DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts raise this question:
Assuming that US intelligence was off-target on Iraq’s eve-of-war stockpiles as David Kay has argued since resigning as director of the Iraq Survey Group, what about the smaller quantities of unconventional weapons that Saddam Hussein certainly possessed? Where did it all go? And who hid it? That is the real issue underscoring the intelligence failure and one on which the deposed ruler’s capture two months ago does not appear to have cast new light. Saddam’s arsenal of banned weapons has melted away as completely as did Osama bin Laden in the November 2001 Tora Bora battle of the Afghan War.
Another enigma of the Iraqi war is: did Saddam have links with Al Qaeda?
The presidential campaign will very soon see George W. Bush and the future Democratic presidential candidate squaring off on both issues as the race for the White House gains momentum. Numerous foreign elements will do their best to stoke up the fires of the contest. Remarks by European leaders this week at the Munich Conference on Security Policy, a forum attended by US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, did not bode well for Washington. Their tone and content were reminiscent of the kind of anti-US rhetoric that reverberated through the UN Security Council in the months leading up to the Iraq war and during the International Atomic Energy Agency’s debate in Vienna in December on Iran’s nuclear program.
That debate pitted the United States against the Europe-Arab bloc once again.
Bush plans to spell out his ambitious plans to bring democracy to the Middle East at a NATO summit in Istanbul in June, following historic visits to Libya and Sudan. But while the president brushes in the details of his large design on his strategic palette, his rivals continue to chip away at them.
Bush shows no inclination to deviate from his plans. He is relying on wearing the resistance down. His opponents, for their part, are confident they can persuade the US voter that the Republican president is a lone cowboy who has lost Washington’s traditional foreign allies and failed to gain the support of the peoples whose lot he wants to improve.
The very governments, parties and intelligence factions in West Europe and the Middle East who fought against the US invasion of Iraq, have returned to the fray. Now they want to prove the war was a bungle and Saddam Hussein got a bum rap: He did not have unconventional weapons and there was no justification for the war against him. They contend, moreover, that the situation in Iraq has worsened under the US occupiers, and argue in the same vein against Washington opting for armed confrontation rather than diplomacy with Iran over the Islami Republic’s nuclear weapons program.
Pointing at Israel’s woeful situation vis-a-vis the Palestinians, Bush’s foreign detractors aim to prove that terrorism cannot be defeated by force. If they manage to get that message across to the American electorate, Bush’s New Middle East already taking shape in Libya, Sudan, Kurdistan and parts of Iraq that are disengaging from the Arab world, will be abandoned in midstream, his failed strategy will be reflected at the ballot box and the US military will withdraw prematurely and helter-skelter from Iraq.
That is the argument Bush’s European and Arab opponents will strive to impress on the candidate chosen by the Democratic Party to stand against the Republican president. They will try and persuade him to denounce the Bush global doctrine as bankrupt and his war on terror as a washout. An answering chord to this argument certainly exists in some sections of American opinion, which would like to see US troops out of Iraq and Washington’s return to America’s traditional friendships and strategic collaboration with longstanding transatlantic allies.
To drive the Bush administration into a corner, Islamic and Arab terrorists may well escalate their attacks on US troops in Iraq and bases around the Middle East and Persian Gulf. Iraqis cooperating with US authorities are already being made to pay a heavy price in blood.
Al Qaeda will no doubt contribute its own brand of violence, possibly by deploying unconventional weapons and stepping up missile attacks on US aviation.
The international debate over Israel’s nuclear weapons can be expected to heat up as an anti-Bush stunt that will also seek to divert attention from the world-threatening nuclear black market uncovered in Pakistan and still active.
But the White House has begun to strike back. A New York Times reporter was permitted to copy down large segments of the US military’s translation of a 17-page letter in Arabic that Al Qaeda’s senior terrorist operative Abu Musab al Zarqawi was claimed to have written in Iraq and sent in the middle of last month to the organization’s heads.
Intelligence officials involved in the battle against Al Qaeda in the Middle East have been debating whether the letter – which says the only chance for victory in Iraq is to stir up a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites – was indeed written by Zarqawi. Since the letter was published on February 9, the US military command in Iraq has doubled the price on Zarqawi’s head from $5 million to $10 million. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terrorism sources, many seasoned al Qaeda watchers seriously doubt that this particular master terrorist did indeed pen the document, although most decline to offer an opinion.
American troops who intercepted a courier dispatched by Zarqawi with his 17-page message are described in news reports as finding it in the form of a CD. The missive is said to make two salient points: Al Qaeda failed to drive the US army out Iraq despite deadly terrorist strikes and Zarqawi’s success in orchestrating 25 of them. The tables could be turned by sparking civil war between the Sunnis and Shiites.
“So the solution, and only God knows, is that we need to bring the Shia into the battle,” the writer of the document said. “It is the only way to prolong the duration of the fight between the infidels and us. If we succeed in dragging them into a sectarian war, this will awaken the sleepy Sunnis who are fearful of destruction and death at the hands” of Shiites.
“You noble brothers, leaders of the jihad, we do not consider ourselves people who compete against you, nor would we ever aim to achieve glory for ourselves like you did,” the writer says. “So if you agree with it, and are convinced of the idea of killing the perverse sects, we stand ready as an army for you, to work under your guidance and yield to your command.”
The few experts willing to comment on the text to DEBKA-Net-Weekly had this to say:
It is hard to conceive of someone like Zarqawi sending a courier bearing a CD that contained sensitive matter; that would fit the Iraqi Baathists’ modus operandi, not Al Qaeda’s. We know that Zarqawi is based in Teheran. Why would he send to a messenger to Afghanistan via Iraq when top Al Qaeda operatives based in the Iranian capital normally use routes through northern Iran for sending communications to Afghanistan and Pakistan?
Zarqawi, however close he is to al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad leader Ayman Zawahiri, would be overstepping his position if he made recommendations to the top echelon of the organization. This would be out of character in an operative who is a skilled field man with no spiritual or ideological standing in the movement and therefore lacking in competence to touch on the weighty Islamic issue of Sunni versus Shiite.
The letter is written in a different literary style from the usual Al Qaeda documents.
Zarqawi is not a blueblood member of the top Al Qaeda leadership; he’s a Palestinian Jordanian who does the group’s dirty work on a quasi-contractual basis.
Give him a “work order” to blow up the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad or the Italian police headquarters in Nasseriya, and he’s the man to do it. But the disastrous bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad last August was out of his league. Its main victim was the chief UN representative in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. Precise intelligence was needed to track his movements and pin down his location in the building, something only a plant working on the inside could provide. An operation of that sophistication was necessarily the work of a well-established intelligence organization employing professional operatives and supplied with substantial funds.
“The Zarqawi enigma is another of Iraq’s mysteries like Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction,” a seasoned al Qaeda hand confided to DEBKA-Net-Weekly. “Zarqawi admittedly had a finger in the Iraqi pie for at least three years before the US invasion. People who kept an eye on him, including inside US intelligence, knew where he went and which Iraqi intelligence officials were in touch with him – especially those operating in Ansar al-Islam’s training camps.
“All the same, conventional wisdom denied that operational links between Saddam and al Qaeda prior to the war had been proven. What concerns me is the latest attempt at an ‘operational leap’ to link Al Qaeda to all the terrorist attacks ongoing in Iraq. What good is that? All it does is blow up the operations Zarqawi did indeed orchestrate – which are horrendous enough – and give him extra kudos for the strikes he never designed and for which no proof can ever be adduced.
“That would be the same kind of misstatement that ended in the anticlimax of Saddam’s missing WMD stockpiles.”