On September 7 last year, President George W. Bush proclaimed on global television that Iraq was the new frontline in the “war on terror.” Before the US invasion and occupation, it had never been.
For the past few months, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, born Ahmad Fadeel Nazzal al-Khalayleh in the Jordanian city of Zarqa, has been sold by the Pentagon and the White House as the missing link between the extinct Saddam Hussein regime and al-Qaeda.
Al-Qaeda may constitute only the military vanguard of terrorism worldwide still funded by private and business capital from Saudi Arabia. But Washington won’t dare interfere with the internal affairs of its solid oil ally, the House of Saud. It’s much easier to promote Zarqawi – with a US$10 million bounty on his head – as the new Osama bin Laden of international terror.
But what is the Iraqi resistance saying about all this?
Immediately after the bloody attacks on Shi’ites in Baghdad and Karbala last week, the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades – a Sunni Iraqi resistance group – sent a letter, considered by the recipients to be authentic, to the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper, in which it denied any al-Qaeda involvement.
For its part, the leadership of the Allahu Akbar Mujahideen – which includes plenty of Sunni resistance groups – circulated a leaflet in Fallujah dismissing the purported al-Zarqawi letter found on a computer disk by the US stating plans for provoking a sectarian war between Sunnis and Shi’ites. The letter on the disk is described as “the fabricated al-Zarqawi memo,” used by the Americans “to back up their theory of a civil war” in Iraq. In fact, the Mujahideen claim that Zarqawi was killed in the Sulaimaniyah Mountains in northeastern Kurdistan “during the American bombing” of Ansar al-Islam positions in late April 2003. Zarqawi, they claim, could not evade the bombing because of his artificial leg.
Ansar al-Islam, the radical Kurdish Islamist group, is allegedly linked to al-Qaeda. However, its leader, Mullah Krekar, in jail in Norway since December, denies any link to al-Qaeda, but considers bin Laden “a good Muslim.” Ansar al-Islam’s aims, according to Mullah Krekar, were always “to bring down the Iraqi regime” (including the secular government in Iraqi Kurdistan) and “replace it with an Islamic regime.”
The US story, Zarqawi-wise, is completely different. Brigadier-General Mark Kimmit, deputy operations chief in Iraq, said the United States had information showing that Zarqawi was in fact alive. A friend of the family, the US says, went on record as saying that Zarqawi had been in contact with his mother until four months ago.
European intelligence sources have confirmed to Asia Times Online that the Germans have reason to believe that Zarqawi was appointed by al-Qaeda to coordinate attacks throughout Europe. But the Zarqawi scarecrow is a one-size-fits-all. For the Moroccans, the group blamed for the bombings that killed 45 people in Casablanca last May was under contract to Zarqawi. The Turks believe that Zarqawi was involved in the bombings that killed 63 at two synagogues, the British Consulate and the HSBC in Istanbul in November.
The Mujahideen are adamant: “The truth is, al-Qaeda is not present in Iraq.” They claim that hundreds of Arabs entered the country a year ago to fight the Americans, but now only a few dozen remain. “We had to help hundreds of them leave for their own protection because they were only a burden on the resistance. It was difficult to hide them.”
These Arab fighters were under close surveillance by employees of the former Iraqi intelligence service, Mukhabarat, who had been recruited by the Americans since the fall of Baghdad last April.
Interestingly enough, one of the Mujahideen groups, Mohammed’s Army, may be an umbrella group of former Iraqi intelligence and security agents, including former Mukhabarat.
Most Iraqi resistance leaders have identified the US tactic of configuring Zarqawi as the new bin Laden. Asia Times Online has learned from sources close to the Mujahideen that the Zarqawi letter is in fact a copy of a previous letter that has been circulating on the Internet in Arabic for quite a while – before it was finally “discovered” by the Americans.
This original letter was written by one Sheikh Yusuf al-Awyairi. It had nothing to do with provoking a sectarian war, but fighting the US occupying power and its allies by Shi’ites and Sunnis alike.
Cynics suggest that as with bin Laden, whose capture in the Pakistan tribal areas, they suggest, involves only a matter of timing, the apprehension of Zarqawi will occur only when it can aggregate maximum political capital to the Bush administration.
Wahhabis, the CIA and Iran
Legions of Shi’ites are blaming the attacks in Baghdad and Karbala on the “Wahhabis” – a code name for Sunni terrorists identified with al-Qaeda and its subcontracted outfits.
It’s important to draw a parallel between the attacks in Iraq and the one in Quetta, Pakistan – widely attributed to hardcore Sunnis with close links with al-Qaeda. The victims in Quetta were mostly Shi’ite Hazaras, Afghan refugees living in Sunni-dominated Pakistan. Quetta is infested with Taliban. This might suggest a Taliban/al-Qaeda cooperation in the attacks.
Al-Qaeda may be betting simultaneously on civil war in Iraq and civil war in the tribal areas in Pakistan – thus the simultaneous attacks. The thesis collapses when we learn that the attacks in Quetta may have been perpetrated by Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, the notorious anti-Shi’ite Islamist outfit with strong connections with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). But the crucial suggestion is in fact the linkage of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, the ISI and al-Qaeda. Lashkar is manipulated by the ISI, and the US Central Intelligence Agency is aware of practically everything the ISI is up to.
The attacks in Iraq certainly may have been a provocation aimed at Shi’ite-dominated Iran. According to hospital sources in Karbala, more than 75 percent of the dead and 90 percent of the wounded were Iranian pilgrims. There were more than 100,000 Iranian pilgrims in Karbala last week. It’s important to note that Iranian Vice President Mohammed Ali Abtahi said al-Qaeda considers the Shi’ites – the ideological enemy – even more dangerous than the political enemy, the United States.
To complicate the equation even more, most Shi’ites blame the Americans, albeit indirectly. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani explicitly accused the Americans of not securing borders, not maintaining internal security and not adequately training and equipping the new Iraqi police.
Much more serious is the perception of the Shi’ite street, according to which the Americans are either allowing terrorists to organize their attacks – to foment chaos so the occupation can be infinitely extended – or are directly involved in the bombings.
Whether just rumor or not, such belief is a graphic illustration of how the level of trust between the Shi’ite masses and both the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) has reached rock bottom. The CPA and the IGC insist this series of bombings will lead to a civil war. But the Shi’ite masses are not blaming Sunnis or Kurds: they are blaming the Americans. And as they don’t trust the occupiers, they cannot possibly trust the new US-sponsored draft Iraqi constitution.
The resistance – Sunni and Shi’ite alike – is extremely suspicious of shady Iraqi groups that came back from exile after the fall of Baghdad. These groups might be involved in the bombings, organized as a series of preemptive attacks. The attacks evoke the specter of civil war – feared by the Iraqi population as a whole. So they provoke the effect desired by the occupiers: to prevent civil war, Iraqis will adopt any US plan forced down their throats.
The resistance may be united – for now. But it is fighting a formidable enemy in the occupying forces.