U.S. Tells of Iraq Insurgents’ New Tactics
The U.S. military on Thursday revealed parts of a memo attributed to Al Qaeda in Iraq that outlines plans to ignite sectarian war by targeting Shiite Muslims and to shift the battle toward the capital and religiously mixed parts of the country.
The memo, which the military said was seized during a raid last month, ordered followers to “make the struggle entirely between Shiites and the mujahedin,” as the militants refer to themselves, and lambasted moderate Sunni groups. It included a call for insurgents to “displace the Shiites and displace their shops and businesses from our areas. Expel those black market sellers of gas, bread or meat or anyone that is suspected of spying against us.”
The memo, if authentic, provides some of the strongest evidence to date to support an accusation U.S. officials repeatedly have made -- that Abu Musab Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, has been deliberately trying to exploit the country’s simmering sectarian and ethnic tensions to spark a full-blown civil war.
The authenticity of the memo could not be verified independently, but its language appears to resemble that of Iraqi insurgency material posted on the Internet and distributed on fliers. Moreover, the memo’s call to shift the focus of attacks from Americans and toward Shiites appears to reflect the reality on the ground.
U.S. officials sought to gain maximum public relations advantage from the memo and unflattering outtakes from a recently released Zarqawi propaganda video, sharing them with the media.
The footage shows a flustered Zarqawi in running shoes, struggling to get his machine gun to fire. Another shot shows a deputy grabbing a recently fired machine gun and apparently scalding his hand on the hot muzzle.
Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, spokesman for U.S.-led forces in Iraq, said Zarqawi’s bloopers and the strategy memo were discovered in a raid on an alleged hide-out in Yousifiya, south of the capital. U.S. military planners say the village is being used as a staging ground for stepped-up insurgent operations in Baghdad.
U.S. officials acknowledge that Zarqawi’s foreign fighters make up only a small part of the mainly Sunni Arab insurgency, but say their attempts to start a civil war represent the greatest threat to Iraq’s stability.
The memo describes the militants’ sectarian agenda for the next six months in stark detail: “Reduce attacks on Sunni areas as much as possible. So we can be dedicated to cleansing them of spies and [Shiites] quietly.”
The memo also seems to signal a strategic shift away from U.S. targets.
“The priority in Baghdad will be the Shiites, the [Iraqi army] and the rest of the related forces there,” it says.
In a section titled “Important Comments and Notes for Working in Baghdad,” the memo also calls on militants to strike frequently at police and army checkpoints. “Do that until it becomes a rule in their psyches that the one who’s standing in the street, will die,” the memo says. In his propaganda video, Zarqawi also threatened to attack Sunnis who joined the security forces.
But the memo, which does not include a date or author, also criticizes unidentified insurgent leaders for seeking short-term media gains rather than creating a viable organization.
“It is known by the majority of the mujahedin in Baghdad that their leadership is not following a clear vision and a tight plan,” says the memo, blaming recent “strategic losses” on emirs, or top leaders.
“The emirs are demanding continuous daily work with the greatest possible momentum in order to exhaust the enemy, although the mujahedin in fact are the ones who are exhausted,” the memo says.
The release of the Zarqawi outtakes afforded the U.S. military an opportunity to mock the tough-guy image the militant leader tried to project in a 34-minute propaganda video posted on the Internet and aired on Arab-language television last week.
“What you saw on the Internet is what he wanted the world to see: ‘Look at me, I’m a capable leader of a capable organization,’ ” Lynch, the U.S. spokesman, said at his weekly media briefing.
“Here’s Zarqawi the ultimate warrior trying to shoot off his machine gun. It’s supposed to be automatic fire, and he’s shooting single shots,” Lynch said. “It’s just a matter of time before we take him out.”
Few Iraqi Sunnis support Zarqawi, even those sympathetic to the nationalist elements of the insurgency. “The actions of Zarqawi are twisting the image of the true resistance,” said Sara Ibrahim, 21, a Sunni university student. “His actions are inciting hate. He is a person with no religion or principle.”
Lynch said 31 suspected foreign militants loyal to Zarqawi had been killed since April 8 in five raids, including the one in Yousifiya. U.S. officials said the military had killed eight suspected insurgents Thursday in a gun battle in central Ramadi, west of the capital.
At least nine Iraqis and two U.S. soldiers were killed Thursday in bombings and shootings across the capital.
A suicide bomber killed at least eight people and injured 44 Thursday morning outside a courthouse in northern Baghdad, police and hospital officials said. Iraq’s criminal court convicted 12 suspected insurgents during the week of April 19, sentencing three to life in prison.
In south-central Baghdad, two U.S. soldiers died in a roadside bombing shortly before noon Thursday. The military did not disclose the exact location of the incident, but a Times employee witnessed a huge explosion on the double-decked highway connecting southern and western Baghdad.
The explosion destroyed an armored U.S. military vehicle, scattering rubber and metal on the highway. Soldiers in nearby vehicles shouted and took up defensive positions as casualties were evacuated by helicopters. Residents of the middle-class Sunni Arab neighborhood nearby praised the attack and criticized police officers for helping secure the scene.
A ranking Defense Ministry official was gunned down Thursday morning on his way to work in western Baghdad.
Times staff writers Raheem Salman and Saif Hameed contributed to this report.