U.S. Sees New Threat In Iraq From Sufi Sect A militant Sufi sect could be replacing al-Qaida as a key threat to U.S. forces and stability in Iraq, U.S. officials say. The Naqshbandi army draws strength from an ancient Sufi order and from a Saddam Hussein-era Baathist fugitive.
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U.S. Sees New Threat In Iraq From Sufi Sect

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U.S. Sees New Threat In Iraq From Sufi Sect

U.S. Sees New Threat In Iraq From Sufi Sect

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Now, let's go to Iraq itself, where the government is concerned about a fresh branch of the Iraqi insurgency. It's a violent group based around Sufi Islam, and it could prove to be a more enduring threat than al-Qaida in Iraq. NPR's Quil Lawrence reports.

QUIL LAWRENCE: Sufism is often called the mystical side of Islam, with rituals that involve dancing or singing into an ecstatic religious frenzy.

LAWRENCE: (Chanting in foreign language)

LAWRENCE: No one at this Sufi hall would agree to talk about the militant group. But U.S. Army General Craig Nixon has been following the Naqshbandi closely.

MONTAGNE: There is clearly different ideology between al-Qaida and Jaysh Naqshbandi. Jaysh Naqshbandi is clearly a nationalist- focused element with a view to go back to the former Baath-type leadership.

LAWRENCE: Nixon is the commander of U.S. forces in Diyala and Kirkuk provinces, which have recently seen a surge in activity by the Naqshbandi army. Iraqis eventually rejected al-Qaida, says Nixon, because the group had no roots in Iraq and showed no concern for innocent civilians. But the Naqshbandis paint themselves as a legitimate resistance, says Nixon.

MONTAGNE: They're well-organized, have ties to the former regime element, primarily focused on coalition forces but are clearly trying to establish a power base between the local Iraqis. And we're concerned that left unattended, they will provide a threat to the central government of Iraq during this transition phase.

LAWRENCE: Ibrahim al-Sumadaie, of the Iraqi Constitutional Party, says that the group is strong in Diyala province and has potential to grow by exploiting conflicts among Iraqi politicians.

MONTAGNE: I think they are regrouping now, and the Baath Party itself thinks it's time to work ahead after the American withdrawal and because of the conflicts between the Iraqi political parties.

LAWRENCE: Especially with U.S. troops beginning a gradual drawdown from Iraq, Sumadaie fears that many of the former insurgents who flipped to the American side will now feel abandoned. In the face of pressure from the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad, they may rally around the ex-Baathist leader and the Naqshbandi army.

MONTAGNE: Because they are well-organized and well- financed from outside Iraq, maybe we'll have a chance to operate against the Iraqi army, against the Iraqi political process. And I think those people can attract the remnants of al-Qaida fighters who believe in fight but not believe in al-Qaida itself.

LAWRENCE: Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Diyala.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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