Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

  Army uncovers proof that Al Qaida wants the U.S. to remain in Iraq

George Bush has never backed up his frequent assertion that al Qaida hopes the U.S. will withdraw from Iraq. In fact, intelligence agencies have long believed that al Qaeda leadership wanted Bush to invade one or more countries in the Middle East, expecting that the U.S. would become bogged down and ultimately defeated politically (if not militarily). Further, Ron Suskind has claimed in his One Percent Doctrine that CIA analysts concluded that bin Laden released his October 2004 audio tape in order to boost George Bush's re-election chances. The expert consensus, then, appears to be that bin Laden believes Bush's floudering Middle East policy advances the interests of al Qaida.

But the public has never before been privy to direct evidence that would prove the case. Now we have a document that does so, released by the Army itself.

Via Kevin Drum, I see that Marc Lynch has spotted a document at an Army website that proves it pretty decisively. It is one of the al Qaida letters the Army scooped up in June when it killed Zarqawi.

In it, an al Qaida leader states that it is in the interest of the jihadists to prolong the Iraq War.

First of all, it ought to be evident that it is in al Qaida's interest to prolong the war. Al Qaida in Iraq has a very ugly record. As Marc Lynch pointed out last week, a recent public opinion survey shows that 94% of Iraqis have a negative opinion of al Qaida. For the immediate future, al Qaida leaders cannot hope to carve out a permanent base of power in Iraq even if the U.S. withdraws. In fact, what influence they now have would likely wither quickly absent any popular support for an insurgency against the U.S. The U.S. occupation of Iraq is a pre-condition for al Qaida's presence, and Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi never attained any popularity for al Qaida there.

Now, for the document in question. Here is the most relevant part of this long, rambling letter of advice which had been sent to Zarqawi by somebody named 'Atiyah', whom the Army presumes is a top al Qaida leader. The letter is dated to the 10th of Dhu Qa'dah, 1426, or Dec. 11, 2005:

The most important thing is that you continue in your jihad in Iraq, and that you be patient and forbearing, even in weakness, and even with fewer operations; even if each day had half of the number of current daily operations, that is not a problem, or even less than that. So, do not be hasty. The most important thing is that the jihad continues with steadfastness and firm rooting, and that it grows in terms of supporters, strength, clarity of justification, and visible proof each day. Indeed, prolonging the war is in our interest, with God's permission. The best acts are those that last, however few they may be, provided that we guard against mistakes building up and that we have integration in the jihadist enterprise. The only thing that you have to fear is yourselves and your own mistakes, not your enemy. By God, your enemy will never defeat you as long as you are patient and steadfast, not having caused damage that is great or frequent; and you seek help in God.

As Marc Lynch remarks, this is a pretty straight-forward statement of the viewpoint about the Iraq War held by somebody close to bin Laden, and it's rather remarkable that the media has not picked up on its importance. The letter was posted on September 25th at the website of Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

At the start of the PDF, the Army provides an introduction and overview of the letter, which for the most part catalogues the sorts of advice that 'Atiyah' is offering to Zarqawi on waging a successful and useful war in Iraq. Not surprisingly, the Army's summary of the letter omits any mention of the passage urging Zarqawi not to be in a hurry to defeat the U.S., and expressing the view that it is in their interest to prolong the war in Iraq. That information, one supposes, would not have been welcome to the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld triumvirate.

It's not really that surprising, then, that journalists have not picked up on the deeper significance of this letter. The CTC has released many lengthy documents concerning al Qaida planning and strategy, and the passage I've quoted could easily be overlooked, coming as it does toward the end of the letter.

The rest of the letter appears to be an attempt by al Qaida leadership to rein in Zarqawi, particularly after Zarqawi's bombing campaign in Jordan in November, 2005. 'Atiyah' urges Zarqawi to consider that the war in Iraq is about winning the "hearts of the people" as much or more than military successes; that he needs to avoid angering Muslims, especially Sunni political leaders; that he needs to consult with others who are useful and well respected, such as tribal leaders and scholars; that he needs to consider the long-term ramifications of his actions, and in particular avoid foreign operations that would undermine the cause of jihad; that he needs to follow the instructions of bin Laden and Zawahiri in the international arena and on major issues of strategy; that he needs to adopt sharia and through the justice of Islam to win over allies to his cause; that he should work with any Muslims who are useful to the cause, even if their religious views are wrong.

Thus the letter is mainly devoted to persuading Zarqawi to work more cooperatively and strategically, and to use violence in a more directed and less random way.

The comment that prolonging the Iraq War is in al Qaida's interest, then, is not central to the letter's purpose. In fact, it is close to an aside. True, it might help to persuade Zarqawi to stop alienating potential allies in Iraq if he can be convinced that he can afford to slow down the pace of his attacks and direct more attention toward diplomatic contacts. But 'Atiyah' makes no effort to prove to Zarqawi that prolonging the war was advantageous -- which would be critical, if the point was meant to persuade him to adopt the tactics suggested in the letter.

No, it looks as if 'Atiyah' assumes that it is self-evident that prolonging the war is to the advantage of al Qaida, and that he simply needs to remind Zarqawi of what each of them already understands. The statement "Indeed, prolonging the war is in our interest" is pretty close to a comment made in passing.

As an historian, I feel confident in saying that the comment made in passing is often much more decisive and more revealing about the actual beliefs of a speaker or author, than any statement that belongs to the actual core of an argument. "Prolonging the war is in our interest" appears to be a candid statement of belief, for top al Qaida figures.

So the question that Americans need to ponder, is whether we ought to hold the same belief as al Qaida's leaders about the nature of the Iraq War. George Bush does.

Crossposted at Daily Kos and Unbossed


  • The fact is that extremists like Bush and bin Laden benefit when they have an enemy. It allows them to maintain their hold on power by using the "other" as a figment of evil and a reason for unification.

    From the eyes of the extremist, if one side or the other is moderate, it takes away their power. If moderates in the U.S. were in charge, bin Laden would have less to complain about - and his call for jihad would be less effective.

    The same for the US- if bin Laden and other "evildoers" weren't around, and moderate Muslims had some voice and power, it would be hard for Bush and Co. to rally the AMerican public behind a cause of "freedom" and "democracy." The fear card doesn't work if there is a moderate in the mix.

    By Anonymous Wil Morat, at 8:07 PM  

  • wil, I think you're quite right about that. In fact, as Ron Suskind remarks in his book The One Percent Doctrine, U.S. intelligence officials acknowledge amongst themselves that the public approval ratings of George Bush in the U.S. track almost perfectly the ratings for Osama bin Laden in the Middle East.

    Here is an extract from the book, refering to a CIA meeting of Oct. 2004:

    "Today's conclusion: bin Laden's message was clearly designed to assist the President's reelection.

    At the five o'clock meeting, once various reports on latest threats were delivered, John McLaughlin opened the issue with the consensus view: "Bin Laden certainly did a nice favor today for the President."

    Around the table, there were nods....Jami Miscik talked about how bin Laden — being challenged by Zarqawi's rise — clearly understood how his primacy as al Qaeda's leader was supported by the continuation of his eye-to-eye struggle with Bush. "Certainly," she offered, "he would want Bush to keep doing what he's doing for a few more years."

    But an ocean of hard truths before them — such as what did it say about U.S. policies that bin Laden would want Bush reelected — remained untouched....On that score, any number of NSC principals could tell you something so dizzying that not even they will touch it: that Bush's ratings [in the U.S.] track with bin Laden's rating in the Arab world."

    By Blogger : smintheus ::, at 11:40 PM  

  • Have not read Suskind's book - been eyeing it at the bookstore for a while though.

    I just read an interesting editorial/article by Suskind in TIME:,9171,1533436,00.html

    By Anonymous Wil Morat, at 8:45 AM  

  • Thanks for the tip, that's an excellent editorial by Suskind which I had not seen. The key, I think, is this:

    discovery in such a case would show that the President and Vice President were involved in overseeing their interrogations, according to senior intelligence officials. Subpoenas on how evidence was obtained and who authorized what practices would go right into the West Wing.

    Bush and Cheney have never really given a damn about putting any captives on trial, and once they authorized torture they were set on a path of insuring that nothing like due process should ever occur for detainees. Congress has now willfully helped the administration to cover its tracks by passing egregiously unconstitutional legislation.

    What's also telling but often ignored, though the Army has found that many of the detainees in Guantanamo are innocent of any involvement in terrorism, most of these people are still being held rather than released. They've almost surely been abused in prison as well, and it wouldn't do to give these innocents the freedom to talk to reporters about their treatment in captivity. Where is the American news media on this part of the story?

    By Blogger : smintheus ::, at 12:32 PM  

  • Well, well. I see that the Christian Science Monitor has picked up this story as of Friday:

    No acknowledgement from the reporter, though, that this story broke on the blog. Infra dig, I guess.

    By Blogger : smintheus ::, at 11:04 PM  

  • It was certainly interesting for me to read the blog. Thank you for it. I like such topics and everything connected to them. I definitely want to read more on that blog soon.
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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:58 AM  

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