Depending on how fast the weather cools off in Iraq, President George W. Bush and his strategists plan a general offensive against Sunni guerrilla and al Qaeda forces for early or late September. That gives Iraqi guerrillas and their Sunni Arab supporters, chiefly Saudi Arabia and Syria, just three and half months to turn the clock back and avoid being pushed into side roles in the future Iraqi government by the Shiites and the Kurds. They will certainly fight every step of the way and resort to such extreme measures as mega-terror, including chemical and biological attacks, against the US and British forces stripping them of their once most powerful hold on power. Oil fields and pipelines will be targeted as well as UN institutions. Every member of the provisional Iraqi government must live in constant fear of assassination. Terrorist attacks may also reach cities in the United States, Europe and the Middle East, although Bush rarely factors in this type of threat when he sets out his policy equation for Iraq.
But, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terrorism experts, the Baath party insurgents and al Qaeda have come to realize that however hard they hit the United States and its Iraqi interests and however much havoc they wreak, they cannot arrest the inexorable transfer of power to hands other than their own.
A new, uncertain note was detected in the written comments made by al Qaeda’s senior operations commander in Iraq, Musab Zarqawi, to the London-based Egyptian Makrizi think tank. “I deeply miss the place of my birth (Zarqa, Jordan, where he is wanted man), but my world is not my country – it is where I continue to wage jihad,” he said. “I must keep on fighting until the Koran has a country of its own.”
The arch terrorist’s remarks lack the high confidence of six months ago when he and al Qaeda boasted that they were on the high road to imposing the Sunni Muslim interpretation of the Koran on the whole of Iraq, including its Shiite and Kurdish regions. Now the Jordanian terrorist sounds as though it is an uphill project.
His main difficulty, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources, is that the flow of trained al Qaeda fighters into Iraq has slowed to a snail’s pace. The following figures, obtained in our exclusive investigations, illumine the problem:
From May 2003 to the present, 15,000 armed men streamed into Iraq from Syria. But only 3,000 were fighters – the others were returning home to their families and tribes – and less than half of that fighting strength, between 1,000 and 2,000 men, belonged to al Qaeda. The rest were “Arab fighters” – Syrians, Palestinians, Lebanese – who joined up for the guerrilla war against the US occupiers. Our intelligence experts judge Zarqawi needs at least 7,500 to 10,000 fighters to hold on to key points in the Sunni Triangle. This number is out of his or the Baathists’ reach, notwithstanding the large-scale training programs run by Saudi Arabia and Syria and their efforts to smuggle fighting strength into Iraq.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain have pitched in, like Syria, on the side of the Iraqi insurgency because for them, the creation of an autonomous Shiite entity or state on their doorstep is a nightmare scenario. They all have their own restive Shiite communities – in Syria’s case, the Shiites are in Lebanon – and fear the empowerment of the Iraqi Shiite majority will stir up secessionist movements at home.
Deep-seated political, military and economic divisions are keeping the Sunni Arab powers from joining forces for a united stand against the United States and its objectives in Iraq. Those divisions prevented last Saturday’s Arab summit in Tunis from agreeing on any substantial steps in any direction.