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."