The Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order, the Shadow of the Ba’ath Party, and an ambiguous figure in Iraq

Naqshbandi Army fighters

By Arian Mufid:

The Naqshbandi Army, more commonly known in Arabic as Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshbandi (JRTN), is an Iraqi organisation formed under the influence of Baathist and Islamist political ideals with the main goal of resisting the American-led coalition in Iraq.

The group’s insurgency movement formed in late 2006 in areas that were traditionally known for their Baathist allegiance such as Taji, Baiji, and Kirkuk also known as the “Presidential Security Triangle,” during the Saddam era. This region includes the main insurgency theatres in Iraq: The Diyala River Valley, the Tigris River Valley, Lake Hamrin, the Hamrin Mountains, the Shnrwe Mountains, and northern Iraq, along with rebel support areas between Mosul, Shirqat, and Kirkuk. Tikrit is one of the main power bases of the Army of Men of the Naqshbandi Order and coincidentally the home of Saddam Hussein.

The rebel group consists of Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen. They enjoy popular support whilst rejecting external support. The group falls within the framework of the Forty Alliance, an armed faction in the “Supreme Command for Jihad and Liberation” front, which was founded in 2007 and was led by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, who participated in the tribal revolution that overthrew the Sunni Iraqi provinces in 2014. The group has been able to garner support amongst some Kurds in the north of Iraq.


The group considers itself to be a Sufi Muslim organization, its name is inspired by the Naqshbandi Sufi order which was named after Sheikh Muhammad Bahaa al-Din al-Naqshbandi, who died in (791 AH). The name Naqshbandi can be translated to mean ‘engraving on the heart’.

This army is modeled after several of the following jihadist revolutions such as the Senussi in Libya, represented by Sheikh Omar Al-Mukhtar, and the Qadiriyah order’s Emir Abdul Qadir Al-Jazaery Al-Hasani in Algeria against the French and the Qadiriyah order’s followers in Algeria following their exile to the Levant. Other examples include Ahmed Orabi Pasha, a Sufi on the rise who rebelled against the British; and Imam Shamil Al-Naqshbandi in Dagestan and Chechnya, who rose against Tsarist Russia. While the organization is eager to focus on adhering to various ideologies depending on whichever is closer to capturing power, they do want to embrace a more populist ideological approach.

Sufi ceremony (pic: Rudaw)

Curriculum for the Army of the Naqshbandi Order

During the early years of the revolt, from 2003 to 2005, the Naqshbandi army received limited recognition. However, there were indications of the employment of the Naqshbandi identity as a mobilizing concept. In 2005, rebel battalions led by Sheikh Abdul Al-Qadir Al-Kilani, founder of the Qadiriyya Sufi order affiliated with the Naqshbandiyah, appeared in Mosul and Kirkuk and northern Iraq. The approach of the Naqshbandi army is as follows:

– Jihad is a legitimate starting point, as jihad is one of the religious duties and is an obligation and even an imposition of advanced time for Iraqis to confront the occupying forces of Iraq.
– The target of the military operations of the army of men of the Naqshbandi men of the American occupation forces.
– They cooperate with any warring factions (jihadists) provided all weapons are pointed at the enemy’s chest and the factions follow the legal standards and the national agenda.
– Adoption of the concept of secrecy and confidentiality in the planning and execution of military action, with written documentation.
– Continuing the fight for the unity of Iraq’s land and people to maintain its Arab and Islamic identity, and opposing any proposal to weaken Iraqi territorial unity, such as federalism or other terms aimed at separating Mesopotamia.
– Fighting until every inch of Iraqi territory is liberated and returned to its people and the Arab nation.
– Not to engage in the game of the political process, because it is legally invalid under the occupation, and it is not permissible to conduct any dialogue, meeting, appeasement, or negotiation with the occupier except by the legitimate Sultan or his authorized representative.

Establishing the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order

After the American occupation began in one of the Sunni areas of Iraq in the first week of the occupation (the third week of April 2003), the men of the order, along with their seniors and notables such as religious scholars, military personnel, and other various specialties, met to confront the occupation. With the expansion of its power and influence, it has experienced several changes. The “Army of Men of the Naqshbandi Order” group came into being a few weeks after former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s death sentence was carried out at the end of 2006. The movement’s driving force and leader was reportedly Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the second man under Saddam Hussein’s regime and the current Secretary-General of the Arab Socialist Baath Party (Qatar, Iraq). It was founded by Izzat Ibrahim Al-Douri, whose nickname is Sheikh Al-Naqshbandi, and Sheikh Abdullah Mustafa Al-Naqshbandi as a leader.

Izzat Ibrahim Al-Douri, previously Saddam’s right-hand man, led the Naqshbandi army prior to his death in 2020

The Naqshbandi Order’s military component is made up primarily of Baathists and former army officers. The goal of its military operations is to resist (the occupying infidel – individuals, machines, equipment, and equipment – wherever he is found on the land and in the skies of Iraq and at any time), using attacks with explosive devices and large bombs. A report by the Counterterrorism Centre at West Point in the United States of America revealed that the armed group exploited Sunni fears of Shiite dominance and Kurdish secession to include more than 5,000 members in the group. The report also confirmed that the group focused on using Sunni Islam as a recruitment tool and to strengthen unity among the militias. The army publishes a magazine under the name (Naqshbandi Magazine). Furthermore, it has an official website on the Internet bearing its name.

In 2013, the JRTN played an active role in organizing the General Military Council for Iraq’s Revolutionaries (GMCIR). The GMCIR’s leadership is predominantly composed of former Ba’athist army officers of Arab tribal descent and its fighters are largely Arab Sunni tribesmen, many of whom fought in the 2007 Anbar Awakening. The group, whose most prominent member is the 1920s Revolutionary Brigades, coordinates the actions, attacks, and distribution of resources among its component groups, which are often local tribal militias. Although the JRTN is not technically a member group, it continues to help advise and direct the GMCIR. Like the JRTN, the GMCIR is vehemently anti-Iranian and anti-Maliki, and it seeks to overthrow the government in Baghdad. From 2013-2016, the JRTN was widely considered the second most powerful Sunni insurgent group operating in Iraq after the Islamic State (IS). Furthermore, the group is listed as a current Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. Department of State.

Army structure

The Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order is considered a classic hierarchical organization from a military standpoint, despite adopting the “guerrilla warfare” tactic in combat. Its organizational structure consists of a legitimate body that monitors the work of the organization from a legal standpoint, and a general staff that leads the military action, headed by the “Amir of the Army” and consisting of groups. There are combat companies specialized according to types of weapons, a media body that document and publish the organization’s military operations and press releases. In the first years of its activity, the Naqshbandi army began in the form of “small jihadist combat groups (from 7 to 10 mujahideen), and each group had its field emir from the people of the region, and all the groups in the region had an emir, and all the emirs of the regions in each governorate had theirs (the emir of the governorate), and all the emirs.” The governorates are spiritually and militarily linked to the Emir of the General Jihad, who is the sheikh of the Naqshbandi Muhammadiyah order, under whose command the Operations Command Council works, which includes several Mujahideen with experience and specialization, as field commanders of the operations divisions and as military advisors to prepare plans, training, development, and follow-up. The Naqshbandi Army has many tanks, missiles, armored cars, four-wheel drive vehicles, and various weapons that it obtained from the Iraqi army. Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri was the leader of the JTRN until October 2020. Furthermore, The JTRN is led by Sheikh Abdullah Mustafa Al-Naqshbandi, a commander; Salah Al-Mukhtar, Abdullah Ibrahim Muhammad Al-Jubouri, a prominent fighter; Muhammad Ahmed Salem, a commander; Wathiq Alwan Emiri, a media coordinator; Also, distribute the power base of the direction of the leader to some Amirs and groups which is everyone has a significant role in this army: Ayman Abu Qasim, the Amir of arms trade; Abu Ali Al-Hadithi, a combat movement official, Al-Rawi and some small group those followed tariqat Al-Naqshabandi from the north to southern of Iraq. Furthermore, some Sheikhs, Mullas, and Sufis play an important role and wield authority in tribes, particularly in Sunni parts of Iraq, they help this army in carrying out their activities by hiding them in secure locations.

The most important sectors of the army

Numerous Naqshbandi army sectors operate in different governorates, particularly those where the majority population is Sunni. These include the Southern, and eastern Nineveh’s northern Anbar, eastern, and southern Diyala sectors; the western Tamim sector; the eastern Baghdad, eastern Salah al-Din, and southern Baghdad sectors, and northern: Kirkuk, Sulaymaniyah Shahrazoor – Halabja, and south Erbil – Altun Kopry and other army sectors that conduct numerous operations against the men of the Iraqi government and Kurdistan Government sometimes as they do not agree with any federalisation in any part of Iraq. They believe in one Iraqi government under Al-Baath’s leadership. Jaish Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandi appears to have planned its operational activity and strategic mission from the beginning to appeal to the local populace in its operating zones. Jaish Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandi consistently addressed pan-Sunni concerns, including fear of an Iranian-influenced Shiite government in Baghdad, Kurdish activity in disputed areas (which Jaish Rijal al-Naqshbandi refers to as “occupied territories”), and public dissatisfaction with the apparent chaos and corruption since the end of Baath rule, all while making significant references to Islamic values.

From the Anbar sit-in to the Battle of Mosul

Anbar sit-in

The battles now taking place in Iraq, show how important the Naqshbandi order’s soldiers were in defeating the regular army. Abu Diaa, a commander in the army, stated: “The battle of Nineveh and the control of armed organizations over it was delayed for nearly nine months, as it was the zero hour on (October 5, 2013), ten days before Eid al-Adha, but differences over the strategy of the city administration (and its banner) were a major reason for the delay of that battle.” He stated, “The battle was not carried out by ISIS alone, as many Sunni (Islamic and national) factions participated in it, such as (men of the Naqshbandi order, Ansar al-Sunna, the Mustafa Brigades, some of the leaders of the Islamic Army in Iraq, the Fateheen Brigades, and the Mujahideen Army), as well as the cooperation of several tribal the sheikhs, especially from Anbar, Salahudin, Kirkuk, and Ninawa are members of the Return Party, officers from the former army and civilian elements within the state departments.”

Financing the Naqshbandi Army (JTRN)

Most observers appear to think that the JRTN is relatively well-funded when compared to other Iraqi rebel organizations. Localized extortion and intimidation are common tactics used by many Iraqi rebel organizations, including substantial sectors of AQI, although the JRTN appears to be funded largely by top-down distribution. Larger-scale contract and project-level commercial extortion may be a source, and JRTN appears to rely on cash inflows from key tribal leaders in Iraq. The previous regime diaspora provides extra money, notably former Republican Guard officers in Jordan and, to a lesser extent, Syria, and Yemen. JRTN’s active media campaign and use of Islamic symbols have also enabled the movement to secure a sizable if dwindling, part of the foreign funds coming to Iraq from “armchair jihadists” in the Gulf states. Some reports imply that Arab intelligence agencies, particularly the Jordanian General Intelligence Department, are establishing long-term connections with the JRTN to offset Iranian influence in Iraq.

In summary

The army of the men of the Naqshbandi order is one of the most notable elements in the composition of armed groups in Iraq because it was formed to free Iraqi territory from American occupation forces, has a national agenda, and is descended from a Sufi group with followers from Kurdistan, the other parts of Iraq as mentioned above, and throughout the world, their activities are still ongoing. As such, it does not fall under the category of armed groups that either came from Al-Qaeda or have ideological ties to the terrorist Brotherhood. Many U.S. experts believe JRTN is “playing the long game” or “waiting us out.” To achieve its second stated goal of altering the nature of Iraqi governance, the JRTN may change its focus to non-US targets. This may result in a limitation of its activities and the employment of affiliates, as well as an increase in deniable actions against Iraqi citizens. Although its lofty goals are unattainable, sections of the JRTN may drift to the fringes of Iraq’s political spectrum as Sunni champions who have publicly abandoned their connections with the Ba’ath Party and the JRTN. The existence of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), which has raised the threat level for various segments of the Iraqi population, the Iraqi government, and surrounding nations with stakes in Iraq, puts the future of the men of the Naqshbandi order’s army in jeopardy.


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