Picture of a weakened Iraqi insurgency
Document released Thursday by Iraq's government appears to show that Al Qaeda in Iraq feels vulnerable.
An Al Qaeda document linked to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi purports to show that Iraq's insurgents believe they face a "current bleak situation" that may require fomenting a war between the US and Iran to "get out of this crisis."Skip to next paragraph
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The document, released Thursday, could not be independently authenticated. But senior Iraqi officials were ebullient about its message, as well as the magnitude of intelligence "treasure" that has emerged surrounding Mr. Zarqawi's death.
This is "the beginning of the end of Al Qaeda in Iraq," Mowafaq al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser, declared Thursday, adding that the data include network names and locations gleaned from Al Qaeda computers captured before Zarqawi's death. "The government is on the attack now ... to destroy Al Qaeda and to finish this terrorist organization in Iraq."
"The documents and all the arrests mean there has been a depletion of talent" among Zarqawi's group, says Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert at the Swedish National Defense College in Stockholm.
"They will have to lick their wounds and reconfigure their security, to protect whatever assets they have left," says Mr. Ranstorp, who heads the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies. The document indicates that Al Qaeda needs to recalibrate "not just psychological warfare, but must shape its actions to get some traction in the population."
"If I were the US, I would continue to drill a hole, and continue to undermine [Qaeda's] legitimacy," adds Ranstorp. "With the killing of Zarqawi, the Americans momentarily have the upper hand."
Since American jets struck Zarqawi's hideout last Wednesday, the US military and Iraqi forces have conducted 452 raids, killing 104 insurgents and capturing 759 "anti-Iraqi elements," Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said in Baghdad Thursday.
The news came as the Pentagon confirmed that US military deaths in Iraq have now reached 2,500.
The release of the document coincides with a security clampdown in Baghdad, meant to prevent Zarqawi followers from fulfilling promises to launch revenge attacks.
Spearheading that campaign is the new leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, who the US military Thursday identified as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian who met Zarqawi in Afghanistan in 1999. Al Qaeda websites claimed the new leader to be Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, apparently a nom de guerre for Mr. Masri.
"Al-Masri's intimate knowledge of Al Qaeda in Iraq and his close relationship with [Zarqawi's] operations will undoubtedly help facilitate and enable them to regain some momentum if in fact he is the one that assumes the leadership role," said General Caldwell.
Masri is an Afghan-trained explosives expert who began his militant career in 1982, when Al Qaeda No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, led Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Caldwell said. In Iraq, he said, intelligence gleaned from raids in April and May show that Masri has been the key link for foreign fighters traveling from Syria to Iraq.
But the organization Masri takes over may be weakening under pressure from US and Iraqi forces, if the assessment from the Al Qaeda document reflects the view of this extreme faction of Iraq's insurgency.
The document appears undated and does not mention Al Qaeda by name, but was found on "some kind of computer asset that was at a safe location" prior to Zarqawi's death, said Caldwell.