Al-Qaeda in Iraq emerged from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Iraqi group "Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad" (JTJ). The group was originally comprised of foreigners and Kurdish Islamists who went through militant training in Zarqawi's camp near Herat in Afghanistan. Following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the group began to function as a militant network fighting against the coalition forces.
In October 2004 JTJ announced its allegiance to Al-Qaeda and changed its name to "Tanzim Qa'idat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn" (QJBR) AKA Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). The goals of the new organization were to expel the US forces from Iraq, establish an Islamic state and spread the conflict to Iraq's neighboring countries in the Middle East. The organization is believed to be operating on a regional structure where each area in Iraq has its own leader ("Amir") who has the authority on day-to-day operations and only reports to the head of the organization.
AQI has executed countless terror acts under Zarqawi's leadership over the years, including suicide attacks, assassinations and kidnappings against US and coalition forces, as well as local targets associated with the new Iraqi regime. AQI's external operations saw a dramatic rise in 2005 when the organization claimed responsibility for a rocket attack against U.S. Navy ships in the port of Aqaba and the Israeli city of Eilat, the suicide bombings of hotels in Amman, Jordan and the firing of several rockets into Israel from Lebanon. An operation targeting Israeli cruise ships in Turkey was also foiled that year.
Since Zarqawi's elimination by US forces in 2006 the organization is led by Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who receives full support from Al-Qaeda's central leadership from the Afghanistan/Pakistan border zone. While AQI's external operations seem to have been significantly reduced, the organization continues to execute high-profile terror attacks in Iraq and still poses the biggest threat to US and other western targets in that region.
Moreover, Al-Qaeda hasn't abandoned its wishes to expand the conflict to other Middle Eastern countries and specifically Israel, so while AQI remains focused on Iraq it seems only likely that its operational capabilities will be used in other arenas as well in the future.
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