Factbox: A look at Al Qaeda in Iraq

Tue Apr 9, 2013 8:54am EDT

(Reuters) - Al Qaeda's wing, Islamic State of Iraq, has formally declared its links with the militant al-Nusra Front, at the forefront of Syria's rebellion, saying the two would now operate under one name, according to a U.S.-based monitoring group.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, or Islamic State of Iraq as the group is also known, is one of several Sunni Islamist insurgent groups still active since the withdrawal of the last American troops more than a year ago.

The group, which has claimed a string of attacks since the start of the year, said it and Syria's al-Nusra Front would now jointly go under the name Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Here is a look at the Iraqi group:

* The group was founded in October 2004 when Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden. An Egyptian, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, is said to have become the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq after Zarqawi was killed in 2006.

* In October 2006, the al Qaeda-led Mujahideen Shura Council said it had set up Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), an umbrella group of Sunni militant affiliates and tribal leaders led by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. In April 2007 it named a 10-man "cabinet", including Masri as its war minister.

* High-profile attacks in 2009 and 2010 kept the group in the headlines after U.S. troops pulled out of Iraqi cities. Its top two leaders, Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, were killed in April 2010, but the attacks continued. In May 2010, Al-Nasir Lidin Allah Abu-Suleyman was named replacement leader.

* Once weakened by years of fighting U.S. and Iraqi forces, security experts say Iraq's al Qaeda wing has regained strength from the two-year-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in neighboring Syria, which is drawing funds and Sunni Islamist fighters to its cause.

* Al Qaeda in Iraq is hostile to Shi'ites in general, especially the Shi'ite-led government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Assad's minority Alawite sect. The group sees Shi'ite Islam as a heretical oppressor of Sunnis in the region.

Sources: Reuters/Janes's World Insurgency and Terrorism/here

(Reporting by David Cutler and Patrick Markey; Editing by Alistair Lyon)