In an exclusive interview with DW, a chief commander of the Sunni 1920 Revolution Brigades, says the US pull-out last December does not mean the end of the Sunni insurgency. He also distances his group from al Qaeda.
The 1920 Revolution Brigades is a Sunni militia group, which includes former members of the disbanded Iraqi army, that carried out armed attacks on US occupation forces. It's self-declared aim is to establish a liberated and independent Iraq on an Islamic basis. The group's name refers to the revolution in 1920 against British rule in Iraq.
For security reasons, the chief commander wished to remain anonymous for the interview.
DW: How have the Sunni insurgent groups organized themselves since the pull-out of US troops last December?
A lot of groups were established after the invasion of the country and they gathered together in different groups. We got most of our weapons from the weapons storages of the previous regime and we have close contact with each other because we share a common agenda. There are religious groups still active such as Ansar Al Sunna but there are also secular ones. The 1920 Revolution Brigades, which I lead, belongs to a bigger umbrella coalition called Jihad and Change Front, which comprises 13 Sunni insurgent groups in total. We organize ourselves into independent cells, making it very difficult to get penetrated. I want to make a clear distinction between the JCF and al Qaeda. The latter has a long-term individual agenda and we have no relation whatsoever with them.
Do the Baathists - Saddam Hussein's followers - also belong to that umbrella coalition you mention?
They don't. As far as I know, they only have one operative group which is only able to conduct operations in a few areas.
You are the commander in chief of the 1920 Revolution Brigades, how would you define your group?
We chose the name of the group relating to the 1920 revolution against the British colonial rule in Iraq. We decided to organize ourselves before the invasion as we already had clear evidence it was going to happen. Today we fight for a free and independent Iraqi state based on an Islamic basis. We're actually among the first fighters to fight the Americans and we conducted our first operation on May 20 2003, when we destroyed an American armoured vehicle in Mosul City. Our last operation against the invaders was three days before they pulled out. We destroyed a military vehicle at Baker base, in the north of Baghdad.
Today we can operate in two thirds of the country and we're just awaiting orders from our high commanders. On the other hand, the last action within the Jihad and Change Front was the shelling of Baghdad airport with Katyusha missiles on March 27. The media often portraits us either as jihadists from al Qaeda or members of the Baath party but, as I mentioned before, there's no connection between us whatsoever. We're just ordinary Sunni Iraqis that have been fighting the occupation since day one.
Doesn't the recent withdrawal by the American troops mean that the occupation is already over?
When Germany invaded France in WWII they set up Vichy's puppet government. The French resistance kept fighting the occupation and that's exactly what we are doing today; we're fighting against the puppet government set up by Washington. We fought against them when they occupied the country and today we're still fighting against anybody siding either with them or with the Iranian government, whose influence is ever growing in Iraq, especially through the Shiite political coalition in power.
The real number of US casualties in Iraq since 2003 is still controversial. Do you have your own?
The death toll given by the Americans has nothing to do with the real figures. We know that over 40,000 American soldiers have been killed and around 250,000 wounded.
You denounce that the Sunni people are being marginalised in Iraq. Can you explain this point?
The majority of the Sunnis in Iraq have been kept away from power sharing and decision making as a whole. I can give you some figures: only three percent of the staff at the Interior Ministry is Sunni; nine percent at the Defense Ministry. Among the nine departments dealing with security every high rank is occupied by a Shia. Almost every single commander is Shia, despite many of them being senior officers during Saddam Hussein's rule.
Abdul Aziz Al Obeidi, in Anbar region, is Sunni but he's been working closely for the Shia interests. Eighty pecent of the Federal Police training is conducted in Iran. Other than that, former pilots during the Iraq-Iran war are being sent to Iran. More than 150 were recently handed over to Iranian authorities and we know nothing about them. At a civilian level, we're subjected to indiscriminate arrest campaigns and today were talking about 300,000 Sunni prisoners in Iraq, most of them innocent and often kept in secret prisons. Executions of Sunnis are also a common currency. Many of them have been forced through torture to confess crimes they have not committed.
Shiites are said to comprise 60 percent of the population. Is it realistic to fight against such a well-armed majority?
It was the Americans who spread the fake idea of us being just 20 percent of the total population, something which has also been supported by Iran. There's actually a very simple way to know the real figures: you just have to rely on the food coupons, which state your religious sect and you'll arrive to the conclusion that we are more than half of the population. Don't forget that the majority of the Kurds are Sunni, and also the Turkmen. The government is well aware of this and it has funnelled the arrival of more than a million Iranian Shia into our country.
Some members of the 1920 Revolution Brigades reportedly joined the Americans to fight al Qaeda back in 2007. How do you explain this?
There has been confusion fuelled by certain media that had a big interest in aligning us with the puppet government forces but we have always denied this categorically. Those who joined the Americans in 2007 were former members of our brigade from Diyala who had already set up another group called Hamas Iraq. I'm aware that several former Sunni insurgents joined the Awakening Council - a paramilitary group backed and financed by US troops to fight al Qaeda in the Sunni regions - but the 1920 Revolution Brigades has never approached those who invaded our country.
Accordingly, are those Sons of Iraq also potential targets of your group?
There are two types among them. We´re trying to convince those who joined the program just for a salary to put down their weapons. But those who sided with the Americans with the clear intention to harm the Iraqi resistance will be punished for their acts.
Are you also fighting in Syria?
I'd rather not comment on that issue.
The government is repeatedly saying that reconciliation with groups as yours is underway now the Americans have left. Is this true?
That's absolutely false. How could it be true with the figures of detainees and the overwhelming presence of the Shia in the security forces? There's no possible reconciliation of any kind with the current scenario.
Is there any message you want to convey to the international community?
The world should know know that the whole country is still in a state of dereliction. Those behind the occupation of Iraq have left us in the hands of murderers who are killing their own people. A million and a half Iraqis have died during the war; there are over a million widows and four million orphans. It should be a moral duty for those responsible to help us rebuild the country and to cope with the dire situation we're living in today. Never forget that everything started with an invasion built on a web of lies, that of the existence of mass destruction weapons in Iraq.
Interview: Karlos Zurutuza, Baghdad
Editor: Rob Mudge