Jihadi volunteers. Unlike the case of Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya,
the vast majority of the volunteers that streamed into Iraq are Arabs, while
only few fighters stem from non-Arab Muslim countries or emigrant
communities in the West.
One possible reason for the predominantly Arab composition of Jihadists in
Iraq may be the fact that Iraq is an Arab country; occupied by the
"Crusaders," thus stimulating heightened degree of Arab solidarity among
Arab supporters of Jihadi-Salafi individuals and groups. An additional
reason may be the ease with which Saudis, Kuwaitis, Jordanians, or Syrians
can cross the borders to Iraq. Furthermore, the Sunni Jihadi groups, and
many other Islamists, even from within the Saudi and other Arab Islamic
establishments, view the insurgency in Iraq as a legitimate Jihad not only
against the Americans, but against the Shi`is as well.
In the past two months, supporters of Jihadi-Salafi groups have posted lists
of Arabs who were killed in Iraq on Islamist web sites. Saudi supporters of
Global Jihad gathered the bulk of the details. With the information provided
thus far, a list of 154 names of Arabs killed in Iraq in the past six
months-mainly since the battle over Falluja-can be generated. Although the
list is not necessarily a complete enumeration of all the Arab volunteers
killed in Iraq, a short analysis of this list is nevertheless useful.
It is important to note that this list contains only those Arabs who joined
the Jihadi-Salafi insurgency, primarily of Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's group,
and supporters of Qaedat al-Jihad. Even though the list is incomplete, it
provides us with some interesting insights about the phenomenon of foreign
volunteers for Jihad, which shows no signs of subsiding. One should also
keep in mind that since the list contains information on those volunteers
who have been killed, it does not necessarily reflect the exact numbers and
composition of all Arab volunteers in Iraq. Nevertheless, it may be a
relatively accurate reflection of the division of those who actually
participated in the battles.
Sorted by their countries of origin, the 154 Arabs killed in Iraq in the
past six months have the following distribution:
Saudi Arabia: 94 (61%)
Syria: 16 (10.4%)
Iraq: 13 (8.4%)
Kuwait: 11 (7.1%)
Lebanon: 3 (one was living in Denmark)
Morocco: 2 (one was living in Spain)
Sudan: 1 (living in Saudi Arabia)
Particularly striking in the above list is the absence of Egyptians among
foreign Arab volunteers for the insurgency in Iraq, even though Egypt is the
largest Arab country, with millions of sympathizers of Islamist groups. It
is also known that many Egyptians, including professionals among them,
arrived in Iraq looking for work, and some of them were taken hostage by
insurgent groups. Hundreds of Egyptians also took part in previous Islamist
battles in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya. The absence of Egyptians from
the list may be explained by a significant decline in the influence of
Jihadi groups in Egypt; the harsh oppression of Islamists by the Egyptian
authorities; the mass trials of Egyptians who returned from other regions
where Islamists staged insurgencies; and the influence of the Muslim
Brotherhood in Egypt. While the Brotherhood does support the Jihad in Iraq,
it advocates a strategy of propaganda only, demanding of its adherents to
strictly refrain from physical participation in the Iraqi Jihad.
Another element to note is the relatively small number of Iraqis involved in
the fighting on behalf of the Zarqawi group. Furthermore, it seems that out
of several thousands of Iraqis killed in the battles of Fallujah, only a
negligible small number of Iraqis were members of Zarqawi's group. The vast
majority appears to have been members of other groups, including Saddam
Hussein loyalists, or civilians.
The small number of Iraqis associated with Zarqawi may suggest that Zarqawi's
group, Tawhid wal-Jihad-now also known as Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia-is in fact
composed mostly of non-Iraqi Arab volunteers, such as Zarqawi himself, as
well as his late chief cleric-Abu Anas al-Shami-both of whom are Jordanians.
It could also explain the alliance between Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden, due
to the multi-national nature of the two groups. If true, it also shows that
the majority of insurgencies carried out in Iraq by Iraqis, is directed by
the remains of the Baath Party, i.e., by Saddam loyalists rather than by the
The list also shows that the majority of the Arab Jihadi volunteers in Iraq
originate from countries that are bordering Iraq, namely-Saudi Arabia,
Kuwait, Jordan, and Syria-due to the ease with which Jihadists from these
countries can infiltrate Iraq. Among those killed the number of Syrians, 16,
is of note. This high number of Islamists from Syria killed in Iraq must
have been noticed by the Syrian authorities, and should raise their concern.
The Syrian government, as part of its established policy of supporting the
remains of the Iraqi Baath Party, seemed to have turned a blind eye to the
number of Syrian Jihadi volunteers that cross the border into Iraq.
Sorted by their residency within Saudi Arabia, the distribution of the 94
Saudi volunteers is as follows:
Najd (mostly in Riyadh): 61
Hijaz (mostly in Mecca): 7
Eastern province: 7
Southern province: 5
Out of 154 Arabs killed in Iraq, 33 carried out suicide attacks, as
Saudi Arabia: 23 (10 from Najd-9 of them from Riyadh; 5 from the Eastern
province; 5 from Buraydah; 2 from the Hijaz; 1 from the Southern province).
The list clearly, albeit not surprisingly, points at the significant
involvement of Saudis in the Islamist insurgency in Iraq. The data may be
slightly incorrect in the percentage of Saudis killed in Iraq, since mainly
Saudi supporters of Global Jihad gathered it. The number of non-Saudi Arab
volunteers killed may be higher. Despite these minor potential inaccuracies,
the number of Saudis killed in the past six months in Iraq (94) is too large
to be ignored. It strongly suggests the Saudis' direct and active
involvement both in the insurgency battles as well as in terrorist
operations. Saudis also constitute the highest percentage, 70% (23 of 33),
of Arab suicide bombers in Iraq. Here, too, the Syrians occupy the second
The division of Saudis according to regions shows that residents of Najd,
primarily of the capital Riyadh, have assumed the most prominent role among
participants in terrorist activities in Iraq. As the data shows, Najdis
consist 43.5% of Saudi suicide bombers, and 64.9% of all Saudi volunteers to
Iraq. It seems that the Tawhidi/Wahhabi doctrines of Najd-the heart of
Wahhabism-remain highly effective, even though it is the Saudi clerics and
scholars who studied in Islamic universities in the Hijaz who have developed
parts of the dissident doctrines of Global Jihad.
An even more important conclusion derived from this data relates to the
social origin of most of the Saudi volunteers, since Najd is the region of
the Saudi kingdom's more influential tribes.
Many of these Saudis come from respected and well known tribes or families
whose members were involved in Islamist terrorist activity within and
outside of the Saudi kingdom in recent years, including the 9/11 attacks.
These tribes include, inter alia, the Al-Utaybi, Al-Shamari, Al-Mutayri,
Al-Dawsari, Al-Qahtani, or al-Rashed tribes.
Many of the Saudis present on the list were 25-30 years old and married.
Some were highly educated, and the list contained several professionals,
including two young businessmen. In ten known cases two Saudi brothers
volunteered to fight in Iraq and were killed. In three cases, two brothers
carried out a suicide attack, either a joint or separate attacks. One of the
Saudis, Muhammad bin Aedh al-Ghadif al-Qahtani, was a Captain in the Saudi
National Guard before he went to Iraq. The National Guard seems to be the
Saudi military force most exposed to Jihadi-Salafi influence, as was earlier
proven in other terrorist cases that took place inside the kingdom. Members
of the Guard also sold or smuggled weapons to Saudi Islamists that were
subsequently used in operations in Saudi Arabia.
From the partial data available of Arab volunteers killed in Iraq, we can
further learn that some of them, not only Saudis, came from wealthy or upper
middle class families. Some were students who left their studies in order to
join the battle in Iraq. Only few were involved in past Islamist
insurgencies in Afghanistan, Bosnia, or Chechnya. Three Saudis, two
Lebanese, and one Kuwaiti were sons of Afghan alumni. Yet, the vast majority
of Arabs killed in Iraq have never taken part in any terrorist activity
prior to their arrival in Iraq. One Syrian was 13 years old and with his
father in Fallujah, where the two were killed.
Many of the Arabs killed in Iraq, especially the Saudis, went to Iraq in
groups, consisting mainly of friends, and some were influenced by brothers
or other family members to join the Jihad. This is another sign of the
impact of the Jihadi atmosphere in Saudi Arabia, both with regard to
dissident views vis-à-vis the Saudi regime, and the duty of Jihad in Iraq.
The support for violent Jihad in Iraq against the Americans was encouraged
by the Saudi Islamic establishment. In October 2004, 26 of the senior Saudi
Ulama published a declaration supporting the Jihad in Iraq, eliciting no
reaction by the Saudi government.
While the list analyzed above is incomplete, the data it contains provides
us with a glimpse into a very important aspect of the Islamist involvement
in the insurgency in Iraq: Arab Jihadi volunteers constitute a significant
portion of the Sunni insurgents.
This ensures the persistence of the Jihadi-Salafi model of Global Jihad,
which is further strengthened by the situation in Iraq, unlike the Afghani
one, enjoys widespread coverage in the international media. The battle
experience that Jihadists gain in Iraq, a campaign that, unlike in
Afghanistan, Bosnia, or Chechnya, is plagued more by acts of terrorism than
by guerrilla warfare, supplies the Islamist adherents of the Global Jihad
culture with a wealth of first hand field experience, in spite of the
absence of organized training camps.
It seems that thus far, Saudis are not only the group most affected by the
insurgency in Iraq, but also help feed it. One significant explanation for
that may be the Wahhabi hostility towards the Shi`is, who are perceived as
infidels, and the notion of the need to support the Sunni minority in Iraq.
Even though the Iraqi Sunni community is composed from various kinds of
trends, including many Baathists, Saudi Wahhabi circles view it as a
community under attack. Hence, Islamists should assist it through a personal
duty (Fardh `Ayn) of Jihad, in order to turn it into the "victorious
community" (Al-Taefah al-Mansourah) in Islamist terms.
The intensive involvement of Saudi volunteers for Jihad in Iraq is also the
result of the Saudi government's doublespeak, whereby it is willing to fight
terrorism, but only if directly affected by it on its own soil. Saudi Arabia
is either deliberately ignoring, or incapable and too weak, to engage in
open and brave opposition to Jihadi terrorism outside of the Kingdom. In the
future, the Iraqi experience of these mainly Saudi volunteers may create a
massive group of "Iraqi alumni" that will threaten the fragile internal
situation of the desert kingdom. In the past year, it appeared as if the
Saudis were successful in limiting the Jihadi-Salafi terrorism on Saudi
soil. Their blind eyes in the face of the Saudi Islamic establishment's
support of the Jihad in Iraq may pose a greater threat in the future, as
soon as the hundreds of volunteers return home. The present Saudi regime
does not seem as firm as its Egyptian colleague in fighting its domestic
Islamist opposition. While Egypt managed to put all returnees from
Afghanistan, Bosnia, Albania, and Chechnya behind bars for a long time, at
present the Saudi regime does not seem to have the willingness and
wherewithal to do the same with its own returnees.
In recent months, the insurgency in Iraq is affecting another neighboring
country-namely Kuwait. The Kuwaiti authorities are facing a rising wave of
Salafist insurgency, including terrorist operations. In January-February
2005 they also seized large amounts of weapons. We should also add to that
the activity of Islamist groups in Jordan, and the support for the Jordanian
Zarqawi in his homeland. The spiritual father of the Tawhid wal-Jihad is the
Jordanian of Palestinian origin, Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdesi, who was
recently acquitted by Jordanian court after several years of detention.
The Iraqi insurgency and the involvement of Arab volunteers, should,
therefore, be more alarming among Iraq's neighbors. The Arab sympathy for
the Sunni Jihadists in Iraq these days, reminds us of Arab solidarity with
Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war in 1980-1988. Many Arab circles perceived the
war then as a reflection of the past hostility between Arabs and Persians in
the early Islamic history. Islamist fundamentalists in our times may view
the Sunni-Shi`i conflict in Iraq in similar terms.