Al Qaeda’s top deputy urged the leader of his Iraq branch in July to prepare for the inevitable U.S. withdrawal by carrying out political as well as military actions, and he lectured him that he risked being shunned by an Islamic world angered over his gruesome and not “palatable” killings of fellow Muslims, according to an intercepted letter released yesterday by the U.S. government.
The 6,000-word letter from Osama bin Laden’s chief lieutenant, Ayman Zawahiri, to Iraqi insurgent leader Abu Musab Zarqawi amounts to a detailed portrait of al Qaeda’s long-term goals in Iraq and the Middle East, and includes a striking critique of how Zarqawi has gone about waging his war against not only U.S. troops but also Iraqi civilians….
Invoking the specter of the United States abruptly abandoning Iraq as it did to Vietnam, Zawahiri counseled immediate political action: “We must take the initiative and impose a fait accompli upon our enemies, instead of the enemy imposing one on us.”
The missive also suggests the degree to which al Qaeda’s leadership remains eager to assert its prerogatives with Zarqawi, who has become the increasingly public face of the movement when Zawahiri and bin Laden are in hiding. Although the letter does not contain a direct reference to Zarqawi until a cryptic greeting to him at the end, a senior intelligence official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity said “it’s absolutely certain” it was meant for Zarqawi, declining to elaborate on how U.S. officials made that conclusion. The letter was dated July 9, but the official would not say whether it had been sent. “We obtained it in the course of counterterrorism operations in Iraq,” he said.
Throughout, Zawahiri — the Egyptian doctor who fused his own Islamic movement with bin Laden’s al Qaeda in the late 1990s and is believed to operate now as the group’s top commander — comes across as a strategist trying to rein in a guerrilla operating at odds with the movement’s political goals. The official said that in its repeated criticism of Zarqawi, the letter also amounts to a reproof from “an al Qaeda elder to an occasionally hotheaded field commander.”
“He comes down like a ton of bricks on what has happened tactically,” the official said.
“This is not a rant. It is more chilling in a sense because it’s so well-argued, clean and calm,” the official added. “There’s a high political content. Zawahiri calls for political action equivalent to military action.”
CENTCOM has a translation of the full letter.