A Sunni insurgent coalition posted Web videos on Thursday naming the head of al-Qaida in Iraq as “minister of war” and showing the execution of 20 men it said were members of the Iraqi military and security forces.
The announcement unveiling an “Islamic Cabinet” for Iraq appeared to have multiple aims. One was to present the Islamic State of Iraq coalition as a “legitimate” alternative to the U.S.-backed, Shiite-led administration of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — and to demonstrate that it was growing in power despite the U.S. military push against insurgents.
It also likely sought to establish the coalition’s dominance among insurgents after an embarrassing public dispute with other Iraqi Sunni militants.
The Islamic State of Iraq is a coalition of eight insurgent groups, the most powerful of them al-Qaida in Iraq. It was first announced in October, claiming to hold territory in the Sunni-dominated areas of western and central Iraq.
In the Cabinet announcement video, a man identified as a spokesman for the group appeared, with his face obscured, speaking from behind a desk with a flat-screen computer.
“It is the duty at our present stage to form this Cabinet, the first Islamic Cabinet, which has faith in God,” said the spokesman, wearing robes and a red headdress.
He denounced Iraq’s rulers for the past decades — including Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party and the present government — saying they “spread corruption and ruined the country and its people, until God helped the mujahedeen (holy warriors) bring torture upon them.”
“Now the Islamic State emerges as a state for Islam and the mujahedeen,” he said.
Ten pseudonyms listed
He then listed a 10-member “Cabinet,” including Abu Hamza al-Muhajer as “war minister.” Al-Muhajer is the name announced as the successor of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq who was killed in the summer of 2006. The U.S. military and Iraqi government have identified him by another pseudonym, Abu Ayyub al-Masri.
The names listed by the spokesman were all pseudonyms and their real names were not known — though the pseudonyms included the names of some major Sunni Arab tribes.
The Islamic state is led by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, who holds the title of “emir (prince) of the faithful.”
Sheik Abu Abdul-Rahman al-Falahi was named as the emir’s “first minister,” the spokesman said. Other positions included ministers of information, “prisoners and martyrs,” agriculture and health.
The video came on the heels of a rare public dispute between the coalition and other insurgent groups.
In past week, another Sunni insurgent group, the Islamic Army in Iraq, has issued statements accusing al-Qaida of killing its members and trying to force others to join its ranks. Al-Baghdadi tried to patch up the dispute by issuing a Web audiotape this week calling for unity and promising to punish any of his group’s members who kill other insurgents.
Al-Qaida in Iraq is blamed for some of the deadliest suicide bombings against Shiite civilians, as well as numerous attacks on U.S. troops and Iraqi soldiers and police. The U.S. military has blamed it for a devastating bombing Wednesday in Baghdad’s Sadriyah market.
Execution video earlier
The message came hours after another video from the group showing a masked gunmen walking down a row of men, blindfolded and bound, shooting each in the back of the head.
The video purported to show 20 Iraqi police and soldiers that the Islamic State in Iraq claimed six days earlier to have kidnapped northwest of Baghdad. It had threatened to kill them after 48 hours unless the government freed female prisoners and handed over police accused of rapes in the northern town of Tal Afar.
The Iraqi government has denied that 20 police and soldiers were kidnapped. Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said Thursday that the men in the video could not be identified and said the insurgents may have dressed up civilians to kill them.
“We checked with our commands then and all the troops were accounted for,” Khalaf told The Associated Press. “They are immoral criminals. They have used all criminal methods and we don’t rule out that they executed civilians who they dressed in military uniforms.”