The Terrorists’ Main Battleground Is Iraq

A letter intercepted by American intelligence details al Qaeda plans to create a theocratic dictatorship in Iraq. It shows that al Qaeda considers Iraq the heart of the terrorist struggle against the West and against secular Muslim states, like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. It contradicts the far left’s argument that the Iraq war is unrelated to the war on terror.

The letter, from Ayman al-Zawahiri, second in command of al Qaeda, to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al Qaeda chief in Iraq, also spells out a conflict between al Qaeda’s leadership and the minority Sunni Arabs. Zarqawi’s support of Sunni attacks on majority Shiites, Zawahiri writes, is undermining the goal of a religion-dominated state.

Zawahiri’s letter, released by the U.S. on October 11, 2005, was sent on July 9. In it Zawahiri states flatly that al Qaeda is fighting to establish a caliphate or a universal theocratic state embracing “the heart of the Islamic world,” which he defines as Iraq and the regions around it. Zarqawi’s support of Sunni attacks on majority Shiites, he maintains, is weakening this purpose. Al Qaeda does not endorse the Sunnis’ goal to restore the secular control of Iraq that they enjoyed under Saddam Hussein.

As of this date, Zarqawi appears not to be heeding the al Qaeda demands, for suicide attacks on Shiites have continued.

The letter demonstrates not only a conflict between the al Qaeda leadership and Zarqawi but also the chasm dividing the terrorists from the Sunnis. These disputes make either al Qaeda’s or the Sunni Arabs’ atrocious aspirations less likely to come to pass. Few Sunnis or Shiites support the oppressive religious caliphate that the terrorists wish to impose. At the same time, al Qaeda is losing support of Muslims by backing the Sunnis in their murderous campaign against the Shiites and against a democratically established government in Iraq.

Zawahiri bewails the attacks, not because, as a Sunni himself, he has any sympathy for Shiites (he calls them a “sect” and says their beliefs are based on “excess and falsehood”). Zawahiri objects to the attacks because they alienate Muslims, and reduce popular support for the terrorist movement.

Without popular support, Zawahiri writes, al Qaeda cannot lay claim to governing Iraq, and “the Islamic mujahed [terrorist] movement would be crushed in the shadows.”

Zawahiri admonishes Zarqawi to change his strategy, and urges him to rally the people before the Americans leave. “We don’t want to repeat the mistake of the Taliban [in Afghanistan], who restricted participation in governance to the students and to the people of Kandahar alone.” Other Afghans were not represented, and, as a result, the regime collapsed when the Americans invaded in 2001.

But the hope for success by either al Qaeda or the Sunnis in Iraq is fading. People were horrified on October 5, 2005, the first day of Ramadan, when a Sunni Muslim suicide bomber blew himself up at the Shiite mosque in Hilla, Iraq, killing at least 25 worshipers and wounding more than 87. This was only one of many suicide attacks on Shiites that have occurred in the past several months, all of which are alienating the Shiites and their allies the Kurds from both the Sunni Arabs and al Qaeda.

This estrangement is becoming all the more apparent because nearly all Sunni clerics are silent about the murderous acts. Thomas L. Friedman wrote in the October 12, 2005, New York Times that the absence of Sunni condemnation to the attack on the Shiite mosque “means there is no controlling moral authority in the Sunni Muslim community anymore.”

The Sunni attacks are causing much anger and chaos in Iraq, but are not threatening either the departure of the Americans or the collapse of Shiite-Kurd rule. Rather, their attacks are hardening resistance—and making it even more unlikely that either the Sunni or the al Qaeda efforts will achieve anything.

With the passage of the Iraqi constitution in the October 15, 2005, plebiscite, and the slow but steady growth of a responsible Iraqi military and police force, the Sunnis’ dream of recovering their lost power and the al Qaeda dream of a vast caliphate ruled by oppressive medieval law are looking more and more like fantasies.

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