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