Sep 20, 2004 | 17:51 GMT

3 mins read

Who is Jamaat al-Tawhid and Jihad?

Militant group Jamaat al-Tawhid and Jihad (Monotheism and Jihad), which is currently holding two Americans and a British citizen hostage in Iraq, has been a fighting force in Iraq for more than a year. However, an uptick in the group's activities — or at least the actions to which it lays claim — over the past several months indicates a sense of urgency to act before a new government is formed that could endanger its ability to shelter in Iraq.

Jamaat al-Tawhid and Jihad has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks, including the bombing of a shrine in An Najaf in August 2003 that killed Ayatollah Baqir al-Hakim, the bombing of United Nations headquarters in Baghdad the same month, and the assassination of Izz al-Deen Saleem, who was president of the Iraqi Governing Council, in May 2004.

Jamaat al-Tawhid and Jihad is led by Ahmad Fadhil al-Khalayleh, also known as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — the best-known jihadist leader in Iraq. The group's ranks include Iraqi, Jordanian and Syrian militants, who have made their presence prominent in the military no-go zone of Haifa Street in Baghdad. There, its black flags fly freely, and clashes with military forces have been frequent in the past.

Al-Zarqawi has made it clear that he is fighting to establish the rule of Islamic law in Iraq. However, apparently recognizing that this goal is not attainable in the near term, Jamaat al-Tawhid and Jihad is working to ensure a state of continued anarchy in the post-Saddam era, which buys it time and cover for pursuing its larger goals. So long as anarchy and instability reign, any government in Baghdad will find it difficult to establish the security infrastructure necessary to expel or terminate the militant group.

Jamaat al-Tawhid and Jihad has attacked three main targets in support of its goals: Iraq's Shiite population, which greatly outnumbers the Sunni community and the militant group; the U.S. military, which is currently seeking the groups members out for destruction and third, the fledgling law enforcement apparatus in Iraq which could eventually dismantle it.

The group has repeatedly said they will assassinate key political leaders, namely Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. If successful, such assassinations would help to keep the interim Iraqi government — or its successor — off-balance and enable the group to maintain a base of operations in Iraq, while working toward its wider goals. Meanwhile, other operations, such as suicide bombings and the execution of hostages, all serve to continue the anarchy in Iraq.

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