Taking note of the success chalked up by the new joint US-Shiite venture in the Tal Afar anti-insurgent operation, the Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi loosed a particularly savage campaign of terror against Shiite targets, most civilian and poor. He launched it in four rapid-fire stages, outlined here by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terror experts:
Stage One – Chemical Threat
Sunday, September 11, as grieving Americans stood at Ground Zero, New York, to commemorate the fourth anniversary of al Qaeda’s attacks, The Victorious Community, one of his organizations in Iraq, threatened the use of “self-made chemical weapons” against Americans in Iraq, including Baghdad, if the Tal Afar operation was not halted in 24 hours.
No chemical weapons have been encountered on any Iraqi warfront thus far, but our military sources do not rule out its use against American targets in the near future. The communiques released through Zarqawi’s outlets – running to 20-30 a day – have a fairly high credibility rating.
In his final communique, declaring war on all Shiites (below), he boasts of information he has received that the US and Iraqi Shiite forces’ next offensive will be mounted against the mixed Shiite-Sunni town of Samarra in the Sunni triangle, north of Baghdad. But this time, Zarqawi promises he has massive strength ready to make a strong stand and commands (unspecified) capabilities able to ward off a repeat of the Tal Afar debacle by pinning down the raiding forces outside the town.
Stage Two – Gunning for Jaafari
The next day, September 12, prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari inspected the Tal Afar battlefield. (The Americans had promised to allow him a well-publicized war zone visit as an image-boosting stunt.)
One of Zarqawi’s websites used the occasion to announce a $100,000 prize to whomsoever killed the instigator of the Tal Afar offensive. On top of the psychological effect, the al Qaeda chief was clearly spoiling for revenge against the Shiites for collaborating with the Americans and the Shiite Turkomen for their “treachery.”
Zarqawi is out to get Jaafari and the Turkomen however long it takes.
Stage Three – Revenge
Wednesday, September 14, al Qaeda unleashed a series of bloody suicide bombing attacks in Baghdad. His “Land of the Two Rivers” website described the assaults as vengeance for the Tal Afair offensive.
Day One saw a dozen suicide car bombings claiming up to 170 lives – mostly Shiites – and injuring more than 500. Day Two started off with the death of 26 Iraqi police commandos in bombing and shooting attacks.
These outrages also set a dangerous precedent.
For the first time in the Iraq war, al Qaeda retaliated for a US-Iraqi military operation. The organization was demonstrating that it commanded the resources, manpower, weapons and funds to fight on four simultaneous fronts – Baghdad, Tal Afar, Al Qaim and Basra. In addition to the breadth of its reach, al Qaeda-Iraq also exhibited a high level of logistic and tactical coordination among those fronts under his command.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts see a substantial upgrading of Zarqawi’s operational capabilities in Iraq.
Later that day, he circulated a morale booster among his men by electronic signals. Al Qaeda, he reported, had opened up new desert routes into Iraq through which 750 fresh fighters had entered the country that very day to replace the men lost at Tal Afar. Another 500 fighters were reported en route to Iraq. The notice did not identify the new desert routes. Three of Iraq’s borders happen to run through deserts, the frontiers with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia – so it could have been any of them.
It is possible that the Al Qaeda leader inflated the figures of incoming fresh fighting strength to encourage his men; he may also have recalled some of the fighters he recently sent to Jordan, Egyptian Sinai and Syria in order to make up for his depleted ranks in Iraq.
Stage Four – Fatwa and Counter-Fatwa
That same Wednesday night, Zarqawi’s hectic day’s activity peaked with the release of a new videotape in which he declared war on “the Shiites of all Iraq -” wherever they may be and at all times. He cited an al Qaeda fatwa which denounces Shiites as heretics who do not deserve to be rated Muslims. This declaration has two implications:
1. Whether or not the Shiites are ready to plunge into civil war with the Sunni Al Qaeda and its Iraqi commander, Zarqawi’s declaration means they are at war.
This conflict goes to the roots of the schism in Islam between Sunnis and Shiites which was not dragged into open warfare in the 1,400 years since the Fourth Caliph Ali, the Prophet Mohammed’s cousin. Now al Qaeda has issued a religious decree ordering every Sunni Muslim to kill any Shiite he may encounter. This leaves the Shiites with no option but to fight back and brings Iraq closer than ever before to sectarian warfare.
2. Whereas al Qaeda tapes have always been handed in to the Qatar-based al Jazeera television network for airing, the Zarqawi war declaration was broadcast by the rival Al Arabiya, which is Saudi- owned and controlled from Riyadh.
By allowing the tape to be broadcast, the Saudis made a statement with regard to their own sizeable Shiite minority which could be seen as tantamount to adopting the view that Shiites are taboo as regards the Muslim consensus.
Thursday night, Iraq’s Shiites sent their biggest religious gun to reply to al Qaeda’s declaration of war. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who does not make free with his religious decrees, Thursday night, September 15, took the extreme step of issuing a fatwa proclaiming an Iraqi Shiite boycott of Saudi Arabia and Jordan. He accused Iraq’s two Sunni neighbors of fostering Sunni terror in Iraq.