Iraq’s Anbar Province Becomes al Qaeda’s Springboard against Middle East and Europe

Thirty-eight US troops have died in Iraq in ten days.
Wednesday, August 3 was the worst. A Marine amphibious assault vehicle struck a roadside bomb outside Haditha, killing 14 members of Regimental Combat Team 2, 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) and an interpreter. One Marine was injured. Two days earlier, 7 members of the same unit were killed in the same part of the Euphrates Valley, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad. The attack was claimed by the al Qaeda-linked Ansar al Sunna.
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In this part of the sprawling Anbar Province of northwest Iraq – a territory about the size of Texas – US troops are fighting some of their bitterest battles to seal the route from Syria that feeds the Sunni insurgency and its close ally, al Qaeda’s Iraq wing under the command of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, with a steady supply of fighters, weapons and cash. In one counter-insurgency operation after another, US forces have beaten at the iron grip Zarqawi has clamped on the strategic Anbar province. But his jihadists have not been dislodged, fortified as they are by the logistical backing provided by Syria and the free egress the Assad regime allows foreign fighters crossing into Iraq.
This deadly showdown in the torrid Anbar desert is exacting a grim price in American military casualties.
On July 15, DEBKA-Net-Weekly 214 revealed for the first time Zarqawi’s claim to Anbar, which ranges from the environs of Baghdad to the Syrian, Jordanian and Saudi borders, as al Qaeda’s first solid territorial base since the loss of Afghanistan in 2001.
Since the Jordanian terrorist planted his following there, al Qaeda has sent suicide killers for strikes in London and Sharm el-Sheikh. Teams identified with the terror group are now turning up in Jordan, Syria, the Sinai Peninsula and, this week too, the Gaza Strip. Zarqawi’s overall thrust aims at engulfing additional territories in the Middle East and toppling regimes. The onset of this new al Qaeda offensive in Europe and the Middle East indicates that Zarqawi’s superiors in the organization have endorsed his ambitious master plan.
According to intelligence estimates, Zarqawi holds on to the area with a little more than 5,000 men, of whom roughly 1,000 are Saudi and Yemeni zealots, 300 Jordanian and an unknown number is Syrian, Moroccan and Palestinian. His firm grip on Anbar persuaded the al Qaeda hierarchy in Pakistan and Afghanistan that 1,000 seasoned fighters could be spared from other parts of Iraq and diverted to the new terror offensive outside. A new recruiting drive would meanwhile replenish the ranks in Iraq with fresh suicide fodder.
In a message to his superiors, revealed here for the first time, Zarqawi offered the estimate that after three years of joint combat, Iraqi insurgents ought to be able to conduct their guerrilla war against the Americans henceforth unaided. He said they were experienced enough to dispense with al Qaeda’s aid and instruction and charged with the main brunt of fighting US and government forces.
The terrorist organization could then focus on its two prime objectives:
1. Preserving the Iraqi wing of al Qaeda’s control of Anbar Province.
2. The province’s adaptation as a springboard and territorial base for launching attacks in other parts of the Middle East and Europe.

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