Zarqawi Moves His Headquarters to Baghdad

According to intelligence data reaching the American command, the Jordanian terrorist chief, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, commander of al Qaeda Iraq, has left the Sunni-dominated Anbar province bordering on Syria after two years. In mid-October he is described as driving into Baghdad in mid-October in a convoy of six Iraqi military vehicles stolen from US-Iraqi bases in the north. All the travelers, including the boss, were clad in new uniforms of high Iraqi army officers. They breezed past the roadblocks guarding the town’s entrances without arousing suspicion. Indeed some of the Iraqi security officers manning them saluted the fake officers.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources add: the convoy rolled in to the northeastern, Sunni district known as the Seven Wells, to be greeted by the local commander Emir Abu Yashak and his men. Yashak was given the job of setting up a secret command center and several safe houses for the new arrivals to work out of, as well as escape routes and facilities should the Americans uncover the new hideouts.
It is the first time that US forces and intelligence know for sure where Zarqawi is located. They know he is now in Baghdad.
A week later, the al Qaeda chief, fully aware that the Americans had pinned him down geographically, went into action. Monday, October 24, three truck bombs driven by suicide bombers exploded at two hotels housing foreign journalists and contractors in central Baghdad. At least 20 Iraqi security guards and passers-by were killed. Al Qaeda then returned to its offensive to frighten Arab and Muslim missions into exiting the Iraqi capital, by abducting and executing two Moroccan embassy employees. A Sudanese working at his country’s Baghdad embassy was killed Wednesday, Nov. 9. A day earlier, al Qaeda gunmen targeted a another two members of the Saddam Hussein trial defense team, killing one, wounding another, after murdering the first lawyer last month. A large question mark now hovers over the resumption of the crimes against humanities trial awaiting the deposed dictator and seven senior associations on Nov. 28. The surviving defense counsel want the trial moved abroad.
Zarqawi’ plan of action for his new base was summarized by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s al Qaeda experts:
1. Multi-weapon, multi-casualty, coordinated attacks on Americans and other foreigners working in Baghdad that are hideous enough to shut down and put to flight diplomatic missions and foreign companies, international aid organizations, journalists and the foreign technical teams employed in constructing and operating Iraq’s new infrastructure. 2. Along with large-scale coordinated attacks, al Qaeda will step up the hostage-taking and executions of foreigners.
3. The offensive will aim at crippling Iraq’s government, security and parliamentary administration by pinpoint assassinations of cabinet ministers, lawmakers, civil servants, members of the judiciary, army officers and rank-and-file police and soldiers – plus anyone seen by Zarqawi as a collaborator with the Americans.
4. American locations will be targeted – from US headquarters in the fortified Green Zone seat of Iraqi government, to American army command centers and bases and mobile patrols. The attacks will come from within the city, not its outer fringes.
But Zarqawi’s overriding goal, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources. It is to cast the Iraq capital into such a state of turmoil and dislocation as to make it impossible to hold parliamentary elections as scheduled on December 15. This would bring to a halt moments before its consummation the entire democratic cycle on which Iraq has been moving forward this past year.
The al Qaeda commander rates this objective so high that he has tied himself down to Baghdad and so restricted his freedom of movement, which was unfettered in the wide open spaces of Anbar province. At the center of the action instead of behind the scenes, he is also more vulnerable to capture or being killed.
But the terrorist chief may not have had too many options, given three new circumstances.
One, the mounting international pressure on Bashar Assad’s regime may remove Syria as his and al Qaeda’s rear base and escape hatch under a revamped regime or even a new ruler. In Anbar near the Syrian border, he would have laid himself open to a collaborative Syrian-American turned against him.
Two, new American military tactics took heavy toll of his forces and forced them into retreat. They have no answer for the updated American military tactic of rolling large forces with massive firepower from one location to the next, after thoroughly purging each one. This tactic is workable in the desert reaches and outlying villages of Anbar, but not in a city with millions of inhabitants like Baghdad. This American tactic may have put Zarqawi and his terrorist legions to flight; but it is not applicable after they are embedded in Baghdad.
Three, this successful US tactic not only uprooted terrorist bases but inflicted heavy losses running to hundreds of fighting men. In Baghdad, Zarqawi believes he commands a fresh pool of fighting men to refill his depleted ranks, namely, the 90,000 Palestinians who are being dispossessed by the Shiite government of Ibrahim Jaafari.
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