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."
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.
"Here in Iraq, time is now beginning to be of service to the American forces and harmful to the resistance," reads the document, according to an English translation from Mr. Rubaie's office. "Massive arrest operations" have caused the resistance to "lose many of its elements," it notes. Insurgents are at a further disadvantage by the growing number of trained Iraqi forces, are losing a media campaign "presenting its work as harmful to the population," and suffering from tighter financial restrictions.
The result is that US and Iraqi tactics are "creating a big division among the ranks of the resistance and jeopardizing its attack operations," which have "weakened [insurgent] influence," the document reads.
It makes no mention of specific tactics, such as beheadings, targeting civilians and any Shiite Iraqis – elements pioneered in Iraq by Zarqawi – which have alienated many Iraqis sympathetic to the broader, antioccupation aim of the insurgency.
It says only that US and Iraqi forces are "taking advantage of the resistance's mistakes and magnifying them to misinform."
Among the solutions is to "use the media for spreading an effective and creative image of the resistance," the document states. That may prove difficult, says Ranstorp in Sweden, because a top Al Qaeda in Iraq media chief, Abu Maysara al-Iraqi, was believed killed in the week before Zarqawi.
"This means their ability to put on a brave face has been damaged," says Ranstorp. "There have been some substantive man losses – qualitative losses" of Al Qaeda operatives.
The Al Qaeda document gives a broad assessment, from apparent ordnance shortages to stoking a clash between the US and Iran. It also includes a lengthy list of potential "delegated wars" that would ease pressure on the resistance.
"The best of these wars to be ignited is the one between the Americans and Iran, because it will have many benefits in favor of the Sunni and the resistance," the document reads. Among those benefits are the "possibility of acquiring new weapons from the Iranian side, either after the fall of Iran or during the battles."
It even asks the rhetorical question of how to draw the US into open conflict with Iran. "It is necessary first to exaggerate the Iranian danger and convince America ... of the real danger coming from Iran."
Its six suggested methods that read like a how-to guide for creating friction. They include sending out "threatening messages against American interests" and blaming Iran; "executing operations of kidnapping hostages" and blaming Iran; "advertising" that Iran has chemical and nuclear weapons "and is threatening the West."
Bomb attacks against the West would be blamed on Iran "by planting Iranian Shiite fingerprints and evidence"; declaring ties between Iran and "terrorist groups (as termed by the Americans)"; and "disseminating bogus messages" that Iran has weapons of mass destruction and "there are attempts by the Iranian intelligence to undertake terrorist operations in America."
Violence continued, despite the Baghdad crackdown. Ten Shiites were pulled off a bus and executed by gunmen in Baquba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, and just a few miles east of the village of Hibhib, where Zarqawi was killed.