Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, commander of al Qaeda’s terror campaign in Iraq, has been rebuffed by would-be partners in his effort to whip together all the forces fighting the US and Iraqi government into a single grand coalition with a unified command.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter terror sources report that most of the Sunni guerrilla groups shunned his approach, as did the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr‘s Mehdi Army.
Zarqawi had counted on drawing the Mehdi Army over to his side. He would have thus divided the Shiite armed forces he has targeted for all-out war by stealing away one of their three components. The Badr and the Wolves Brigades would have lost Sadr’s militia.
This is a serious setback for the Jordanian terrorist; he had counted on a Shiite partner to maintain the momentum of his current offensive.
That offensive is not about to be reduced, according to our military sources. The Sunni insurgent chiefs, while averse to an all-round unified command, have agreed to coordinate their operations with al Qaeda in three cities: Baghdad, Ramadi and Samarra. Zarqawi will use this collaboration for his continued push past the al Anbar province, over which his forces exercise almost complete control, to areas in central and eastern Iraq such as the Salahedin and Diyalla provinces. From there, al Qaeda will be able to strike south to the Baghdad area and Shiite regions further south.
The Sunni insurgent groups rejected Zarqawi’s overtures for two reasons:
1. They have different goals. Most of the guerilla leaders are former Iraqi officers still loyal to Saddam Hussein and the Baath party and are fighting to remove the American “occupation” and install a “patriotic, national, secular” regime. Al Qaeda’s ambition is to replace the US-backed regime with a Muslim emirate on the lines of the Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan until October 2000.
Radical Shiite Sadr spurns Zarqawi’s advances
2. Most of the Sunni groups he approached – the Omar Brigades, the Army of Muhammad and Ansar al Sunna – want no part of the total war he declared on Iraq’s Shiites. They do not recognize the authority he has assumed to issue fatwas, religious decrees, sanctioning the slaughter of civilians in terrorist attacks.
To draw the Shiite Mehdi Army into his unified command, Zarqawi pointed to the collaboration deals he had struck with some of the Sunni guerrilla chiefs. A similar deal applied to the Shiite cities, he argued, could yield successes like those achieved in Baghdad.
He reminded Sadr’s commanders that in 2004 and early 2005, the Mehdi Army collaborated with al Qaeda in certain arenas of Iraq. However, since Zarqawi began sending his suicide bombers against Shiite forces and civilian population, the Shiite radicals have kept their distance from him.
Refusing to give up, the al Qaeda chief made a gesture of appeasement Tuesday, Sept 20, He issued a special communique explaining that al Qaeda’s war on Iraq’s Shiites made an exception of Ayatollah Sadr’s Mehdi Army and two small Shiite militias operating in Baghdad under the command of Imam Halsi and Imam Baghdadi.
The following day, Zarqawi had his answer; it was a resounding snub. Sadr rejected any attempt to differentiate between Shiites as objects for attack and Shiites as partners of al Qaeda. No assaults on Shiites were legitimate and he, Sadr, was bound to fight anyone who fought Shiites.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources report that the rejections Zarqawi encountered when he extended his hand to the Shiite militia, aside from putting a cog in the wheels of his plans, have seriously damaged his reputation in Iraq. Whereas before he was seen leading an unstoppable terror war to victory, Sadr’s rebuff suggests that the radical cleric is far from sure that the al Qaeda terror chief will end up as a winner.