The exact number of the Iraqi Naqshbandi Order is not known; it is estimated at somewhere between two, three or four million adherents, spread out between Karbala south of Baghdad up to Mosul in the north. A few hundred thousand live in Baghdad.
Formed in 1380, the order is named for its founder Baha al-din Naqshband, and accounted one of the largest and most influential Sufi Muslim orders in Iraq.
The Naqshbandi claims to be unique as the only Sufi order tracing its spiritual lineage to the Prophet Muhammad through the first caliph, Abu Bakr. Most other orders hark back to Ali ibn Abu Talib, the prophet’s cousin, son-in-law and fourth caliph.
In late January, US and Iraqi intelligence detected the first stirrings of unrest among members of the order, who had stayed out of the insurgency until then.
In early February, the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order made its debut with a statement and video announcing its members were joining the Iraq insurgency because of the growing sectarianism and injustice committed by the “despicable Bush… and the surrogate sectarian government.”
It was not until a number of Naqshbandi fighters were captured, that the principles guiding them and the shape of their military structure came to light.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iraq sources reveal: Their most fundamental principle is that jihad is not an option but a commandment incumbent on every believer. Their leaders, whose identities are a well-kept secret outside the order, instructed them not to join any terrorist organizations, political bodies or Iraqi government agencies in Baghdad.
The Naqshbandians were forbidden to fight other Muslims, whether Shiite or Sunni. They were allowed to cooperate with terrorist and insurgent organizations, on condition their joint operations targeted Americans and no one else.
They oppose Iraq’s fragmentation into Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish regions, are dedicated to the country’s integrity.
While sharing many of the insurgents’ political motivations, their ideological opposition to the presence of foreign troops and Shiite rule is different from that of mainstream Sunnis, except insofar as they cause trouble for the order.
The Naqshbandi fighting strength is impressive.
Fighting members taken prisoner describe a military force the size of a full American division, whose combatants carry automatic side-arms and are armed with heavy mortars, heavy machine guns, RPGs, anti-air missiles and plenty of explosives.
They are organized in small fighting bands of seven to 10 men, each under the command of an “emir.” The combat groups of a given district serve under a “general emir of the jihad.”
According to the prisoners’ testimony, a general emir can muster at any point or for a single operation a force comparable to an American brigade, i.e. 1,500-2,000 fighters.
There are a number of Naqshbandian communities across the Middle East, the largest in Turkey.