Al Qaeda Returns to the Fray, Announces New Offensive

The US army in Iraq, augmented in February 2007, was able to fight insurgent and al Qaeda forces to a near-standstill by the end of summer.

Iraqi commanders Generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno hailed the marked slowdown in deaths as a window of opportunity for pulling Iraq out of its slough of violence and onto a track to stability, if only the political forces could come to terms.

But in the last few days, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources report early signs that a fresh wave of trouble is looming over the embattled country. Tuesday, Dec. 4, al Qaeda in Iraq, quiescent for four months, released a new video tape, on which the voice of its military chief Abu Omar al Baghdadi (introducing himself as Abu Omar al Kurdi) is heard declaring the onset of a new offensive in Iraq to be fought up until the end of January 2008.

US intelligence sources in Iraq confirm the authenticity of the voice as al Baghdadi’s.

He announced that the offensive would target US forces, the Sunni tribes working with them and Shiite militias. It would climax on two dates: Dec. 20, four days before Christmas and from Dec. 30 to Jan. 5, over the Christian New Year as celebrated by the different denominations.

The Iraqi al Qaeda leaders disclosed that a coded directive to launch the new campaign immediately had been buried in Osama bin Laden’s last taped bulletin, in which he warned Europe to withdraw from cooperation with the United States.

Even before this release, US intelligence had learned that a new al Qaeda intake had begun regrouping and taking reinforcements of fighters, arms and explosives in order to replace the terrorists driven by American military pressure out of Baghdad and central Iraq to the Mosul region and further north. This new intake was taking the place of the al Qaeda groups which had moved to Afghanistan.

There is no information on where the new reinforcements are coming from and how they infiltrated Iraq undetected by any secret service monitoring the borders.

In the last few days, al Qaeda has made itself felt in an upsurge of strikes against US military convoys across Iraq, including Baghdad.

Wednesday, Dec. 5, four bomb cars blew up killing 25 people in different parts of the capital, one of them the Shiite shopping district of Karradeh.

US and Iraqi commanders report the discovery of a large number of booby-trapped cars in Baghdad primed to go off.

This decline in the security situation brought defense secretary Robert Gates to Baghdad from Afghanistan Wednesday, Dec. 5. He flew straight from Kabul to Mosul to study at close hand the spiral in al Qaeda terrorist attacks and was consequently persuaded to call off a plan to relocate a marine unit from Iraq to Afghanistan.

It was his impression that the situation in the western province of Anbar, which the marines now hold against the return of al Qaeda to its old strongholds, is not stable enough to hand over to other units.

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