Too true to be good?
Coalition forces say a newly discovered memorandum outlines plans to destabilise Iraq and points to Al-Qa'eda involvement in anti-Coalition attacks, reports Ramsey Al-Rikabi from Baghdad
Amidst growing criticism that American and British pre-war intelligence was insufficient and misrepresented, Coalition forces in Iraq may have found a feather in their intelligence cap. Officials in Baghdad said they have discovered a document that confirms US suspicions that Al-Qa'eda has been operating inside the country. According to Coalition officials, the 17-page memorandum lays out a strategy of destabilising the country prior to handing over sovereignty to the Iraqis.
According to Coalition spokesman Dan Senor, the document outlines "a strategy of sectarian warfare and bloodshed" prior to the scheduled 30 June handover deadline. According to senior Coalition officials in Baghdad, the strategy involves targeting Shi'ites and their holy sites in the hope of setting off Sunni retaliation and drowning the country in civil war. The author describes the Kurds of northern Iraq as the second most important target, officials said. The document also refers to kidnapping American forces, presumably to instigate some form of prisoner exchange. One senior Coalition official described the memorandum as "an apocalyptic document".
Asked about the authenticity of the document, one senior Coalition official colourfully said, "We couldn't make this shit up. Nobody's that smart and nobody's that stupid."
The author of the document has been identified as Abu-Masab Al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian long suspected of planning and carrying out various attacks in Jordan and Iraq, and who has been associated with the Ansar Al-Islam organisation in northern Iraq which has ties to Al-Qa'eda. Al-Zarqawi has been sentenced to death in absentia by a Jordanian court for various terrorist attacks in the kingdom, and Jordanian security officials strongly believe he was the mastermind behind the murder of USAID director Lawrence Foley in Amman last October. Ever since the fall of Baghdad, US officials believe Al-Zarqawi has been involved in several gruesome attacks inside the Iraqi capital, including the August bombing of the UN headquarters, the bombing of an Italian military base in Nasseriya and the Imam Ali Mosque bombing in Najaf that killed Ayatollah Mohamed Bakr Al-Hakim.
In the document, Al-Zarqawi claims to have successfully planned at least 25 attacks -- including suicide bombings -- against Coalition and Iraqi forces, as well as Iraqi civilians. According to officials in Baghdad, and as reported in The New York Times, the document says that after the 30 June handover terrorists will lose their "pretext" for attacks.
According to officials in Baghdad, the document surfaced after the 22 January capture in Iraq of Hassan Ghul, a suspected Al- Qa'eda member who at one time reported to Khalid Sheikh Mohamed. Sheikh Mohamed was arrested last year in Pakistan and is suspected to be linked to the 11 September attacks. Ghul was believed to be working in Iraq as a courier for Al-Qa'eda, and he told US authorities that Al-Zarqawi authored the document. Coalition officials say this admission was corroborated by a "second method" involving "primary sources that directly attribute [the memorandum] to Al-Zarqawi", but would not elaborate further.
US authorities pointed to Ghul's arrest as confirmation that Al-Qa'eda was operating within Iraq. "The capture of Ghul is pretty strong proof that Al-Qa'eda is trying to gain a foothold here to continue their murderous campaigns," said Lt Gen Ricardo Sanchez, commander of Coalition ground forces in Iraq.
However, the document details Al- Zarqawi's current operations in Iraq and seems more like a request for help from another party. One senior Coalition official in Baghdad referred to it as essentially a "business proposition" to Al-Qa'eda in the hope of receiving assistance and support. The document was drafted in Iraq and was being carried by Ghul to senior Al-Qa'eda members, most likely in Pakistan or Afghanistan, officials in Baghdad said. Oddly, according to initial reports, Ghul was captured by "friendly foreign forces" near the Iran-Iraq border on his way into Iraq to meet Al- Zarqawi. And, according to The New York Times, the document was found during a raid on a safe house in Baghdad on 23 January.
US officials have long suspected that organisations and fighters from outside Iraq have been active in the country. Lt Gen Sanchez has referred to Al-Qa'eda's "fingerprints" on several attacks in Iraq, saying they follow similar "tactics, techniques and procedures" as the infamous terror network. Presumably that means suicide bombings, something most Iraqi resistance fighters shun. But given that the document, written by a Jordanian to a non-Iraqi, reads more like a terrorist joint-venture pitch than a direct operational report, it seems it can only confirm one part of America's suspicions -- that someone, other than Iraqis, is carrying out the bombings -- rather than prove Al- Qa'eda has set up shop in the country.
Unfortunately, the US seems to have taken a sort of xenophobic assessment of the current situation: the biggest threat to the stability of the country and the safety of Iraqis is foreign fighters running amok through Iraq. Granted, there are non-Iraqis resisting the current occupation and taking advantage of the presence of US forces in the region to violently vent anti-US sentiment. But Iraq hardly needs Al-Qa'eda, or any other foreign fighters, to stir up trouble in the country. In addition to the large-scale suicide bombings, Coalition and Iraqi security forces are seemingly perpetually under fire here. In the last week, US forces have come under 22 daily attacks on average from resistance forces, compared to only three daily engagements on average for Iraqi security forces, according to Coalition sources. This discrepancy is significant because there are more Iraqis in security roles throughout the country than Coalition troops.
Also, US authorities might use the Al- Zarqawi memorandum as their pretext for forcing a handover of power without holding elections, which many Iraqi Shi'ites, led by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, are calling for. The memorandum says that attacks on Shi'ites should be stepped up approximately four months before the transfer of sovereignty. "The author [of the memorandum] is focussed on the 30 June deadline" and so "that is why it is so critical to forge ahead with our plan" to hand over sovereignty, said Senor, the Coalition spokesman. If the UN team working this week in Iraq finds direct elections to be an impossibility before July, the US will more than likely stick to the 30 June handover date without holding elections rather than delay the transfer date. That decision will likely cause some destabilising, at least from the Shi'ite majority.
If anything, the Al-Zarqawi memorandum gives the Coalition a better sense of the aims and tactics of at least one resistance group operating in Iraq -- but not all. "The document confirms the intelligence and analysis we already have," said one Coalition official, referring to the US hunch that foreign fighters were responsible for some of the worst attacks here. It seems that while the Coalition's pre-war intelligence is rapidly being superseded by events, this finding is simply a means to justify one small part of an increasingly problematic occupation.