Al Qaeda Mobilizes All Its Forces for Iraq
This week, Al Qaeda came out with a claim of responsibility for the huge truck bombing at UN Baghdad headquarters on August 19, in which 23 people lost their lives including senior UN representative in Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello and some 150 were injured. The al Qaeda message appearing on an Arabic Web site accuses the United Nations of being a branch of the American State Department and against Arabs and Muslims.
US officials are reporting their sense that hundreds of Osama bin Laden’s members are now operating inside Iraq alongside Baathists in their bid to undermine the US presence and reconstruction efforts in Iraq.
In its last issue, Number 122, DEBKA-Net-Weekly reported a surge of electronic messages calling on every al Qaeda adherent in the world to mobilize for the battle in Iraq. “Victory over the United States will be far quicker than many think,” say the messages.
To subscribe to DEBKA-Net-Weekly click HERE.
Never before, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources, has al Qaeda staged a general mobilization. It is no propaganda exercise. The response has been enthusiastic and its impact noticeable.
Al Qaeda combatants have been racing towards Iraq in large numbers along four main routes. The most surprising and most recent is the path from western Saudi Arabia through Iran, about which more hereunder.
The Pakistani-Iranian route: Claims by senior Iranian leaders of having thwarted Al Qaeda attacks inside Iran are but a smokescreen for the mass influx of Osama bin Laden’s men into the Islamic Republic from the east: The group entering from the Pakistani border region of Baluchistan forms up at the Iranian cities of Zabol and Zahedan; the group from the Afghan town of Herat foregathers near the north Iranian city of Mashhad.
Iran’s all-powerful Revolutionary Guards have their intelligence units conduct “security checks” at both assembly points to establish the terrorists’ real identities and origins. They are watched by men loyal to al Qaeda operations expert Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, who is thought to have set up his base in Tehran. Once they reach northern Iraqi Kurdistan, they join the Ansar al-Islam extremists heading south to Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle towns of Ramadi, Tikrit, Balad and Fallujah.
Ansar is held responsible for the Jordanian embassy bomb attack in Baghdad last month. This Iraqi al Qaeda affiliate, once no more than 600 to 800 fighters, has swelled and set up two new units: Jund al-Allah, or “Soldiers of Allah”, and al-Usad, or “The Lions”, indicating a Syrian connection. (Bashar Assad’s name means lion.) Its members are deployed along the northwestern Iraqi-Syrian border, attaching themselves to the al Qaeda arrivals from Syria.
The two groups have already executed joint strikes in the northern Iraqi oil city of Mosul. In one, they attempted to assassinate the local chief of police, but only seriously wounding him.
The Syrian route: At least 1,000 al Qaeda men have traveled along this busiest of all the corridors into Iraq, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources report. Damascus International airport is logistical hub and main distribution point for Al Qaeda operatives flying in from Central Asia, Chechnya, the Balkans – mainly Kosovo and Bosnia – Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and even Iran.
Many Al Qaeda fighters turned back by Iran for security reasons go round through Damascus, some hosted at the teeming medressas, or religious schools, other at Palestinian terrorist training camps operating in Damascus. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command receive a large part of their operational funding from Tehran and moreover collect a fee per head for every Al Qaeda operative they train.
On their way into Iraq, Osama bin Laden’s men transit Syrian-Iraqi frontier lands dominated by nomadic Saudi-Iraqi-Syrian Sunni tribesmen. For almost a decade, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence and military sources reveal, Saddam sent monthly stipends to tribal, clan, business and clerical leaders ruling an area roamed by two million of these tribesmen. Once a year, Saddam resettled several thousand demobilized Iraqi officers and their families in the region with orders to assimilate and set up familial relations with the local tribes.
Since the money dried up from Baghdad, Syrian-administered Iranian funds have been disbursed to those tribal leaders. As a result Saddam loyalists are still in control of the tribal regions which US intelligence has found impenetrable. A rare intelligence source knowledgeable about the region told DEBKA-Net-Weekly: “It is true that guerrilla attacks against the Americans are launched from the Sunni Triangle. However the logistics and the consignment of fighting strength to the Triangle are directed from the tribal territories.”
In the last week, the flow of Syrian and Al Qaeda fighters across the frontier into Iraq has doubled.
The Saudi route via Iran: This is the newest channel, first set up in mid-July – but also one of the busiest, believed to have accommodated 1,500- 2,500 Saudi al Qaeda combatants transiting Iran at the rate of almost a thousand a week. Some are thought to be on the run from the Saudi hue and cry conducted against these fundamentalist terrorists since the May 12 Riyadh bombings. Another group appears to consist of Afghan-Pakistan combat veterans obeying the call to arms and eager for the chance of revenge for their rout in Afghanistan. They are also looking forward to an advance base from which to strike down the Saudi throne.
The opening of this route means that for the second time in two years Iran is granting Saudi al Qaeda combatants free passage from one anti-American battle arena to another.
Like Syrian president Bashar Assad, who claims to know nothing of the al Qaeda fighters passing through Damascus, Tehran too says it is powerless to halt their through-passage into Iraq as tourists on valid Saudi passports. They all head to the western Ilan region, where local smugglers help them cross over to the Iraqi towns of al Kut in the south or Baquba in the center.
The Saudi route via Syria:
The same Syrian-Saudi Sunni Muslim tribes who crisscross the Iraqi-Syrian frontier also trek along a north-south route between Syria and Saudi Arabia via Jordan. En route, they collect Saudi, Yemeni, Sudanese and other al Qaeda fighters all heading towards the Iraqi battlefront.
Despite this surge of al Qaeda traffic into Iraq, Washington is reluctant to send reinforcements to the 140,000-strong force shouldering the extra burden and casting about for foreign troop increments.
US administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer and American military commanders have asked the Bush administration for two more divisions at full strength to meet the fresh contingencies. President Bush has promised a decision in early October. US field commanders fear the six-week delay will exact a heavy toll on security in Iraq. They predict –
A. The guerrilla war will intensify and the infiltrations of Al Qaeda and other anti-American elements further build up.
B. Strategic parts of Iraq will fall under the control of the Islamist terror group as it ranks are beefed up by unimpeded infiltrations.
C. Tehran will intervene on the side of the Sunni Muslim campaign against the Americans by sponsoring more terrorist attacks like the bombings of the Jordanian embassy and UN HQ in Baghdad. This intervention may draw Iraqi Shiites into the conflict whereas at present they view it as a “purely a Sunni war”.