Al Qaida's Zarqawi: Targeting Shi'ites is 'key' to future Iraq

Thursday, March 4, 2004

BAGHDAD The Al Qaida-aligned operative believed to heading the suicide bombing campaign in Iraq has identified the majority Shi'ite community as his most important target.

Abu Mussib Al Zarqawi, regarded by the United States as the most lethal Islamic insurgent in Iraq, cited his priorities in a 17-page letter recently found by the U.S. military. In the letter apparently directed drafted to Al Qaida, Al Zarqawi listed the Shi'ites as the key to the future of post-Saddam Iraq.

"These [Shi'ites] in our opinion are the key to change," Al Zarqawi said in the letter. "I mean that targeting and hitting them in [their] religious, political, and military depth will provoke them to show the Sunnis their rabies and bare the teeth of the hidden rancor working in their breasts. If we succeed in dragging them into the arena of sectarian war, it will become possible to awaken the inattentive Sunnis as they feel imminent danger and annihilating death at the hands of these Sabeans."

On Wednesday, the United States reported that 117 people were killed in Tuesday's suicide attacks at Shi'ite shrines in Baghdad and Karbala. But the Iraqi Governing Council placed the death toll at 271, Middle East Newsline reported.

Officials said Al Zarqawi's letter represented the Islamic strategy against the U.S. military presence in Iraq. They said the suicide bombing campaign that has killed hundreds of Shi'ites over the last month reflects Al Zarqawi's priorities.

U.S. officials said six suicide bombers aided by Iranian nationals disguised as pilgrims were deployed in the strikes. They said cooperation between U.S. and Iraqi forces prevented Al Zarqawi from launching suicide bombings in other Iraqi cities.

"The level of organization and the desire to cause casualties among innocent worshippers is a clear hallmark of the Zarqawi network and we have intelligence that ties Zarqawi to this attack," U.S. Central Command chief Gen. John Abizaid told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday. "I believe the plan was for even greater carnage, and I think that joint action between Americans and Iraqis prevented that from happening. And we had better cooperation among various groups throughout Iraq in terms of security than is widely reported."

On Wednesday, Sunni insurgents continued their attacks in the Baghdad area. Three rockets slammed into the Coalition Provisional Authority compound as administrator Paul Bremer was preparing to give a news conference. Nobody was reported injured.

In his letter, Al Zarqawi, believed to be cooperating with the Iraqi intelligence services under the former Saddam regime, asserted that the Shi'ites depend heavily on their leaders. He maintained that the assassination of Shi'ite leaders will leave the community powerless.

"With the Shi'ites, we have rounds, attacks, and dark nights that we cannot postpone under any circumstances," the letter said. "Their danger is imminent, and what we and you feared is most certainly a reality. Know that those [Shi'ites] are the most cowardly of God's creatures and that killing their leaders will only increase their weakness and cowardice, since with the death of one of their leaders the sect dies with him."

In his letter, Al Zarqawi envisioned a wounded Shi'ite community directing a backlash against U.S. miltiary troops. He said Iraqi Sunnis would support attacks against the Shi'ites as they fear the Iraqi majority community, which has begun the deployment of militias to protect leading Shi'ite mosques.

Al Zarqawi also envisioned threats from the U.S. military, Kurds and Iraqi security forces. He dismissed the U.S. threat, saying American soldiers constituted an easy prey in Iraq.

A genuine threat cited in the letter was Iraqi security forces. Al Zarqawi termed them "the eyes, hears and hands of the occupier," and pledged to "target them strongly in the coming period before the situation is consolidated."

On Thursday, a police station in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul came under mortar fire. Three people, including a police officer, were injured.

The Kurds were last on the list of Al Zarqawi's targets. Al Zarqawi said his forces were not ready to do battle with Kurdish forces, who control northern Iraq.

"These are a lump [in the throat] and a thorn whose time to be clipped has yet to come," the letter said. "They are last on the list, even though we are making efforts to harm some of their symbolic figures, God willing."

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