January 27, 2014

By Alex Simon

AMMAN: The Islamic State of Iraq and a-Sham (ISIS) on Monday rejected a proposal to end three weeks of intense violence among armed factions in northern Syria, declaring that it would continue “fighting those who fight it, taking revenge from and curtailing the power of those who have wronged it without any hesitation.” (Translation available here.)

ISIS called on those parties that had signed on to the truce to articulate a “clear” position regarding their attitudes toward democracy and secularism, concepts that ISIS insist violate Islamic sharia law.

The group also demanded that signatories express a “clear theological position toward the current ruling regimes in the region” that cooperate with Western governments and their intelligence agencies, singling out Turkey and Saudi Arabia, among others. Without these conditions met, ISIS said, it will continue to battle enemies of Islam.

The proposal, which ISIS rejected in an online statement Monday afternoon, is called Mubadarat al-Umma, or the Initiative of the People of Islam, and began circulating on social media last Thursday. It called for an “immediate ceasefire in all parts of Syria” and requests statements of agreement from “all groups present in the Syrian arena.”

The document specifically sought agreement from ISIS and the four most powerful armed rebel coalitions in northern Syria—the Islamic Front, Jaysh al-Mujahideen, the FSA-aligned Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF), and Jabhat a-Nusra—who throughout January have mounted a joint campaign to evict ISIS from its strongholds in northern Syria.

The fighting was the culmination of mounting tensions between ISIS and the other militias, punctuated by a gruesome incident in which ISIS detained, tortured and executed Omar Suleiman, a commander in Islamic Front member group Ahrar a-Sham.

Screen_Shot_2014-01-27_at_10.09.31_PM.pngAn ISIS partisan uses the hashtag #Supporter_of_ISIS’_declaration_on_Mubadarat_al-Umma.
Photo courtesy of Twitter user @alwahsh1983

The proposal demanded that all potential signatories respond by Tuesday, January 28. The four non-ISIS groups had all published statements endorsing the document by Sunday night.

“Despite the common knowledge that one party has undermined all previous initiatives… we announce our support for and acceptance of the so-called Mubadarat al-Umma,declared the Islamic Front and Jaysh al-Mujahideen in an electronic statement published on Twitter Sunday night, hinting that ISIS has been responsible for scuttling previous efforts at reconciliation.

The joint statement followed a message Sunday afternoon from the Initiative’s Twitter account entreating ISIS, the Islamic Front and Jaysh al-Mujahideen to “seek to end the spilling of Muslim blood by announcing their agreement with Mubadarat al-Umma.”

The Initiative was put forward one day after al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released a voice recording urging “all jihadi groups, and all free [people] in the Levant aiming to topple al-Assad’s rule…to stop the fighting between the brothers of Jihad and Islam.”

Malath Abu Ra’fat—a 30-year-old ISIS member and spokesperson who did not disclose his location and nationality—echoed Zawahiri’s message in a statement to Syria Direct last Friday, insisting that ISIS was “extending its hand to everyone who repents for their crimes and returns to targeting the real enemy, the regime.”

Yet any move toward reconciliation was complicated Sunday night when rebel fighters in Aleppo announced that they had killed Colonel Hajji Bakr, ISIS’ second-in-command and a former officer in the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Monday that ISIS had already vowed revenge for Hajji Bakr’s killing, and social media has been abuzz with ISIS supporters accusing rebel groups of hypocrisy for announcing Hajji Bakr’s death even as they claim to support rapprochement.

“If they published statements declaring their agreement with #Mubadarat_al-Umma, why did they announce Hajji Bakr's killing yesterday and post [his corpse's] photo?!!" tweeted one widely followed ISIS supporter on Monday.

Despite these reactions to the widely circulated photograph of Hajji Bakr’s bloodied corpse, ISIS’ statement does not mention Hajji Bakr’s killing.

Whether or not Hajji Bakr's death played a role in ISIS' decision to reject the Initiative, the group's backers appear to have embraced it.

Within minutes of ISIS’ statement Monday, a new hashtag had already emerged on Twitter: #Supporter_of_ISIS’_declaration_on_Mubadarat_al-Umma.

Mohammad al-Haj Ali contributed reporting.

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