DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror and intelligence sources in Iraq have uncovered an unexpected fracture in the anti-American front: Al Qaeda has disrupted a bid by the entire gamut of Iraqi pro-Saddam and Baathist guerrilla groups to bury their differences and unite for the single goal of driving the Americans out of Iraq. Their leaders agreed to call their new consolidated organization The Popular Front for the Liberation of Iraq. Its motto: It does not matter who evicts the Americans or what their motives may be, whether national or religious, as long as the goal is accomplished.
According to our sources, Baathist leaders invited the heads of three terrorist groups linked to al Qaeda to join the new front: The Sunni Army, whose members arrived in Iraq in the last year and are concentrated in northwestern Iraq, south and east of Mosul and the western al Qaim region near the Syrian border; Ansar al-Islam, which consists mostly of Iraqi Kurdish and Arab fundamentalists operating under Iran-based al Qaeda senior operatives. Their cells make free of areas ranging from northern Kurdistan to Baghdad; and Muhammad’s Army, originally formed by the Iraqi Baath, whose members assumed the guise of Islamic radicals – but then converted in earnest – plus Saudi and Yemeni al Qaeda infiltrators. This third guerrilla group focuses its efforts to plague US forces on the towns of Ramadi, Fallujah and Habaniya north of Baghdad and the western approaches to the capital, including the international airport.
All three groups said no to the Baathists’ invitation to join forces in replies that were clearly synchronized.
But first they had a gripe: the Saddamists, they said, have been taking the names of al Qaeda and its affiliates in vain in their claims of responsibility for terrorist attacks and in their propaganda materials. This conveys the false impression that Osama bin Laden’s organization is integrated in the Iraqi national resistance movement, which could not be further from the truth.
As for the rejection: “It is unimaginable,” said al Qaeda’s Iraqi functionaries, “for Iraq’s liberation not to incorporated in the world jihad waged by the Muslim community. They warned that Iraq’s liberation would not be accepted as such if achieved by Baath forces on their own and without a proper Islamic seal.
This sternly uncompromising response is seen by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Islamic experts as signaling the further radicalization of al Qaeda. They stress that the new inflexibility is not confined to Iraq. As will be shown in more articles and analyses in this issue, al Qaeda is applying the same rigidity to other parts of the Middle East and Persian Gulf. In Saudi Arabia, for example, the entire opposition movement to the throne has been blacklisted and pronounced unfit for collaboration because it includes “heretics” – both secular groups and those prepared to work with disaffected Shiite Muslim citizens of the kingdom.
In Syria, al Qaeda has branded the Assad regime in toto heretical and, in the Palestinian context, al Qaeda is doctrinally opposed not only to Arafat and the Palestinian authority, but to Hamas too.