Neocons Undermined By Zarqawi Letter
letter purportedly written to senior al-Qaeda leaders by a key associate,
Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, appears to undermine a major thesis of hard-core
neo-conservatives who led the U.S. drive to war in Iraq.
letter, which is essentially an appeal for help in launching
a "sectarian war" against Iraq's Shi'a Muslim population,
was circulated by the Pentagon after it was allegedly seized in
a raid on a safe house in Baghdad on Jan. 23 that netted a prominent
courier of the al-Qaeda terrorist group. It was leaked to the New
York Times, which reported on it Feb. 10.
war planners clearly saw the 17-page letter as confirmation that
their strategy for pacifying Iraq, particularly the so-called "Sunni
Triangle," was working.
quick declassification and wide dissemination suggested the message
was one the Pentagon was eager to get out, precisely because it
corresponded to the military's own claims that it was grinding down
the armed opposition in the occupied country.
writer, identified by the Pentagon as Zarqawi, a Palestinian Jordanian
who the administration has long alleged is closely linked to al-Qaeda
the group led by Osama bin Laden admits that the U.S.-led
occupation is making steady progress.
is no doubt that our field of movement is shrinking and the grip
around the throat of the mujahidin has begun to tighten," the letter,
which was found on a compact disc, states. "With the spread of
the army and police, our future is becoming frightening."
author takes credit for 25 "martyrdom operations" directed
against Shi'a targets and US and other coalition forces, suggesting
that foreign Islamist fighters, rather than indigenous groups, might
indeed be responsible for suicide bombings, as the US military has
letter writer also reports that his forces are planning to carry
out more attacks against Iraqi military and security forces. Since
the letter's date, suicide attacks against these targets have indeed
far so good.
the same time, however, the letter, excerpts of which were published
by the Project for
the New American Century (PNAC) and the Weekly Standard,
tends to debunk several of the neo-conservatives' own myths.
it contains no suggestion at all of any preexisting cooperation
or relationship between ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and
either Zarqawi or al-Qaeda, as the neo-conservatives have long contended.
expresses great disappointment at the absence of al-Qaeda in Iraq,
a disappointment that undermines the administration's insistence
that it is that group that is behind a growing number of attacks
the tone suggests, according to Middle
East expert Juan Cole of the University of Michigan, that the
writer, if it is Zarqawi, has not been in close contact with al-Qaeda
for quite some time.
important, the letter's thrust the necessity for carrying out
attacks against Shi'a Muslims in Iraq serves also to undermine
a major neo-conservative thesis that Islamist extremists work
together to accomplish their goals regardless of their own sectarian
"terror masters" thesis named for the book, The
War Against the Terror Masters, by the theory's foremost
Washington proponent, Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise
Institute (AEI) argues that western intelligence agencies
have been naïve to think that Shi'a groups like Hezbollah and Iran
would not work closely with extremist Sunni groups, like al-Qaeda
or Zarqawi's network, because of their sectarian differences.
Ledeen's view they all form one "coherent terror network" in which
Iran plays the dominant role.
others, Richard Perle also based at AEI but better known for
his close ties to Vice President Dick Cheney and the Pentagon's
civilian leadership has publicly propounded this thesis.
terror network is more complex, and far more united, than most our
analysts have been willing to accept," he wrote last September
in an article in National Review Online.
divisions and distinctions of the past no longer make sense; the
terror mafias are working together, and their missions are defined
by the states that protect, arm, fund and assist them: Iran, Syria
and Saudi Arabia."
to Ledeen, Iran is the "linchpin of the terror network,"
and routinely hosts or organizes meetings of the network's major
leaders. Tehran has strongly denied any connection or support to
al-Qaeda or any other radical Sunni group.
his September article, Ledeen wrote that Tehran hosted a terrorist
summit last August that included Hezbollah's chief of operations
Imad Mughniyah; Zarqawi; al-Qaeda's number two Ayman al-Zawarhiri;
bin Laden's son Saad, and Iranian intelligence officials.
promptly relocated to Iraq several days later, presumably to begin
carrying out operations of the kind that he reports in the Jan.
23 letter, Ledeen added.
problem with that theory is that the letter attributed to Zarqawi
fails to provide even the slightest hint of an Iranian connection,
and consistently refers to the Shi'a population in Iraq to which
Iran has long provided strong support as if it, perhaps even
more than Washington, is the ultimate enemy.
Shi'a have declared a subtle war against Islam," the letter
states. "Even if the Americans are also an archenemy, the Shi'a
are a greater danger and their harm more destructive to the nation
than that of the Americans."
are the most cowardly people God has created. Killing their leaders
will weaken them and with the death of the head, the whole group
dies," Zarqawi writes of the Shi'as, whose religion he describes
as a "perverse sect."
references to Shi'as and the lack of any reference at all to Iran
in such a long letter, Cole told IPS, simply add to the view among
most regional specialists both in and outside the U.S. government
that Ledeen's "terror master" theory is as questionable as the
notion of an operational link between Hussein and al-Qaeda.
document undermines all the conspiracy theories about Iranian support
for al-Qaeda or an al-Qaeda-Hezbollah link," says Cole. "The Iranians
would as soon shoot those people (Zarqawi and al-Qaeda) as look
that respect, the letter and its widespread distribution, particularly
by neo-conservative groups and publications, mark a potentially
serious setback to those in and out of the administration who have
adopted Ledeen's view.
coincidentally, it is the same group, both within and outside the
administration, which argued before the war that Hussein and al-Qaeda
were closely linked.
same group has been the major obstacle to any steps by Washington
to improve relations with Tehran since talks were suspended last
May, after an al-Qaeda attack on a western compound in Tehran that
US officials charged had been ordered from somewhere in Iran.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 One World