WASHINGTON—A 6,000-word letter from Osama bin Laden's second-in-command to al-Qaida's leader in Iraq outlines the terrorist group's strategy to oust American troops from Iraq, create a militant Islamic state there, use that as a base to overthrow the governments of other Muslim nations and finally destroy Israel.
John D. Negroponte, the new director of national intelligence, on Tuesday released a U.S. translation of the July 9 letter from Ayman al-Zawahiri to Jordanian-born terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and took the unusual step of posting it on his office's Web site.
U.S. intelligence officials believe that the letter is authentic, but two of them warned Tuesday that it may not be a completely accurate rendering of al-Qaida's thinking, in July or now. Separately, Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, cautioned "against reading too much into a single source of intelligence."
While the Bush administration calls Iraq "the central front in the war on terrorism," the letter indicates that al-Qaida believes the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has created an opportunity to rally Muslims behind "the greatest battle of Islam in this era," one that eventually will lead to the creation of a pan-Islamic state, or caliphate.
"As for the battles that are going on in the far-flung regions of the Islamic world, such as Chechnya, Afghanistan, Kashmir and Bosnia, they are just the groundwork and the vanguard for the major battles which have begun in the heart of the Islamic world," Zawahiri wrote.
The U.S. strategy in Iraq now rests on winning Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish support for a new constitution in a referendum this month and nationwide participation in elections for a new government in December. Zawahiri's letter and a recent increase in insurgent attacks suggest that the insurgency's strategy is to discredit the political process and rally Sunnis and Shiites against the United States and its Iraqi allies.
"The Muslim masses," Zawahiri wrote, "... do not rally except against an outside occupying enemy, especially if the enemy is firstly Jewish, and secondly American."
In order to broaden the insurgency's political base, Zawahiri urged Zarqawi to halt—or at least postpone—attacks on Shiite Muslims who don't cooperate with U.S. forces or the U.S.-backed Iraqi government. "... Many of your Muslim admirers amongst the common folk are wondering about your attacks on the Shia," Zawahiri wrote, especially when insurgents attack Shiite mosques.
Zawahiri made it clear that he shares Zarqawi's low opinion of the Shiites, whom militant Sunnis consider apostates. But in his letter he suggested that the clash between Sunnis and Shiites "will happen sooner or later," and so attacking Iraqi Shiites at the same time that the insurgents are battling the Americans and the Iraqi government is unnecessary and unwise.
The al-Qaida leader, a former Egyptian doctor, also urged Zarqawi to stop broadcasting scenes of hostages having their throats slit, something that Zawahiri said "the Muslim populace who love and support you will never find palatable."
Much as U.S. military officers have warned that the war in Iraq can only be won by helping to create an Iraqi government with wide public support, Zawahiri urged Zarqawi "to direct the political action equally with the military action, by the alliance, cooperation and gathering of all leaders of opinion and influence in the Iraqi arena."
Later, he added: "Things may develop faster than we imagine. The aftermath of the collapse of American power in Vietnam—and how they ran and left their agents—is noteworthy. Because of that, we must be ready starting now, before events overtake us, and before we are surprised by the conspiracies of the Americans and the United Nations and their plans to fill the void behind them."
In order to consolidate power after defeating the Americans, Zawahiri urged his ally in Iraq not to repeat what he called "the mistake of the Taliban." Al-Qaida's Afghan allies, Zawahiri wrote, "did not have any representation for the Afghan people in their ruling regime, so the result was that the Afghan people disengaged themselves from them." As a result, Zawahiri said, the Taliban regime quickly collapsed.
Zawahiri outlined four steps toward the creation of a new Islamic nation and the destruction of Israel:
"Expel the Americans from Iraq."
Establish an Islamic authority "over as much territory as you can to spread its power in Iraq, i.e. in the Sunni areas, in order to fill the void stemming from the departure of the Americans ..."
"Extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq," an apparent reference to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Turkey and perhaps also Egypt and the Persian Gulf states.
"The clash with Israel."
The full text of Zawahiri's letter is available at:
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.