This is a collection of documents and articles which provide background on the propaganda operation around Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was presented to the world as the leader of the al-Qaeda in Iraq. The two attachments from the Washington Post are slides from a US military presentation, obtained by the Post's military correspondent, Tom Ricks, which are referred to in a passage beginning on page 213 of the book. This section also includes the White House's publication of the text of the notorious letter attributed to Zarqawi in February 2004 and the story in the New York Times through which it was leaked into global news media. Finally, there are five important articles which help to throw light on this exercise in media manipulation. Collectively they relate to the passages on al-Zarqawi on pages 205 to 217 and 249 to 256 in the propaganda chapter of the book.
From the White House website, February 11, 2004
A memo believed to be written by suspected al-Qaida operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi reveals al-Qaida's participation in an effort to spark civil war in Iraq.
This memo describes an intention to tear Iraq apart by provoking violence toward Shi'a people and their leaders.
The Iraqi people have demonstrated repeatedly that they aren't willing to participate in these activities. They are looking forward to a free, united and sovereign Iraq.
The memo states that the biggest bulwark against terrorist efforts is the continued standing up of Iraqi security forces, continued American resolve, and the hand over of sovereignty to an effective Iraqi government.
Coalition and Iraqi security forces are capable of using intelligence to kill or capture those who would try to create anything but a safe and secure environment in Iraq.
This makes clear that the terrorists understand that failure to defeat Coalition forces will be a major setback for their overall terror war.
This development is an important reminder of why it is so critical that we forge ahead with our plan in Iraq to bolster Iraqi security forces.
Moving forward on the hand over of sovereignty to the Iraqi people will do more to isolate the terrorists than anything else. Coalition resolve remains unwavering.
Below is the text of the letter, as translated and distributed by the Coalition Provisional Authority.
1. The foreign Mujahidin: Their numbers continue to be small, compared to the large nature of the expected battle. We know that there are enough good groups and jihad is continuing, despite the negative rumors. What is preventing us from making a general call to arms is the fact that the country of Iraq has no mountains in which to seek refuge, or forest in which to hide. Our presence is apparent and our movement is out in the open. Eyes are everywhere. The enemy is before us and the sea is behind us. Many Iraqis would honor you as a guest and give you refuge, for you are a Muslim brother; however, they will not allow you to make their homes a base for operations or a safe house. People who will allow you to do such things are very rare, rarer than red sulfur. Therefore, it has been extremely difficult to lodge and keep safe a number of brothers, and also train new recruits. Praised be to Allah, however, with relentless effort and searching we have acquired some places and their numbers are increasing, to become base points for the brothers who will spark war and bring the people of this country into a real battle with god's will.
2. The present and future: there is no doubt that American losses were significant because they are spread thin amongst the people and because it is easy to get weapons. This is a fact that makes them easy targets, attractive for the believers. America, however, has no intention of leaving, no matter how many wounded nor how bloody it becomes. It is looking to a near future, when it will remain safe in its bases, while handing over control of Iraq to a bastard government with an army and police force that will bring back the time of (saddam) Husayn and his cohorts. (headquarters comment: it is not clear to whom "it" is referring, but it appears to mean the united states.) There is no doubt that our field of movement is shrinking and the grip around the throat of the Mujahidin has begun to tighten. With the spread of the army and police, our future is becoming frightening.
3. So where are we? Despite few supporters, lack of friends, and tough times, god has blessed us with victories against the enemy. We were involved in all the martyrdom operations - in terms of overseeing, preparing, and planning - that took place in this country except for the operations that took place in the north. Praised be to Allah, i have completed 25 of these operations, some of them against the Shi'a and their leaders, the Americans and their military, the police, the military, and the coalition forces. There will be more in the future, god willing. We did not want to publicly claim these operations until we become more powerful and were ready for the consequences. We need to show up strong and avoid getting hurt, now that we have made great strides and taken important steps forward. As we get closer to the decisive moment, we feel that our entity is spreading within the security void existing in Iraq, something that will allow us to secure bases on the ground, these bases that will be the jump start of a serious revival, god willing.
4. Plan of action: after much inquiry and discussion, we have narrowed our enemy to four groups:
A. Americans as you know, these are the biggest cowards that god has created and the easiest target. And we ask god to allow us to kill, and detain them, so that we can exchange them with our arrested shaykhs and brothers.
B. Kurds these are a pain and a thorn, and it is not time yet to deal with them. They are last on our list, even though we are trying to get to some of their leaders. God willing. ?C. The Iraqi troops, police, and agents these are the eyes, ears, and hand of the occupier. With god's permission, we are determined to target them with force in the near future, before their power strengthens.
D. The Shi'a in our opinion, these are the key to change. Targeting and striking their religious, political, and military symbols, will make them show their rage against the Sunnis and bear their inner vengeance. If we succeed in dragging them into a sectarian war, this will awaken the sleepy Sunnis who are fearful of destruction and death at the hands of these Sabeans, i.e., the Shi'a. Despite their weakness, the Sunnis are strong-willed and honest and different from the coward and deceitful Shi'a, who only attack the weak. Most of the Sunnis are aware of the danger of these people and they fear them. If it were not for those disappointing shaykhs, Sufis, and Muslim brothers, Sunnis would have a different attitude. ??5. Way of action: As we have mentioned to you, our situation demands that we treat the issue with courage and clarity. So the solution, and god only knows, is that we need to bring the Shi'a into the battle because it is the only way to prolong the duration of the fight between the infidels and us. We need to do that because:
A. The Shi'a have declared a subtle war against Islam. They are the close, dangerous enemy of the Sunnis. 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 who are anyway the original enemy by consensus.
B. They have supported the Americans, helped them, and stand with them against the Mujahidin. They work and continue to work towards the destruction of the Mujahidin.
C. Fighting the Shi'a is the way to take the nation to battle. The Shi'a have taken on the dress of the army, police, and the Iraqi security forces, and have raised the banner of protecting the nation, and the citizens. Under this banner, they have begun to assassinate the Sunnis under the pretense that they are saboteurs, vestiges of the Ba'th, or terrorists who spread perversion in the country. This is being done with strong media support directed by the governing council and the Americans, and they have succeeded in splitting the regular Sunni from the Mujahidin. For example, in what they call the Sunni triangle, the army and police are spreading out in these regions, putting in charge Sunnis from the same region. Therefore, the problem is you end up having an army and police connected by lineage, blood, and appearance to the people of the region. This region is our base of operations from where we depart and to where we return. When the Americans withdraw, and they have already started doing that, they get replaced by these agents who are intimately linked to the people of this region. What will happen to us, if we fight them, and we have to fight them, is one of only two choices:
1) if we fight them, that will be difficult because there will be a schism between us and the people of the region. How can we kill their cousins and sons and under what pretext, after the Americans start withdrawing? The Americans will continue to control from their bases, but the sons of this land will be the authority. This is the democracy, we will have no pretext.
2) we can pack up and leave and look for another land, just like it has happened in so many lands of jihad. Our enemy is growing stronger day after day, and its intelligence information increases. By god, this is suffocation! We will be on the roads again. People follow their leaders, their hearts may be with you, but their swords are with their kings. So i say again, the only solution is to strike the religious, military, and other cadres of the Shi'a so that they revolt against the Sunnis. Some people will say, that this will be a reckless and irresponsible action that will bring the Islamic nation to a battle for which the Islamic nation is unprepared. Souls will perish and blood will be spilled. This is, however, exactly what we want, as there is nothing to win or lose in our situation. The Shi'a destroyed the balance, and the religion of god is worth more than lives. Until the majority stands up for the truth, we have to make sacrifices for this religion, and blood has to be spilled. For those who are good, we will speed up their trip to paradise, and the others, we will get rid of them.
By god, the religion of god is more precious than anything else. We have many rounds, attacks, and black nights with the Shi'a, and we cannot delay this. Their menace is looming and this is a fact that we should not fear, because they 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. They are not like the Sunnis. If you knew the fear in the souls of the Sunnis and their people, you would weep in sadness. How many of the mosques have they have turned in to Shi'a mosques ("husayniyas")? How many houses they have destroyed with their owners inside? How many brothers have they killed? How many sisters have been raped at the hands of those vile infidels?
If we are able to deal them blow after painful blow so that they engage in a battle, we will be able to reshuffle the cards so there will remain no value or influence for the ruling council, or even for the Americans who will enter into a second battle with the Shi'a. This is what we want. Then, the Sunni will have no choice but to support us in many of the Sunni regions. When the Mujahidin would have secured a land they can use as a base to hit the Shi'a inside their own lands, with a directed media and a strategic action, there will be a continuation between the Mujahidin inside and outside of Iraq. We are racing against time, in order to create squads of Mujahidin who seek refuge in secure places, spy on neighborhoods, and work on hunting down the enemies. The enemies are the Americans, police, and army. We have been training these people and augmenting their numbers.
As far as the Shi'a, we will undertake suicide operations and use car bombs to harm them. We have been working on monitoring the area and choosing the right people, looking for those who are on the straight path, so we can cooperate with them. We hope that we have made progress, and perhaps we will soon decide to go public - even if gradually - to display ourselves in full view. We have been hiding for a long time, and now we are seriously working on preparing a media outlet to reveal the truth, enflame zeal, and become an outlet for jihad in which the sword and the pen can turn into one. Along with this, we strive to illuminate the hindering errors of Islamic law and the clarifications of Islamic legal precepts by way of tapes, lessons, and courses which people will come to understand.
The suggested time for execution: we are hoping that we will soon start working on creating squads and brigades of individuals who have experience and expertise. We have to get to the zero-hour in order to openly begin controlling the land by night and after that by day, god willing. The zero-hour needs to be at least four months before the new government gets in place. As we see we are racing time, and if we succeed, which we are hoping, we will turn the tables on them and thwart their plan. If, god forbid, the government is successful and takes control of the country, we just have to pack up and go somewhere else again, where we can raise the flag again or die, if god chooses us.
6. What about you? You, noble brothers, leaders of jihad, we do not consider ourselves those who would compete against you, nor would we ever aim to achieve glory for ourselves like you did. The only thing we want is to be the head of the spear, assisting and providing a bridge over which the Muslim nation can cross to promised victory and a better tomorrow. As we have explained, this is our belief. So if you agree with it and are convinced of the idea of killing the perverse sects, we stand ready as an army for you, to work under your guidance and yield to your command. Indeed, we openly and publicly swear allegiance to you by using the media, in order to exasperate the infidels and confirm to the adherents of faith that one day, the believers will revel in god's victory. If you think otherwise, we will remain brothers, and disagreement will not destroy our cooperation and undermine our working together for what is best. We support jihad and wait for your response. May god keep for you the keys of goodness and preserve Islam and his people. Amen, amen.
The New York Times - February 9, 2004 Monday - Late Edition - Final
THE STRUGGLE FOR IRAQ: INTELLIGENCE;
U.S. Says Files Seek Qaeda Aid In Iraq Conflict
BYLINE: By DEXTER FILKINS; Douglas Jehl contributed reporting from Washington
for this article.
SECTION: Section A; Column 4; Foreign Desk; Pg. 1
LENGTH: 1456 words
DATELINE: BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 8
†††American officials here have obtained a detailed proposal that they conclude
was written by an operative in Iraq to senior leaders of Al Qaeda, asking for
help to wage a "sectarian war" in Iraq in the next months.
††† The Americans say they believe that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian
who has long been under scrutiny by the United States for suspected ties to Al
Qaeda, wrote the undated 17-page document. Mr. Zarqawi is believed to be
operating here in Iraq.
††† The document was made available to The New York Times on Sunday, with an
accompanying translation made by the military. A reporter was allowed to see the
Arabic and English versions and to write down large parts of the translation.
†††The memo says extremists are failing to enlist support inside the country,
and have been unable to scare the Americans into leaving. It even laments Iraq's
lack of mountains in which to take refuge.
†††Yet mounting an attack on Iraq's Shiite majority could rescue the movement,
according to the document. The aim, the document contends, is to prompt a
counterattack against the Arab Sunni minority.
†††Such a "sectarian war" will rally the Sunni Arabs to the religious
extremists, the document argues. It says a war against the Shiites must start
soon -- at "zero hour" -- before the Americans hand over sovereignty to the
Iraqis. That is scheduled for the end of June.
†††The American officials in Baghdad said they were confident the account was
credible and said they had independently corroborated Mr. Zarqawi's authorship.
If it is authentic, it offers an inside account of the insurgency and its
frustrations, and bears out a number of American assumptions about the strength
and nature of religious extremists -- but it also charts out a battle to come.
†††The document would also constitute the strongest evidence to date of contacts
between extremists in Iraq and Al Qaeda. But it does not speak to the debate
about whether there was a Qaeda presence in Iraq during the Saddam Hussein era,
nor is there any mention of a collaboration with Hussein loyalists.
†††Yet other interpretations may be possible, including that it was written by
some other insurgent, but one who exaggerated his involvement.
†††Still, a senior United States intelligence official in Washington said, "I
know of no reason to believe the letter is bogus in any way." He said the letter
was seized in a raid on a known Qaeda safe house in Baghdad, and did not pass
through Iraqi groups that American intelligence officials have said in the past
may have provided unreliable information.
†††Without providing further specifics, the senior intelligence officer said
there was additional information pointing to the idea that Al Qaeda was
considering mounting or had already mounted attacks on Shiite targets in Iraq.
†††"This is not the only indication of that," the official said. The intercepted
letter also appears to be the strongest indication since the American invasion
last March that Mr. Zarqawi remains active in plotting attacks, the official
†††According to the American officials here, the Arabic-language document was
discovered in mid-January when a Qaeda suspect was arrested in Iraq. Under
interrogation, the Americans said, the suspect identified Mr. Zarqawi as the
author of the document. The man arrested was carrying it on a CD to Afghanistan,
the Americans said, and intended to deliver it to people they described as the
"inner circle" of Al Qaeda's leadership. That presumably refers to Osama bin
Laden and his deputy, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri.
†††The Americans declined to identify the suspect. But the discovery of the disc
coincides with the arrest of Hassan Ghul, a Pakistani described by American
officials at the time as a courier for the Qaeda network. Mr. Ghul is believed
to be the first significant member of that network to have been captured inside
†††The document is written with a rhetorical flourish. It calls the Americans
"the biggest cowards that God has created," but at the same time sees little
chance that they will be forced from Iraq.
†††"So the solution, and only God knows, is that we need to bring the Shia into
the battle," the writer of the document said. "It is the only way to prolong the
duration of the fight between the infidels and us. If we succeed in dragging
them into a sectarian war, this will awaken the sleepy Sunnis who are fearful of
destruction and death at the hands" of Shiites.
†††The author offers his services and those of his followers to the recipients
of the letter, who American officials contend are Al Qaeda's leaders.
†††"You noble brothers, leaders of the jihad, we do not consider ourselves
people who compete against you, nor would we ever aim to achieve glory for
ourselves like you did," the writer says. "So if you agree with it, and are
convinced of the idea of killing the perverse sects, we stand ready as an army
for you to work under your guidance and yield to your command."
†††In the period before the war, Bush administration officials argued that Mr.
Zarqawi constituted the main link between Al Qaeda and Mr. Hussein's government.
Last February at the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said,
"Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network, headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,
an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda lieutenants."
†††Around that time, the Americans believed that Mr. Zarqawi was holed up in the
mountains at the Iranian border with Ansar al Islam, a group linked to Al Qaeda
that is suspected of mounting attacks against American forces in Iraq.
†††Since the war ended, little evidence has emerged to support the allegation of
a prewar Qaeda connection in Iraq. Last month, Mr. Powell conceded that the
American government had found no "smoking gun" linking Mr. Hussein's government
with Al Qaeda.
†††In the document, the writer indicated that he had directed about 25 suicide
bombings inside Iraq. That conforms with an American view that suicide bombings
were more likely to be carried out by Iraqi religious extremists and foreigners
than by Hussein allies.
†††"We were involved in all the martyrdom operations -- in terms of overseeing,
preparing and planning -- that took place in this country," the writer of the
document says. "Praise be to Allah, I have completed 25 of these operations,
some of them against the Shia and their leaders, the Americans and their
military, and the police, the military and the coalition forces."
†††But the writer details the difficulties that he and his comrades have been
experiencing, both in combating American forces and in enlisting supporters. The
Americans are an easy target, according to the author, who nonetheless claims to
be impressed by the Americans' resolve. After significant losses, he writes,
"America, however, has no intention of leaving, no matter how many wounded nor
how bloody it becomes."
†††The Iraqis themselves, the writer says, have not been receptive to taking
holy warriors into their homes.
†††"Many Iraqis would honor you as a guest and give you refuge, for you are a
Muslim brother," according to the document. "However, they will not allow you to
make their home a base for operations or a safe house."
†††The writer contends that the American efforts to set up Iraqi security
services have succeeded in depriving the insurgents of allies, particularly in a
country where kinship networks are extensive.
†††"The problem is you end up having an army and police connected by lineage,
blood and appearance," the document says. "When the Americans withdraw, and they
have already started doing that, they get replaced by these agents who are
intimately linked to the people of this region."
†††With some exasperation, the author writes: "We can pack up and leave and look
for another land, just like what has happened in so many lands of jihad. Our
enemy is growing stronger day after day, and its intelligence information
†††"By God, this is suffocation!" the writer says.
†††But there is still time to mount a war against the Shiites, thereby to set
off a wider war, he writes, if attacks are well under way before the turnover of
sovereignty in June. After that, the writer suggests, any attacks on Shiites
will be viewed as Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence that will find little support among
†††"We have to get to the zero hour in order to openly begin controlling the
land by night, and after that by day, God willing," the writer says. "The zero
hour needs to be at least four months before the new government gets in place."
†††That is the timetable, the author concludes, because, after that, "How can we
kill their cousins and sons?"
†††"The Americans will continue to control from their bases, but the sons of
this land will be the authority," the letter states. "This is the democracy. We
will have no pretexts."
US Department of Defense Information - February 9, 2004
Coalition Provisional Authority Briefing from Iraq
SECTION: DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE TRANSCRIPTS
LENGTH: 3942 words
†††(Participating were Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of
operations, Combined Joint Task Force 7, and Dan Senor, senior advisor to the
Coalition Provisional Authority.)
†††Senor: Yes, sir?
†††Q: Alan Fryer from Canadian Television. General, I'd like to ask you about
the report in The New York Times today about this letter that they reported on,
purportedly from a high-level al Qaeda person, which essentially lays out a
strategy for sparking civil war in this country by targeting Shi'a. How credible
is it and how seriously do you take it?
†††Kimmitt: We believe the report and the document is credible, and we take the
report seriously -- and we take the threat seriously as well.
†††Q: (Off mike.)
†††Kimmitt: Sorry? Use the microphone.
†††Q: I just wondered if you might elaborate a little bit. And what then might
you be able to do about it or how can you respond?
†††Kimmitt: Well, I think there's a lot that the coalition and the Iraqi people
can do about this. First of all, it is clearly a plan on the part of outsiders
to come in this country and spark civil war, create sectarian violence, try to
expose fissures in this society. And first of all, the Iraqi people have
demonstrated time after time that they are unwilling to participate in any of
these activities by and large. They are looking forward to a free, united and
sovereign Iraq. The coalition has substantial capability, along with the Iraqi
security forces, to use this intelligence and any other follow-up intelligence
to kill or capture those that would try to use this capability to create
anything but a safe and secure environment here in Iraq.
†††Senor: Yeah. I would just add that what is perhaps most striking about that
memo is the extent to which it clearly outlines that the terrorists understand
the stakes in Iraq; that is, they understand that failure to defeat us in Iraq
will be a major setback for their overall terror war. It also outlines what is
†††The memo states that the buildup of Iraqi security forces is putting
increasing pressure on the terrorists. This is a trend that we've been seeing
for some time. Now that we have well over 150,000 Iraqis in security forces in
Iraq, more Iraqis in Iraq today protecting their own country than there are
Americans protecting Iraq, is making it more and more difficult for the
terrorists to operate. It shows that the terrorists are focused on the June 30th
handover of sovereignty; that they recognize that as we politically empower the
Iraqi people, the terrorists will be isolated and it will be harder and harder
for them to operate.
†††As General Kimmitt has said, their strategy is sectarian warfare in an effort
to provoke bloodshed and tear this country apart. Knowing what is working by
their own admission -- ramping up of American security forces, demonstrating
American resolve -- is a very good indication of what we need to continue to be
doing as we move forward to handing over sovereignty to the Iraqi people.
†††Q: Hi. I was wondering, referring again to that New York Times report,
whether you've seen any attacks of this nature, sectarian-type attacks, that
would -- you might blame on al Qaeda, you might have some sort of evidence that
would point to al Qaeda. Things that stick in my mind are the two attacks in
Baqubah, the Shi'ite mosques that were -- one was attacked. There was a car bomb
that failed to go off outside second one. There were a few others. There was
something up in Samarra the other day, the Kurdish attacks, et cetera. I'm
wondering if any of those you can blame on al Qaeda or might be somehow linked
to this memo.
†††Kimmitt: Well, the memo itself says -- the author of the memo himself says
that he accomplished 25 operations since he's been here in Iraq.
†††It is clear that the type of techniques that we have seen in certain of these
attacks, such as what we've seen at the north gate, at the Assassin's Gate,
perhaps in Erbil, perhaps down -- the assassination of Hakim, perhaps the attack
on the U.N. building -- all of these have the fingerprints, as we have said,
month after month, and hallmarks of al Qaeda, fingerprints of al Qaeda and other
foreign fighters. So we can't rule out that the 25 operations claimed inside
that document are untrue. And in fact that just gives us more and more evidence
of these -- that al Qaeda is in fact conducting operations, or people who would
like to work with al Qaeda are operating inside this country.
†††Senor: Yes, sir? In the back there.
†††Q: Kevin Flower with CNN. So back to this letter. Do you think that it is --
is it your belief that Zarqawi is the author of this letter? And who is the
letter to? Was it written to al Qaeda operatives outside the country? And
finally, can we see the letter? Can we -- can you make portions of it available
†††Kimmitt: Yeah, we are persuaded that Zarqawi was the author of this letter.
It is our understanding that this letter was being taken by a courier outside
this country for delivery abroad. And it is our intent and our -- certainly our
hope that -- in the near future that this letter can be declassified.
†††Let me just give you sort of a picture of the 17 pages of it on the screen
here, not very -- it's not very clear to you. But we are hoping in the near
future to be able to release this, because this document does in fact
demonstrate what we have been assessing all along, and the impact of this letter
on our operations and as we take operations forward is very, very dramatic.
†††Senor: It's an important reminder -- just to add, it's an important reminder
of the -- of why it is so critical that we forge ahead with our plan here to
beef up Iraqi security forces, which are clearly doing an effective job in
combating the terrorists and are making the terrorists feel tremendous pressure
and continuing to move over with the hand-over of political authority to the
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
Published: July 13, 2004
AMMAN, Jordan, July 10 - Ten years ago, fellow inmates remember, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi emerged as the tough-guy captain of his cellblock. In the brutish dynamic of prison life, that meant doling out chores.
"He'd say, 'You bring the food; you clean the floor,' " recalled Khalid Abu Doma, who was jailed with Mr. Zarqawi for plotting against the Jordanian government. "He didn't have great ideas. But people listened to him because they feared him."
According to American officials, Mr. Zarqawi has come a long way from his bullying cellblock days and is now the biggest terrorist threat in Iraq, accused of orchestrating guerrilla attacks, suicide bombings, kidnappings and beheadings. [On Sunday he claimed responsibility for a mortar barrage in Samarra last Thursday that killed five American soldiers and one Iraqi soldier.]
American views of Mr. Zarqawi's relationship to Al Qaeda have varied. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has described him as a Qaeda operative, but a senior American military official said recently that sources now indicated that Mr. Zarqawi was "a separate jihadist.''
He remains a singular target: American forces are stepping up airstrikes on buildings they believe to be his safe houses in Falluja and have raised the bounty on him to $25 million, the figure offered for Osama bin Laden.
For all that, Mr. Zarqawi remains a phantom, with little known about his whereabouts or his operations.
In Jordan, where he stamped strong impressions on people as he climbed the ladder of outlaw groups, friends and associates described the making of a militant. They say he grew up in rough-and-tumble circumstances and adopted religion with the same intensity he showed for drinking and fighting, though he became far less a revolutionary mastermind than a dull-witted hothead with gruff charisma.
These people, who knew Mr. Zarqawi until he disappeared into the terrorist murk of Afghanistan four years ago, acknowledge that he may have changed. But they say that while the man they knew could be capable of great brutality, they have a hard time imagining him as the guiding light of an Iraqi insurgency.
"When we would write bad things about him in our prison magazine, he would attack us with his fists," said Yousef Rababa, who was imprisoned with Mr. Zarqawi for militant activity. "That's all he could do. He's not like bin Laden with ideas and vision. He had no vision."
Mr. Zarqawi, thought to be 37, grew up fast and hard in Zarqa, a crime-ridden industrial city north of Amman known as Jordan's Detroit.
From his two-story concrete-block house, he looked out on hills dotted with smokestacks. He came from a poor family and has seven sisters and two brothers. His father was a traditional healer. His mother struggled with leukemia. His birth name was Ahmed Fadeel al-Khalayleh.
Childhood friends say he was much like any other boy, chasing soccer balls through gravely streets, doing average work in school, not going to the mosque much. But he liked to fight. "He was not so big, but he was bold," said a cousin, Muhammad al-Zawahra.
At 17, family members say, he dropped out of school. Friends said he had started drinking heavily and getting tattoos, both discouraged under Islam. According to Jordanian intelligence reports provided to The Associated Press in Amman, Mr. Zarqawi was jailed in the 1980's for sexual assault, though no additional details were available.
By the time he cleared 20 he was adrift, his family said, and like other young Arab men looking for a cause, he looked northeast, to Afghanistan.
Saleh al-Hami, Mr. Zarqawi's brother-in-law - who, like many former guerrillas who fought in Afghanistan, has a long black beard and a plastic leg - said Mr. Zarqawi arrived in Khost, in eastern Afghanistan, in the spring of 1989 to join the jihad, or holy war, against the Russians. But he got there a little late. The Russians had just pulled out. So instead of picking up a gun, Mr. Zarqawi picked up a pen.
He became a reporter for a small jihadist magazine, Al Bonian al Marsous, whose name means "The Strong Wall.'' He was 22, with a medium build and shiny black eyes, and roamed the countryside interviewing Arab fighters about the glorious battles he had missed.
Mr. Hami was convalescing in a hospital after he stepped on a land mine when he met Mr. Zarqawi. The two grew close, and he later married Mr. Zarqawi's younger sister.
One night while they were camping in a cave, he recalled, Mr. Zarqawi shared a special dream. He said he had seen a vision of a sword falling from the sky. "Jihad" was written on its blade.
Mr. Zarqawi returned to Zarqa in 1992 and fell in with a militant Islamic group, Bayaat al Imam, or Loyalty to the Imam. He was arrested in 1993 after the Jordanian authorities discovered assault rifles and bombs stashed in his house.
His lawyer said Mr. Zarqawi lamely told investigators that he had found the weapons while walking down the street. "He never struck me as intelligent," said the lawyer, Mohammed al-Dweik.
Mr. Zarqawi was sent to Swaqa prison, on the desert's edge. He was housed with other political prisoners in a large room with iron bunk beds. Cellmates said Mr. Zarqawi turned his bunk into a cave, covering each side with blankets. He sat for hours bent over a Koran, trying to memorize all 6,236 verses.
Friends said this was typical. When he was a drinker, they said, he was an extreme drinker. When he was violent, he was extremely violent.
He strutted around in Afghan dress and a woolly Afghan hat and lived and breathed old Afghan battles. "Back then, he liked Americans," Mr. Abu Doma said. "Abu Musab used to say they were Christian and they were believers."
The Russians were his No. 1 enemy, but this, like many other beliefs, would change behind bars. In the wing where Mr. Zarqawi lived, ideologies scraped up against one other. But cellmates said he shied away from politics. Instead, he pumped iron. Cellmates remember his barbells, made from pieces of bed frame and olive oil tins filled with rocks.
As the years passed, Mr. Zarqawi's arms and chest grew - and so did his role. He mapped out shifts for cleaning, bringing meals to cells and visiting the doctor. He did not talk much. When asked to describe him during this period, almost everyone interviewed began with the word "jad," which means serious.
His firmness was his attraction, fellow inmates said, his remoteness his power. By 1998, when a prison doctor, Basil Abu Sabha, met him, Mr. Zarqawi was clearly in charge.
"He could order his followers to do things just by moving his eyes," Dr. Abu Sabha said.
His religious views became increasingly severe. They had been marinating in a stew of militant beliefs served up by the imams and sheiks in the iron bunks next to him. He lashed out at cellmates if they read anything but the Koran.
Mr. Abu Doma said he got a threatening note for reading "Crime and Punishment."
"He spelled Dostoyevsky 'Doseefski,' Mr. Abu Doma said, laughing. "The note was full of bad Arabic, like a child wrote it."
Fellow inmates said that around that time, 1998, just as Al Qaeda was emerging as a serious threat blamed for the two bombings of United States Embassies in Africa, Mr. Zarqawi started talking about killing Americans.
In March 1999, Mr. Zarqawi was released under an amnesty for political prisoners. His associates said they expected him to return to jail.
"Because of his views, there was no place for him in Jordan," said Mr. Rababa, explaining that the country, tempered and mostly secular, was no place for an extremist. As for himself, Mr. Rababa said he had found a place in Jordan because his views had matured.
But for Mr. Zarqawi, Mr. Rababa said, "everyone was the enemy."
Mr. Zarqawi also had hopes for a normal life, according to Mr. Hami, who said he had at least two children and had thought of buying a pickup truck and opening a vegetable stand.
"You could tell he was confused," Mr. Hami said.
In early 2000, Mr. Zarqawi went to Peshawar, Pakistan, at the Afghan border. It was a deeply religious city, which made it attractive to him. He even took his aging mother.
But at the doorstep to jihad, he hesitated.
"He said it was Muslims fighting Muslims in Afghanistan and he didn't believe in the cause," Mr. Hami said. "And he liked the air in Peshawar and thought it was a good place for his mother."
Mr. Zarqawi's family said he was especially close to her, kissing her forehead every time he walked in the door.
While he was deciding what to do, his Pakistani visa expired. Around the same time, Jordan declared Mr. Zarqawi a suspect in a foiled terror plot against a Christian pilgrimage site.
"At that point, he had nowhere else to go," Mr. Hami said.
In June 2000, Mr. Hami said, Mr. Zarqawi crossed into Afghanistan, alone. His mother died of leukemia in February of this year at age 62. Mr. Hami said her last wish was for her son to be killed in battle, not captured.
American intelligence officials said Mr. Zarqawi opened a weapons camp connected to Al Qaeda in late 2000 in western Afghanistan. There he took up his nom de guerre, with Zarqawi a reference to his hometown of Zarqa.
United States officials said he was wounded in a missile strike after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks when American forces went after the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
Intelligence officials say he then left Afghanistan, where he had taken a second wife, and made his way to a corner of northern Iraq controlled by a Kurdish separatist Islamic group called Ansar al-Islam.
The next sighting of Mr. Zarqawi was on Sept. 9, 2002, when Jordanian agents said he illegally entered Jordan from Syria.
A month later Laurence Foley, a senior American diplomat, was fatally shot outside his home in Amman. Jordanian agents arrested three men who, the agents said, told them that they had been recruited, armed and paid by Mr. Zarqawi. He was sentenced to death in absentia.
On Feb. 5, 2003, Secretary of State Powell made his assertions about Mr. Zarqawi at the United Nations.
Mr. Powell stands by his statement, a spokesman said this month, even though other parts of that speech have been discredited and Mr. Powell mistakenly identified Mr. Zarqawi as Palestinian. He actually is of the Beni Hassan tribe, with roots deep in the Jordanian desert.
Other American information about Mr. Zarqawi has also been incorrect. At first it was said that he had a leg amputated during a Baghdad hospital visit, but now, a senior United States military official said in an e-mail message, "we believe Zarqawi has both legs, and reporting of the missing limb was disinformation."
At the beginning of the war in Iraq, Mr. Zarqawi and the Ansar fighters were driven out of the country. In August a car bomb blew up the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad, the first in a deadly wave of bombings. Mr. Zarqawi, because of his history as an anti-Jordan militant, was immediately a suspect.
In February, American officials in Baghdad released a 6,700-word letter - outlining a terror strategy to drag Iraq into civil war - that they said had been found on a CD from Mr. Zarqawi to Al Qaeda's leadership. But people who know Mr. Zarqawi wonder if he was the author. They said the lengthy political analysis, the references to seventh-century kings and embroidered phrases like "crafty and malicious scorpion" do not sound like him.
"The man was basically illiterate," Mr. Abu Doma said, though he acknowledged that a learned acolyte could be helping him.
Americans officials stand by their identification. They said the letter had been seized from a courier working for Mr. Zarqawi, who calls his group the Tawid and Jihad Movement.
The mystery remains. On May 11, a video appeared, titled "Sheik Abu Musab Zarqawi Slaughters an American Infidel." It showed the beheading of Nicholas Berg, the young Pennsylvania businessman. American officials believe that Mr. Zarqawi may have been the killer.
Back in Amman, there are questions. The killer on the video cuts with his right hand. While Mr. Hami said he thought Mr. Zarqawi was right-handed, Mr. Rababa and Mr. Abu Doma, who shared the same room with him for several years, insisted that he used his right hand only for eating and shaking hands.
Abdallah Abu Romman contributed reporting for this article.
US and Britain used stories of Al Qaida operatives to justify the war on Iraq. Loretta Napoleoni exposes the truth
The first time I heard the name of Musab al-Zarqawi was on 5 February 2003 when the then US secretary of state Colin Powell singled him out as the link between Al Qaida and Saddam Hussein.
At the time I knew that this connection was fictitious. I had proof that such a link not only did not exist, but that Al Qaida had tried to approach Saddam in 2000 and he had refused to talk to them.
I began reading jihadist web pages and reports from the Arab press. Little by little the life history of al-Zarqawi began taking shape.
Al-Zarqawi is the ultimate product of Al Qaidism, the new anti-imperialist ideology which has risen from the ashes of Al Qaida.
His childhood and youth coincided with the hardening of the Palestinian diaspora and the struggle against the Soviet army in Afghanistan.
Al-Zarqawi's real name is Ahmed Fadel al-Khalaylah. He was born at the end of October 1966 in Zarqa, Jordan.
Zarqa is an industrial city encircled by Palestinian refugee camps. It is a poor city where unemployment is rampant.
Al-Zarqawi grew up in one of the poorest working class neighbourhoods, Masum, where traditional tribal values clashed daily with rapid modernisation. He was aware of the Palestinian struggle - his father had participated in the battle of East Jerusalem in 1948.
At 16, following the death of his father, he dropped out of school, joined a local gang and eventually spent time in prison.
When he was released he began frequenting the local mosque, where he was recruited to join the jihad (holy war) in Afghanistan.
The idea to become a mujahideen (resistance fighter) appealed to him because he had a romantic idea of the Arab warrior.
He was not aware of the politics behind the war in Afghanistan. He was a very simple and uneducated man.
He arrived in Afghanistan in 1989, after the Soviet army had abandoned the country, and never participated in any battle. He went to work as a junior for the Arab-Afghan bureau in Peshawar where he met al-Maqdisi, a well known intellectual, who introduced him to radical Salafism, a doctrine which calls for a return to the purity of Islam.
In 1993 al-Maqdisi and al-Zarqawi returned to Zarqa where they planned to overthrow the Jordanian regime. They were arrested and imprisoned for five years.
During al-Zarqawi's time in Afghanistan major changes were taking place inside Al Qaida.
The organisation was taken over by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian doctor who was a member of Egyptian Islamic Jihad.
During the 1990s bin Laden and al-Zawahiri reshaped Al Qaida into an armed organisation for international jihad.
Al-Zarqawi's journey to becoming an international leader of terror took place in prison. Torture and solitary confinement boosted his determination to challenge authority.
He showed strong leadership qualities and organisational skills. The inmates elected him their leader.
People were impressed by his determination and his kindness. Once he personally bathed a mujahideen who had been injured and had lost a leg.
Al-Zarqawi was convinced that the jihad had to focus on overthrowing the corrupt Arab regimes.
In 1999 when he was released from prison, al-Zarqawi returned to Afghanistan.
In 2000 he met Osama bin Laden who offered him and his followers the opportunity to join Al Qaida.
Al-Zarqawi refused because he was not prepared to fight the Americans. He wanted to continue his struggle against the Jordanian regime.
Al-Zarqawi was able to convince the Taliban to fund a small camp in Herat near the border with Iran.
The camp was frequented by Palestinians, Jordanians and Syrians. It forged suicide bombers. While in Herat, al-Zarqawi established links with a group of Jordanians from the city of Salt.
The group had moved to Iraqi Kurdistan where they joined Ansar al-Islam, an armed organisation linked to Al Qaida. After the fall of the Taliban he found refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The fall of the Taliban regime shattered Al Qaida.
In January 2002 the Kurdish secret service told the US that al-Zarqawi was Al Qaida's man in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The US contacted the Jordanian authorities who immediately blamed him for a foiled attack during the millennium celebration in Jordan, the assassination of an Israeli citizen and of the US diplomat Laurence Foley. Neither the Kurds or the Jordanians could back their accusation with any evidence.
The Kurds wanted the US to help them get rid of the jihadists in Iraqi Kurdistan and the Jordanians needed a scapegoat for a series of mysterious terrorist attacks.
The US administration welcomed the creation of the myth because they needed a reason to go to war with Iraq.
Today we know that most of Colin Powell's speech on 5 February 2003 was based on false information. But at the time when he mentioned al-Zarqawi as the new international terror leader the entire world believed him.
From that moment, a totally unknown leader of a small and insignificant group became the new international bogeyman.
Colin Powell's speech also provided the jihadist movement with a new, much needed operational leader.
With Osama bin Laden and al-Zawahiri trapped in Pakistan's tribal belt, al-Zarqawi became the new icon of anti-Western struggle.
His myth helped the transition of Al Qaida from a small, highly integrated armed organisation to a global anti-imperialist creed.
All jihadists scattered around the world wanted to be related to al-Zarqawi. Funds and future suicide bombers flocked to Iraq to join his group.
Ironically, while his myth boosted al-Zarqawi's popularity outside Iraq, in Iraq he was regarded with suspicion.
He waited until August 2003 to enter the fighting, after the end of the official war, when the Shia insurgency was already in full swing and the population had turned against the occupation.
The US claimed he was the leader of the resistance in Fallujah, a myth debunked by the discovery of diaries that admit his supporters accounted for only 15 of the estimated 5,000 fighters in the city.
From August 2003 until December 2004, when Osama bin Laden nominated him leader of Al Qaida in Iraq, he sought recognition from bin Laden because he lacked the legitimacy to rally the Sunni population.
Right from the beginning he was determined to drive a wedge between Sunnis and Shias to prevent them from uniting in a national front.
At the same time he became fully committed to the fight against the US. Thus his struggle was conducted from the beginning on two fronts-one against the Shia and one against coalition forces.
The tactics of suicide attacks, kidnappings and beheadings of Western hostages strengthened and confirmed his status.
But al-Zarqawi has not reached the top through natural selection inside the jihadist movement - he has been pushed there by those who have created his myth - the Kurds, the Jordanians and the US.
Loretta Napoleoni is an Italian journalist who has worked for the IMF, the UN and advised the US homeland security department on terrorism. She is author of Terror Inc. Her new book, Insurgent Iraq, is available from Bookmarks. Phone 020 7637 1848
09 Oct 2005: The Independent on Sunday - Page 21 - (1051 words)
He's at the heart of Iraq's troubles ' the US made sure of that: Three years
ago Zarqawi was just a small-time jihadist. Loretta Napoleoni on the
manufacture of a nightmare
By: Loretta Napoleoni
Last week US forces in Iraq chose the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim month
of fasting, to launch a new offensive along the Syrian border against Abu
Musab al-Zarqawi, the man they blame for most of the violence racking the
country. But, as before, all they have succeeded in doing is bolstering his
No one had heard of Zarqawi until Colin Powell, then US Secretary of State,
named him in the February 2003 speech to the UN Security Council which
prepared the world for war in Iraq. At that stage the Jordanian was not
recognised as a leader by al-Qa'ida. But, thanks to his relentless
promotion as a bogeyman by the US ' most recently by President George Bush
last week ' and his subsequent endorsement by Osama bin Laden, Zarqawi, 38,
is now every bit as dangerous as he has always been portrayed.
Born Ahmed Fadel al-Khalayleh in Zarqa, a poor industrial Jordanian city
encircled by Palestinian refugee camps, Zarqawi grew up in a miserable
working-class neighbourhood where traditional and tribal values mixed badly
with Western consumerism and rapid modernisation. Of Bedouin origin, he was
stubborn, unruly and rebellious.
At 16 he dropped out of school and became a street tough. Arrested for
sexual assault, he came into contact with religious radicals in jail and
was recruited to the mujahedin in Afghanistan on his release. He arrived
too late to fight the Soviets, but befriended Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi in
Peshawar. According to Fouad Hussein, a Jordanian journalist who met them
both, Zarqawi absorbed from Maqdisi the uncompromising, destructive nature
of radical Salafism, which shuns both Western and Arab socio-economic and
political realities. In 1993 the pair returned to Zarqa and set up a
jihadist cell to overturn the Jordanian government, which soon saw them
jailed for five years.
In captivity Zarqawi's leadership qualities became apparent. Torture and
solitary confinement did not break him; on the contrary. 'He was a real
leader, a prince, as the inmates called him,' says Sami al-Majaali, former
head of the prison authority in Jordan. 'We were always careful in
approaching him. He was our primary concern; if he co-operated, the others
would follow suit.'
On his release, Zarqawi ended up once again in Afghanistan. In 2000, in
Kandahar, he finally met Bin Laden, who invited him and his followers to
join al-Qa'ida. But the Jordanian declined the offer. His focus was on
corrupt Arab regimes and, specifically, his native Jordan, not the faraway
Those who know Zarqawi say this was perfectly in line with his personality.
'He never followed others,' admits a member of his group, 'I never heard
him praise anyone apart from the Prophet.'
With the backing of the Taliban regime, Zarqawi set up a small camp in
Herat, near the Iranian border, to train suicide bombers for attacks in
their home countries. The relationships forged there enabled him and his
followers to escape after the fall of the Taliban to Iraqi Kurdistan, where
they came to the attention of the Kurdish secret services. In the wake of
the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the Kurds alerted the US to Zarqawi's links with
jihadist groups in their territory. US authorities did not recognise his
name and got in touch with their Jordanian counterparts to find out more.
From then on, Zarqawi's list of crimes multiplied. He was accused of
masterminding a foiled plot during the millennium celebrations in Jordan,
and of the assassinations of Yitzhak Snir, an Israeli citizen, and Laurence
Foley, a US diplomat. But Mr Powell's announcement of 5 February 2003 '
'Iraq today harbours a deadly terrorist network, headed by Abu Musab
al-Zarqawi, an associate of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qa'ida lieutenants'
' lifted him to another plane. Having failed to prove Iraq had weapons of
mass destruction, the US administration was constructing its case for war
on Saddam Hussein's connection with terrorism, with Zarqawi the link to
Almost overnight, the Jordanian went from being an unknown in the world of
international terrorism to being implicated in every major terror attack.
But while politicians, intelligence and the media were busy weaving the
myth, he was getting ready for battle in Iraq.
According to one of his fighters, he refrained from involvement in the
official war, knowing he could not compete with the B-52s, missiles and
other hi-tech US weapons. Instead he waited until August 2003, when the
Shia insurgency was in full swing and Iraqis saw coalition forces as
His first move was the bomb that destroyed the UN headquarters in Baghdad
and killed its leading representative in Iraq. Another bombing killed Grand
Ayatollah Moham- mad Bakr al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the
Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of America's allies. Finally, Zarqawi
himself beheaded a kidnapped US contractor, Nicholas Berg, on camera.
But, contrary to what Mr Powell had said, Zarqawi was unknown in Iraq: a
foreigner leading a small group of Arab fighters. Lacking religious
authority, he was unable to rally the Iraqi Sunni population. His
leadership needed legitimacy ' and that could be provided only by
al-Qa'ida. From August 2003, Zarqawi repeatedly sought Bin Laden's approval
Their correspondence explains why the Jordanian wanted to drive a wedge
between the Sunni and Shia insurgencies. Zarqawi feared a united
nationalist resistance, which would necessarily be secular and would shun
the Arab jihadists. Keeping the Islamist warriors at the forefront of the
anti- American battle was paramount to building a Sunni Islamist state in
Iraq. Thus, from the beginning, Zarqawi fought on two fronts: against the
Shias and against the Americans.
And the West helped him obtain the endorsement he craved, by blaming him for
every attack inside and outside Iraq, especially suicide missions and the
resistance in Fallujah. In December 2004 Bin Laden finally granted his
support and named him 'emir' of al-Qa'ida in Iraq. That in turn has enabled
the Jordanian to attract enough followers and resources to engage US forces
while keeping up the suicide bombings against Shias that have brought Iraq
to the brink of civil war.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is now at the core of the Iraqi insurgency, but he
would not be there without both the US administration and al-Qa'ida. It is
a surreal coincidence.
Loretta Napoleoni is the author of 'Insurgent Iraq: al-Zarqawi and the New
Generation', published on 13 October by Constable & Robinson, pounds 7.99
04 Oct 2004: The Daily Telegraph - Page 14 - (899 words)
International: How US fuelled myth of Zarqawi the mastermind
By: By Adrian Blomfield outside Fallujah
ABU MUSAB al-Zarqawi, the terrorist leader believed to be responsible for
the abduction of Kenneth Bigley, is "more myth than man", according to
American military intelligence agents in Iraq.
Several sources said the importance of Zarqawi, blamed for many of the most
spectacular acts of violence in Iraq, had been exaggerated by flawed
intelligence and the Bush administration's desire to find "a villain" for
the post-invasion mayhem.
US military intelligence agents in Iraq have revealed a series of botched
and often tawdry dealings with unreliable sources who, in the words of one
source, "told us what we wanted to hear".
"We were basically paying up to $10,000 a time to opportunists, criminals
and chancers who passed off fiction and supposition about Zarqawi as
cast-iron fact, making him out as the linchpin of just about every attack
in Iraq," the agent said.
"Back home this stuff was gratefully received and formed the basis of policy
decisions. We needed a villain, someone identifiable for the public to
latch on to, and we got one."
The sprawling US intelligence community is in a state of open political
warfare amid conflicting pressures from election-year politics, military
combat and intelligence analysis. The Bush administration has seized on
Zarqawi as the principal leader of the insurgency, mastermind of the
country's worst suicide bombings and the man behind the abduction of
foreign hostages. He is held up as the most tangible link to Osama bin
Laden and proof of the claim that the former Iraqi regime had links to
However, fresh intelligence emerging from around Fallujah, the rebel-held
city that is at the heart of the insurgency, suggests that, despite a high
degree of fragmentation, the insurgency is led and dominated not by Arab
foreigners but by members of Iraq's Sunni minority.
Pentagon estimates have put the number of foreign fighters in the region of
5,000. However, one agent said: "The overwhelming sense from the
information we are now getting is that the number of foreign fighters does
not exceed several hundred and is perhaps as low as 200. From the
information we have gathered we have to conclude that Zarqawi is more myth
than man. He isn't in the calibre of what many politicians want to believe
"At some stage, and perhaps even now, he was almost certainly behind some of
the kidnappings. But if there is a main leader of the insurgency he would
be an Iraqi. The insurgency, though, is not nearly so centralised to talk
of a structured leadership."
Military intelligence officials complain that their reports to Washington,
are largely being ignored. They accuse the Pentagon of over-reliance on
electronic surveillance and aerial and satellite reconnaissance carried out
for the CIA.
In recent weeks the American military command in Iraq has claimed a series
of precision air strikes on targets in Fallujah identified by the CIA as
housing known associates of Zarqawi.
It has denied that there were any civilian casualties, despite television
footage showing dead and wounded women and children being pulled from the
rubble of flattened homes.
Some US military spies maintain that this is evidence of continued
dependency on technology over old-fashioned human intelligence.
Both President George W Bush and Tony Blair have, to varying degrees,
conceded that intelligence on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction
programme was misleading. But both continue to maintain that the continued
violence since Saddam was ousted is because Iraq is now the front line in
the war on terrorism.
Yet it now seems that the intelligence on which such claims are based is
haphazard, scanty and contradictory.
No concrete proof of the link between Zarqawi and bin Laden was offered
until US officials this year trumpeted the discovery of a computer disk,
allegedly intercepted by Kurdish peshmerga guerrillas. Among its files was
an apparent draft of a letter from Zarqawi to bin Laden.
"We will be your readied soldiers, working under your banner, complying with
your orders and indeed swearing fealty to you publicly and in the news
media," the letter read.
That seemed proof enough for the US government. "Zarqawi is the best
evidence of the connection to al-Qa'eda affiliates and al-Qa'eda," Mr Bush
said in June.
But senior diplomats in Baghdad claim that the letter was almost certainly a
hoax. They say the two men may have met in Afghanistan but it appeared they
never got on and there has been a rift for several years.
One diplomat claimed that there was evidence to suggest that Zarqawi's aides
may have passed on information to the Americans that led to the arrest of
Ramzi bin al-Shibh, one of the main planners of the September 11 attacks.
The diplomats describe Zarqawi as deeply ambitious. His actions are aimed as
much at boosting his position in the Islamic terrorist fraternity as
striking at America. He achieved that in April with a grisly and apparently
authentic video showing the beheading of the contractor Nick Berg. The
footage was released under the title "Sheikh Abu Musab Zarqawi executes an
American with his own hands and promises Bush more".
A diplomat commented: "That catapaulted Zarqawi to exactly where he wanted
to be - giving Osama a run for his money as US public enemy number one.
But, the video apart, intelligence on the Jordanian is thin.
Intelligence reports are contradictory even on whether he is missing a leg.
Initial claims of a Long John Silver character with an artificial leg were
disputed by more recent alleged sightings of the 38-year-old apparently
fully limbed and looking rather sprightly.
25 Sep 2004: The Guardian - Broadsheet Page 8 - (391 words)
Iraq crisis: Few clues in hunt for mastermind
By: Rory McCarthy in Baghdad
The search for the mastermind of the kidnapping of Kenneth Bigley has
centred on the restive town of Falluja, but despite months of work and the
offer of a $25m (pounds 13.8m) reward, US forces still appear to be chasing
There have been no publicly confirmed sightings of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, no
confirmation of which town he may be operating from, or even evidence to
show he is in the country.
For weeks US fighter jets and marines have hit targets in Falluja, 32 miles
west of Baghdad. The town is the centre of the Sunni insurgency, controlled
almost completely by militants, and thought to be the main base for foreign
fighters. It is the most obvious place to find Zarqawi, although many
suspect he could operate from several other places across Iraq.
Nearly every day for the past three weeks jets have bombed houses in the
city. Each time the US military says it is hitting forces "linked to the
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi terrorist network". Reports from inside the town
confirm that some of the strikes have hit insurgents, although civilians
are often injured in the attacks.
Occasionally the targeting is more precise. Last week, in an attack not
publicised by the US military, the spiritual leader of Zarqawi's network,
Sheikh Abu Anas al-Shami, was killed in an air strike in western Baghdad.
The hunt for Zarqawi is being conducted differently to the pursuit of Saddam
Hussein. That operation was led by special forces soldiers and intelligence
officers, backed up by US troops who spent weeks unravelling the networks
of loyalty upon which Saddam relied.
That force has reportedly moved to Afghanistan to search for Osama bin
The search for Zarqawi rests in the first instance with the US marines, who
divulge little about their tactics, although they rely to a large extent on
informers in the town.
One recent Zarqawi video made an elaborate case against an Egyptian who it
said had been caught placing computer chips in houses in Falluja to help
target US air strikes. The man was shown confessing to being paid by the
Americans and was killed.
Similar videos have accused the Iraqi National Guard of trying to betray the
US commanders say they may launch a full-scale offensive against the town.
But for now Zarqawi remains on the run, with his group claiming
responsibility for ever more suicide bombings, assassinations and kidnaps.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
The first time most Americans heard the name of terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was when Colin Powell stood before the United Nations to make his case for invading Iraq.
While much of Powell's statement turned out to be fictional, Zarqawi is unfortunately quite real.
As is often the case with the terrorist underground, we know a lot about Zarqawi and yet not nearly enough. For instance, such basic details as his real name and the country of his birth remain obscure. He is believed to have been born in Jordan, possibly of Palestinian descent. His aliases include Fadel Nazzal al-Khalayleh, Fadil al-Khalaylah, Ahmad Fadil Al-Khalailah and just Habib. One of the Fad'l variations is probably in the neighborhood of his birth name. He may or may not be missing a leg, which is a much more important issue than you might think.
Zarqawi hails from the town of Zarqa, Jordan, from whence his best-known alias is derived. He's thought to be a high school dropout. Zarqawi went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets in the late 1980s, which has been the ruin of many a poor boy. In Afghanistan, Zarqawi plugged into the al Qaeda terrorist network, at the time fighting the Soviet Union with the support of the CIA. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, Qaeda ran training camps where angry young men met other angry young men and formed lifelong friendships.
One of the people Zarqawi is known to have met in the training camps was a young Pakistani explosives expert named Abdel Basit, who would later be known to the world as Ramzi Yousef. Other major terrorists were working in the camps at that time, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and the big cheese, Osama bin Laden, who was more or less running the operation.
Jordan, like other Middle Eastern states, recognized the threat posed by Afghan mujahideen much earlier than the West. Jordan and Egypt, among other countries, responded to that perceived threat by arbitrarily imprisoning the mujahideen, usually without charge and often under brutal conditions. Not surprisingly, this treatment only increased their anger and radicalism.
Right or wrong, when Zarqawi returned to Jordan in the early 1990s, he was jailed and spent seven years in jail. When he emerged, he was a full-blown radical who (according to Jordanian authorities) immediately began plotting attacks on U.S. and Israeli tourists in Jordan. He fled to Pakistan soon after leaving prison.
From the start, intelligence officials believe, Zarqawi only worked with bin Laden to further his goal of setting up his own terrorist shop.
Zarqawi's original plan was to overthrow the government of Jordan, but when he was smoked out of the country and sentenced to death in absentia, he went traveling, first to Europe then back to the Middle East and South Asia. Zarqawi allegedly ran a semi-independent shop on the border between Afghanistan and Iran, teaching his students how to use poisons and chemical weapons in terrorist attacks. After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Zarqawi had to make tracks. According to Colin Powell, that's when the trouble really began.
The Z-man found shelter in Iran for a while, but Colin Powell didn't care. According to U.S. intelligence, Zarqawi traveled to Iraq in early 2002, and allegedly began associating with Ansar al-Islam, an impoverished group of 600 to 800 Iraqi Kurds whose stated goal was to secede from Saddam's Iraq so that its tiny, ethnically exclusive clan could go hide out in the mountains.
Of course, there's room for a different interpretation of Ansar's role. For instance, if you're Colin Powell and you're desperate to sell an Iraq invasion to the international community, you could argue that Ansar was a "sinister nexus between Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network, a nexus that combines classic terrorist organizations and modern methods of murder."
The American Heritage Dictionary defines a nexus as "A means of connection; a link or tie." Whatever else Ansar was, it certainly wasn't a nexus.
Geographically stuck between Iran, Iraq and the mainstream Kurds, Ansar was not an effective force in the region. al Qaeda briefly cultivated a relationship with the group, because of its strategic location relative to Afghanistan. When bin Laden and his crew were forced to retreat to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, al Qaeda's interest in Asnar faded.
According to the U.S. pre-Iraq party line, Zarqawi used his "base" in Iraq to stage bombings and terrorist attacks in Turkey and Morocco. Powell told the U.N. that Zarqawi received medical treatment during a stay in Baghdad in May 2002. This was supposed to illustrate Saddam's alliance with al Qaeda. (No one ever talks about the fact that Ramzi Yousef received medical treatment from a hospital in New Jersey after a minor car accident in 1993. Did Bill Clinton personally fluff his pillow?)
As it turns out, the report of medical treatment wasn't even credible to begin with. According to U.S. intelligence, Zarqawi had a leg amputated in Baghdad. Except that most sources now believe Zarqawi is equipped with two working legs. As Newsweek colorfully put in in early 2004, "The stark fact is that we don’t even know for sure how many legs Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi has, let alone whether the Jordanian terrorist, purportedly tied to al Qaeda, is really behind the latest outrages in Iraq."
The remainder of Powell's claims about Iraq were less than airtight, as we all know by now. There is virtually no evidence to support claims that al Qaeda and Iraq were working together. bin Laden openly advocated the overthrow of Hussein before the U.S. decided to invade. There may well have been al Qaeda operatives in Baghdad, but there were also al Qaeda operatives in New York, Madrid, Cairo, Fort Lauderdale and Norman, Oklahoma.
Although they've stopped repeating the above claims, the U.S. government has not formally retracted its claims about Zarqawi, despite extensive media reports casting doubt on most of Powell's speech. But that doesn't mean the Z-Man's usefulness as a propaganda tool has ended. Far from it. The U.S. government has significantly upped the ante on Zarqawi's status since toppling Saddam Hussein. According to the Pentagon, Zarqawi has been a lightning rod for Iraq's resistance to the U.S. occupation force. U.S. intelligence sources speaking on and off the record now blame Zarqawi for virtually every terrorist attack seen in the last year, including the 3/11 Madrid train bombing and bomb attacks on Shi'ite Muslims in Iraq.
In February 2004, the U.S. claimed it had intercepted a letter from Zarqawi to al Qaeda, outlining his strategy in Iraq and asking for reinforcements. In addition to "proving" once and for all that Zarqawi was an al Qaeda evildoer, the letter further explained that Zarqawi was responsible for bombing the Shi'ites (most al Qaeda terrorists are Sunni Muslims):
We are striving urgently and racing against time to create companies of mujahidin that will repair to secure places and strive to reconnoiter the country, hunting the enemy –- Americans, police, and soldiers -- on the roads and lanes. We are continuing to train and multiply them. As for the Shi`a, we will hurt them, God willing, through martyrdom operations and car bombs.
Even MORE convenient than the al Qaeda link was the fact that the letter seemed like a sure bet to drive a wedge between the Shi'ites and Sunnis. If Sunni extremists were deliberately targeting Shi'ites, then obviously the two groups couldn't possibly join forces against the U.S. occupation and its hand-picked provisional government.
The letter didn't stop Sunnis and Shi'ites from doing just that, however. Unfortunately for our intrepid protagonists, the letter was quickly judged to be a forgery by just about anyone whose opinion mattered. Even Western journalists openly scoffed at the letter's authenticity, let alone the conspiracy-obsessed Arab world, which went to town over the incident. The U.S. didn't help matters by flatly refusing to discuss how it got its hands on the letter. "The important thing is that we have this document in our hands," explained Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt in February. "How it was found is not as important as the fact that we have it." Given the U.S. intelligence record to date, that's a pretty iffy proposition.
By now, you may be wondering what a reasonable person can actually claim to know about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and it's a good question. The piles of misinformation are so deep that it's nearly impossible to divine the truth. Shortly after the 3/11 bombing of a Madrid commuter train, pundits began speculating on a Zarqawi link, based on comments by French terrorism investigator Jean-Charles Brisard. The most compelling reason to think this might be true is that it didn't come from the U.S. government.
Despite all the laborious U.S. efforts to prove a link, most independent experts believe Zarqawi is not operating on behalf of al Qaeda, a conclusion which the U.S. military reluctantly conceded in early 2004.
In recent media interviews with captured Ansar al-Islam operatives, the terrorists said they never laid eyes on Zarqawi (the interviewees provided other verifiable information on Ansar activities). Ansar itself has been more or less made obsolete by the U.S. invasion, which spurred an influx of thousands of foreign fighters into Iraq (some al Qaeda-linked, but others not). In early 2004, some Iraqi insurgents claimed in a leaflet that Zarqawi had been killed. Not too many people believe this to be true.
A tape released in April 2004 appeared to be from the Z-Man himself. According to the tape, Zarqawi took credit for several bomb attacks against U.S. and coalition forces. He pointedly did not take credit for the attacks on Shi'ites, but he did castigate the Shi'ites as "idolators." He called on Iraqis to "burn the earth under the occupiers' feet." After the tape was released, the U.S. increased its reward for his capture to $25 million -- on a par with bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri before their recent increases to $50 million.
In May, Zarqawi made himself into a star of the Internet with a homemade snuff video that really got people talking. The video, released with the catchy title "Sheikh Abu Musab al-Zarqawi slaughters an American infidel with his own hands" delivered pretty much as advertised, ending with a scene of Zarqawi brandishing the decapitated head of an American civilian named Nicholas Berg.
About the only evil act missing from the long list of charges against Zarqawi had been any use of the chemical weapons which are his alleged specialty. It was especially odd since (from what we hear) Iraq was just chock-full of evil chemicals waiting for such attacks.
However, that oversight was rectified in late April 2004, when Jordanian officials named Zarqawi the mastermind of a foiled plot to kill 80,000 people with a chemical attack. (Bear in mind that this estimate may be a trifle high. Ramzi Yousef planned to kill 250,000 people in his 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. The actual death count was six.)
And just how many legs does Zarqawi have anyway? We're going to have to get back to you on that, but we can definitively state the answer is no more than three and no less than zero. Probably.
Does al-Zarqawi exist??11/10/2005 14:46 - (SA)
Baghdad - Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's faction has claimed responsibility for attacks that have left hundreds of Iraqis dead, and the United States has called him the most dangerous terrorist in Iraq.
Still, even as al-Zarqawi threatens more chaos - in recordings and internet messages - many Iraqis believe the Jordanian militant does not even exist and is merely a phantom created by the Americans to sow unrest in the country.
Similar disbelief greeted Britain's explanation that its soldiers, arrested in southern Iraq disguised as Arabs, were on an undercover hunt for terrorists. Instead, some Iraqis argue the soldiers were out to kill Shi'ite Muslims and blame the murders on Sunnis in hopes of sparking civil war.
Such conspiracy theories are common among Arabs and may seem laughable to outsiders. But in Iraq, where rulers from British colonists to Saddam Hussein regularly played one ethnic group against the other, imagined plots can seem reasonable - a fact that may have dire consequences for US efforts to build a stable Iraqi government.
Opposition to constitution
Indeed, ethnic and religious groups typically at odds are now standing united against the US-backed push for Iraqis to adopt a new constitution in a referendum om Friday and elect a permanent government in December. These steps, they say, are really intended to tighten the grip of America and Britain - the old master in Iraq - on the counry's oil wealth.
"Zarqawi is ... a myth that America has created to put a face to the terrorism it wants to stoke in this country to justify its continued presence," Sheik Amer al-Husseini, a top aide to radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, told The Associated Press in a recent interview.
"If there was no more terrorism in Iraq, there would be no reason for the United States to remain ... making it harder for them to ... force this constitution on Iraqis," said al-Husseini.
Such arguments only add to confusion among many Iraqis who already are faced with different views from religious leaders. The radical al-Sadr has hinted he opposes the new constitution, while Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Iranian-born cleric who holds the greatest sway over Iraqi Shi'ites, has urged its passage.
US officials had hoped that such rifts, more common between the Shi'ites and Sunnis, would have been overcome with the June 2004 handover of sovereignty and the January elections that brought the current government to power.
But each time, the same hardline Shi'ite and Sunni groups who had ridiculed the war to topple Saddam as a US effort to seize control over Iraqi oil, remained unconvinced.
As a result, little has changed in Iraq, once the seat of proud Islamic empires upon which Iraqis now look back in wonder as they survey a landscape pockmarked by bombs and sown with civilian corpses
09 Feb 2003: The Observer - Page 1 - (1103 words)
Revealed: truth behind US 'poison factory' claim: Luke Harding reports from the terrorist camp in northern Iraq named by Colin Powell as a centre of the al-Qaeda international network
By: Luke Harding
IF COLIN POWELL were to visit the shabby military compound at the foot of a large snow-covered mountain, he might be in for an unpleasant surprise. The US Secretary of State last week confidently described the compound in north-eastern Iraq - run by the Islamic terrorist group Ansar al-Islam - as a 'poison and explosives training camp'. He suggested the camp was a centre for teaching terrorists how to produce ricin and other chemical weapons.
Yesterday, however, it emerged that the terrorist factory was nothing of the kind - more a dilapidated collection of concrete outbuildings at the foot of a grassy, sloping hill. Behind the barbed wire and a courtyard strewn with broken rocket parts are a few empty concrete houses.
There is a bakery. There is no sign of chemical weapons anywhere - only the smell of paraffin and vegetable butter used for cooking. In the kitchen, I discovered some chopped up tomatoes but not much else. The cook had left his Kalashnikov propped neatly against the wall.
Ansar al-Islam - the Islamic group that uses the compound identified as a military HQ by Powell - yesterday invited me and several other foreign journalists into their territory for the first time.
'We are just a group of Muslims trying to do our duty,' Mohammad Hasan, spokes-man for Ansar al-Islam, explained. 'We don't have any drugs for our fighters. We don't even have any aspirin. How can we produce any chemicals or weapons of mass destruction?'
The radical terrorist group controls a tiny mountainous chunk of Kurdistan, the self-rule enclave of northern Iraq. Over the past year Ansar's fighters have been at war with the Kurdish secular parties which control the rest of the area, launching murderous attacks that have resulted in hundreds of casualties. Every afternoon both sides mortar each other across a dazzling landscape of mountain and shimmering green pasture. Until last week this was an obscure and parochial conflict.
But last Wednesday Powell suggested that the 500-strong band of Ansar fighters had links with both al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. They were, he hinted, a global menace - and more than that, they were the elusive link between Osama bin Laden and Iraq.
This is clearly little more than cheap hyperbole. Yesterday Hassan took the unprecedented step of inviting journalists into what was previously forbidden territory in an almost certainly doom-ed attempt to prevent an American missile strike once the war with Iraq kicks off.
Ali Bapir, a warlord in the neighbouring town of Khurmal, lent us several fighters armed with machine guns and we set off. We drove past an Ansar checkpoint, marked with a black flag and the Islamic militia's logo - the Koran, a sheaf of wheat and a sword.
The landscape was littered with the ruins of demolished houses, destroyed during Saddam's infamous Anfal campaign against the Kurds in 1988. At the corner of the valley we passed a pink mosque, with sandbagging on the roof. Washing hung from a courtyard. A group of Ansar fighters in green military fatigues smiled and waved us on.
Several of their comrades were in the graveyard across the road. There were numerous fresh plots, each marked with a black flag. After 20 minutes' drive along a twisting mountain track we arrived in Serget - the village identified from space by American satellite as a haven of terrorist activity.
But Hassan was at pains to deny any link with al-Qaeda. 'All we are trying to do is fulfil the prophet's goals,' he said. 'Read the Koran and you'll understand.'
Senior officials from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan - the party with which Ansar is at war - insist that the Islamic guerrillas based in the village have been experimenting with poisons. (?IE IT WAS THE KURDS WHO PUT THIS UP TO THE US, IN ORDER TO GET THESE PEOPLE OFF THEIR BACKS) They have smeared a crude form of cyanide on door handles. They had even tried it out on several farm animals, including sheep and donkeys, they claim. The guerrillas have also managed to construct a 1.5kg 'chemical' bomb designed to explode and kill anyone within a 50-metre radius, Kurdish intelligence sources say.
Hassan yesterday dismissed all these allegations as 'lies'. 'We don't have any chemical weapons. As you can see this is an isolated place,' Ayub Khadir, another fighter, with a bushy pirate beard and blue turban, said. And yet, despite the fact there appeared to be no evidence of chemical experimentation, Ansar's complex was lavish for an organisation that purports to be made up merely of simple Muslims. Concealed in a concrete bunker, we discovered a sophisticated television studio, complete with cameras, editing equipment and a scanner.
In a neighbouring room were several computers, beneath shelves full of videos. A banner in Arabic proclaims: 'Those who believe in Islam will be rewarded.'
Until recently Ansar had its own website where the faithful could log on to footage of Ansar guerrillas in battle. In small concrete bunkers the fighters operated their own radio station, Radio Jihad. The announcer had clearly been sitting on an empty box of explosives. Hassan denied yesterday that his revolutionary group received any funding from Baghdad or from Iran, a short hike away over the mountains.
'If Colin Powell were to come here he would see that we have nothing to hide,' he said. But Ansar's sources of funding remain mysterious - and their real purpose tantalisingly unclear. 'All Ansar fighters are from Iraq,' Hassan said. 'Iraq is one of the richest countries in the world. Our fighters have brought their own things with them.'
But while they appear to pose no real threat to Washington or London, Ansar's fighters are a brutal bunch. They have so far killed more than 800 opposition Kurdish fighters. They have shot dead several civilians. They have even tried - last April - to assassinate the head of the regional administration in the neighbouring town of Sulamaniyah, the mild-mannered Dr Barham Salih. The plot went wrong and two of the assassins were shot dead. A third is in prison. 'We are fed up with them. We wish they would go away,' said one villager, who refused to be named.
The militia's weapons had been inherited, captured from their enemies or bought from smugglers, Hassan said. Kurdish intelligence sources insist that there is 'solid and tangible proof' linking Ansar both to Iraqi intelligence agents and to al-Qaeda. They say that a group of fighters visited Afghanistan twice before the fall of the Taliban and met Abu Hafs, one of bin Laden's key lieutenants.
Hassan yesterday refused to say how many fighters were holed up in the three villages and one mountain valley under Ansar's control ('It's a military secret,' he said) and claimed - implausibly- that none of his men were Arab volunteers come to fight jihad in Iraq.
By Ahmed Hashim
The Iraqi insurgency spiked again in August 2004 when Muqtada al-Sadr took the offensive against the transitional Iraqi government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and the Multi-National Force of U.S. and other foreign troops, as the former coalition is now known. It was optimistically believed that following the return to Iraqi sovereignty at the end of June, the insurgency by both Sunni and Shi'a groups would wither away. It has not, and the issue of foreign involvement with insurgent groups - which has hovered in the background since last year - came to the foreground in the summer of 2004. U.S. General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, highlighted the issue with regard to Syria when he adamantly stated: "We know that the pathway into Iraq for many foreign fighters is through Syria. It's a fact. We know it. The Syrians know it."  More recently, the claim by the Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Sha‘alan in July that Iran was interfering in Iraqi domestic affairs by allowing or promoting infiltration into Iraq has led to a significant contretemps between the two neighbors.
The question of foreign insurgents in Iraq presents a particularly tangled problem. Layers of complexity beneath a seemingly simple surface make it difficult to untangle fact from fiction when discussing the issue. Though the Bush administration has maintained that attacks are the work of "regime dead-enders" and foreign infiltrators, hard empirical evidence - often from the U.S. military forces - indicates that the foreign element is minuscule. Evidence which shows that of 8,000 suspected insurgents detained in Iraq, only 127 hold foreign passports, supports this latter claim. But a simple head-count does not tell the whole story. The insurgency's foreign element has had a greater impact than mere numbers would lead us to believe.
Un-sponsored Foreign Insurgents
This insurgency has seen its share of outraged and disgruntled individuals, Arab nationalists, and "un-sponsored" religious extremists make their way into Iraq to fight the foreign occupation. Many Palestinians were recruited to fight in Iraq in 2002, and some joined the regime's irregular force, the Feda‘yeen Saddam.  Similarly, large numbers of Syrian volunteers with close tribal and cultural links to Iraqis across the border felt it was their duty to fight. These individuals received no encouragement from their government. One such fighter, a 26-year-old Syrian named "Abed," decided to fight in Iraq barely a week after the war began because, as he put it, "there was something inside that made me explode." Another, a Saudi captured in Iraq named Mohammad Qadir Hussein, was a poor, disgruntled individual who had no military training, but who was motivated by an abiding desire to help other Muslims in distress. 
The collapse of Iraqi border controls facilitated the entry of un-sponsored insurgents into Iraq, while Iraqi middlemen or facilitators provided logistical support (i.e. food, directions, and weapons and ammunition) once these individuals had gained entry into the country. Un-sponsored foreign infiltrators are then "passed on" to Sunni imams who became their mentors. Many of these foreign infiltrators entered Iraq before the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. While poorly trained and ill-equipped, a substantial number of them fought doggedly and to the death in some of the battles between Iraqi irregular forces and the coalition advancing from the south. After the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom, some returned home, while others remained and fought in the insurgency. Many of these gravitated towards the more disciplined jihadist insurgents.
Non-State Actors and Organizations
Foreign insurgents who come in as part of a "package" sent into Iraq by non-state actors are a more formidable force than un-sponsored foreign infiltrators. There is growing evidence that Iraq has begun to attract foreign Islamists and anti-American groups such as al-Qaeda and the Tawhid organization of the elusive and enigmatic Jordanian-Palestinian terrorist, Abu Mus‘ab al-Zarqawi, for whom Iraq is a new and easily accessible battlefield.
Uncertainty regarding the level or depth of al-Qaeda presence in Iraq remains due to a lack of non-politicized intelligence on its activities in that country. Osama bin Laden and his subordinates did not think much of Saddam Hussein and his regime, with evidence showing that the feelings were mutual. In the early days of the war, when there was an influx of foreign volunteers into Iraq, Hussein apparently warned the Ba‘ath party against close links with outsiders, especially religious extremists.  A senior Islamist operative (now deceased) allegedly authored a text entitled "The Future of Iraq and the Peninsula After Baghdad's Fall: The Religious, Military, Political and Economic Future." The work argues that the fall of the Ba‘athist regime was "better for the Islamists than the victory of the Iraqi Ba‘athists, because the collapse of Arab Ba‘athism means the collapse of the atheist, pan-Arab slogans that swept the Muslim nation...the demise of the Ba‘ath government in Iraq heralds the hoisting of the Islamic banner over the debris."  Such fighters were attracted to Iraq following the war precisely in order to fight the U.S. presence in that country for the sake of Islam.
Once in Iraq, "sponsored" jihadists needed to create a logistical infrastructure, as infiltrating heavy weapons and explosives across the borders of Iraq's neighbors is difficult.  For this they needed the help of Iraqis. Mutual suspicion between Sunni Islamists and former regime loyalists, secular-minded nationalists, and tribal elements actively opposing the Coalition does not mean that the latter groups are averse to providing logistical support for the former. Attempts by foreign jihadist organizations to operate in Iraq depend on the resources, protection and concealment provided to their fighters by Iraqis. Unable to enter into Iraq with the resources they need or blend in with the local population, these foreign elements would be lost without support from within Iraq.
Salafists in Iraq
The importance of the foreign jihadists who adhere to a strict interpretation of Sunni Islam (known properly as Salafism but popularly as Wahhabism) lies in three distinct areas. Firstly, these foreign jihadists have coupled with local Iraqi Salafists - who emerged into the open following the downfall of the Saddam regime - to successfully introduce a cohesive and extreme ideology to the public. While many of these groups, like the Mujahideen al-Salafiyah in Balad, have even reached out to members of the former Feda‘yeen Saddam as long as the latter drop their allegiance to Saddam.
Secondly, they have increased the prospects for communal violence by waging a campaign of deliberate and focused attacks against leaders of other Muslim communities, promoters of "moral laxity," and non-Muslims. In the fall of 2003, Islamists were particularly active in Mosul, where they attacked a nunnery, killed a well-known writer, bombed a popular cinema, and torched four liquor stores. The worst atrocity came with the bombings of Christian churches this summer.
Thirdly, they have been responsible for the suicide bombing campaigns in Iraq between early fall 2003 and summer 2004. August 2003 saw three massive car bombings. Some of the most devastating suicide attacks came in mid-November 2003 against Italians in Nasiriyah and in mid-January 2004 outside a Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) compound in Baghdad. In March 2004, the Shi‘a religious celebration of Ashura witnessed multiple suicide bombings which killed hundreds. 
However, as of summer 2004, it is increasingly evident that the different agendas and modus operandi of the nationalist Iraqi insurgency and their ostensible jihadist allies have caused considerable tensions between these groups. While they admire the motivation and skills of the foreigners, many mainstream Islamist and tribal insurgents resent an ideological agenda which has resulted in the killing of Iraqis simply for not adhering to a strict religious line. The foreign fighter's apparent blood lust, which has led to indiscriminate attacks and the beheading of abductees, also angers Iraqi nationalists.  In early summer 2004, nationalist insurgents in Fallujah were about to assault a group of foreign jihadists based in the Jolan suburb, led by a Saudi with the nom de guerre of Abu Abdullah. Later, insurgent "authorities" in Fallujah - largely made up of former military personnel and Iraqi police and led by clerics - succeeded in evicting a number of non-Iraqi terrorists from the area.
State Support for the Insurgency
The Bush Administration has accused two of Iraq's neighbors, Syria and Iran, of facilitating or actively encouraging foreign fighters to cross the Iraqi border. The singling out of these two countries, despite the fact that Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey also maintain porous borders with Iraq, reflects the political dynamics at play as the U.S. tries to stabilize the Great Middle East.
Syria and Iran fear the U.S. will succeed in its (unstated) goal of implementing a pro-American "puppet regime" in Baghdad. Such a regime would allow U.S. bases to operate in Iraq, giving U.S. forces the ability to threaten these countries. Both Tehran and Damascus see each other as the next U.S. target for regime change. The logical response is to support anti-US operations in Iraq, thereby ensuring that the hostile Bush Administration remains mired there. However, this is a very risky endeavor on many levels.
Both countries understand that to overtly support anti-US forces in Iraq risks incurring America's wrath. Not long after the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom, warnings from the Bush administration to Syria and Iran not to help the nascent insurgency were issued from a position of strength. Both Syria and Iran bent over backwards to avoid irritating a U.S. that was itching for a fight. Indeed, there were reports that U.S. Special Operations Units undertook actions across the border into Syria and actually clashed with Syrian border guards. Therefore, the growing U.S. problems in Iraq by fall 2003 must have been a source of considerable satisfaction to both Tehran and Damascus.
While neither could overtly support the insurgency, it is not too far-fetched to assume that they did so covertly or turned a blind eye to pro-insurgent activities conducted by elements within their respective countries. Both Syria and Iran have domestic constituencies that are thoroughly hostile to the U.S., and furthermore, alarmed by the belligerent attitude taken by Washington towards their respective countries. Arab nationalists in Syria, for example, are inclined to lend support to the remnants of the Iraqi Ba'ath party. Meanwhile, Iranian groups like the Revolutionary Guards might be inclined to support Shi'a insurgents such as the Mahdist Army led by Muqtada al-Sadr.
But there are attendant risks. Firstly, neither country wants continued instability on their borders. Secondly, neither country is particularly enamored of the leading ideological elements responsible for the violence in Iraq. As a regime dominated by the minority ‘Alawis (thoroughly despised by Sunni extremists), Syria does not want to see the growth of Sunni extremism in Iraq. Nor does secular Damascus wish to see a theocratic Baghdad, despite its sympathy for and traditional alliance with the Shi‘as. For its part, Iran is hardly likely to support Sunni extremists or Arab nationalists. Both are antithetical to Tehran's agenda. Instead, Iranians continue to support Shi'a groups that are not fighting the U.S., in the plausible and logical expectation that these parties will play a leading role in Iraqi politics once the U.S. has left Iraq.
So, while the restraints of Middle Eastern realpolitik keep states from openly supporting foreign insurgents against the coalition in Iraq, there are many other factors and organizations that contribute to this continuing and complex problem.
1. Quoted in The Washington Times, April 30, 2004.
2. Islamist groups, on the other hand, recruited from among the growing population of disgruntled Islamists in Jordanian cities such as Ma‘an.
3. Personal interviews with the author.
4. New York Times, January 14, 2004, p.1.
5. Quoted in al-Hayat, December 20, 2003, p.4.
6. Cross-border traffic between Iraq and its neighbors by smugglers and tribes existed even in the best of times when Iraq was able to police its borders. Now even though the borders are not effectively policed, foreign infiltrators are unlikely to come into Iraq on their Sports Utility Vehicles - which outrun the two-wheel drives of the border patrols - laden with large quantities of light weaponry or explosives. Nor do they have to since Iraq is one huge ammunition dump.
7. The Independent (London), March 07, 2004.
8. For more see The Daily Star (Beirut) July 16, 2004.