Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), an official auxiliary of the parent al-Qaeda organization which was established to resist the US occupation of Iraq, has announced that it is formally merging with Jabhat al-Nusra.
Jabhat al-Nusra had been publicly endorsed by al-Qaeda officials repeatedly as the preferred Islamist faction in Syria’s ongoing rebellion. AQI says that the merged group will replace the name Islamic State of Iraq with Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
“It is time to declare to the Levant and to the world that the al-Nusra Front is simply a branch of the Islamic State of Iraq,” confirmed AQI leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Baghdadi went on to say other alliances were possible so long as the group agreed to similar harsh definitions of Sharia Law.
French officials were quick to reject the idea that Jabhat al-Nusra would now be officially recognized as an international terrorist organization by extension of AQI’s existing definition, saying it is vital not to make any moves that could have negative consequences on the rebellion. The US had already blacklisted al-Nusra earlier in the year, saying they were so close with AQI as to be virtually indistinguishable in the first place.
The inclusion of the entire Levant in AQI’s new umbrella name could also set the stage for some infighting with other would-be auxiliary factions across the region. Multiple small Salafist groups have established themselves in the Gaza Strip in particular, and had been seeking al-Qaeda’s endorsement for the Palestinian region while fighting Hamas. Those groups have been too small to get any real endorsements like AQI had, but could seek to become more aggressive in an attempt to avoid being labeled Levantine also-rans.