Kerry on Al Qaeda in Iraq: Recruiting Young Men to Join ‘Twisted Version of Jihad’

By Penny Starr | August 16, 2013 | 1:49 PM EDT

Secretary of State John Kerry, center, issued a statement to reporters on Aug. 15, 2013 about a diplomatic meeting with Iraqi leaders, including Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, to Kerry's right, on issues such as security challenges in that country. ( Starr)

( – Appearing with the Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari at the State Department on Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry said that al-Qaeda is recruiting young men in Iraq to “join into their twisted version of jihad.”

Kerry made the remarks ahead of a meeting of the Diplomatic and Political Joint Coordinating Committee, which included Zebari and other Iraqi and U.S. State Department officials, to discuss security and other issues facing Iraq.

“This morning, we will discuss the ongoing efforts of Iran and Hezbollah that are trying to fuel the dangerous conflict in the region from the other side,” Kerry said. “And we agreed that we cannot allow them to play on the sectarian divides that recruit young Iraqis to go fight in a foreign war, the same way that we cannot allow al-Qaida and other extremists to recruit young men from Iraq and elsewhere to join into their twisted version of jihad.”

If the player does not load, please check that you are running the latest version of Adobe Flash Player.

“So we are committed to helping Iraq to withstand these pressures and to bolster the moderate forces throughout the region,” he said.

Kerry also noted the recent attacks by al-Qaeda in Iraq that have killed scores of civilians.

“Al-Qaida, as we have seen, has launched a horrific series of assaults on innocent Iraqis, even taking credit for the deplorable bombings this past weekend that targeted families that were celebrating the Eid holiday,” Kerry said.

The term “jihad” has caused debate in the United States, especially following al-Qaeda’s attack on Sept. 11, 2001 that killed 2,996 people. Some say “jihad” means the inner struggle Muslims face trying to live out their faith. Others, including many dictionaries, define it as the Islamic directive to fight against “non-believers.”

Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, discussed jihad in a July 2010 commentary, saying, "While jihad has many meanings, one of its predominant ones for Islamists is armed conflict or war in their warped concept of the defense of Muslims and the 'Islamic state.'"

"Political Islam is based in the idea that the Islamic state is the best form of governance (supremacism and theocracy) and preferable over one that separates mosque and state,” said Jasser.  “Thus along with Shahzad's concept of faith in God and Islam comes an obligation to fight jihad against 'non-Muslim enemies.'" (Faisal Shahzad is the Pakistani-American convicted of attempting to ignite a car bomb in Times Square in 2010.)

Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, president of the International Union for Muslim Scholars. (AP)

Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a highly popular and controversial Egyptian Islamic theologian, recently headed the International Islamic Coordination Council in Cairo, which issued a statement calling for “jihad to support the Syrian people,” the BBC Monitoring Middle East reported on June 14.

As Al-Jazeera TV announced (and BBC reported), “Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, president of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, announced that a convoy of scholars will be sent to Syria as representatives of the union. A statement of support for the Syrian people in the name of the Islamic nation's scholar is expected to be issued."

Conference attendee Abd-al-Fattah Fayid is reported as stating that “for the first time, the statement called for what it called mobilization and jihad to support the Syrian people.” Shaykh Muhammad al-Arifi told Al-Jazeera, says BBC Monitoring Middle East, that the statement represents “the demands of the Muslim peoples” and that the Cairo conference declared jihad in Syria to defend “the women who are being raped, the souls that are being destroyed, and the mosques that are being demolished.”

The BBC report further states that conference attendee Shaykh Ahmad Umar al-Umari described the statement as “a practical outcry by the entire Muslim nation to support our Muslim brothers in Syria by money, souls, and all the means of power we have,” and that “jihad in Syria is a religious duty.”

On Thursday, Kerry praised the progress he said Iraqi leaders have made, including efforts to stop the flow of weapons between Iraq and Syria and Iraq’s diplomatic efforts with neighboring countries such as upcoming meetings with Turkish officials.

Kerry said in a statement that the United States is “committed” to helping Iraqis build a “strong, democratic and inclusive state” but that the Iraqis need to do their part to make that happen.

“The Foreign Minister agrees with me that there is much that yet can be done internally in Iraq in order to meet some of those internal political challenges, and that progress cannot be made on security issues alone,” Kerry said. “There needs to be progress within Iraq on political issues, on economic issues, as well as on the larger constitutional issues that have been outstanding for too long.”

“The Foreign Minister agrees that these are challenges we need to beat together,” Kerry said.

In his remarks, Zebari also cited the recent violence in his country and noted that al-Qaeda is not a regional problem.

“Al-Qaida is not a local threat; it’s a global threat, as we’ve seen by the recent closures of so many of your diplomatic missions in the region and in North Africa,” Zebari said.