In appearances across the US, President Bush has been campaigning
against withdrawing troops from Iraq, arguing that to leave now
would hand a historic victory to Al Qaeda and inspire new
generations of jihadists to attack the US.
But a letter that has been translated and released by the US
military indicates that Al Qaeda itself sees the continued American
presence in Iraq as a boon for the terror network, which has
recently shown signs of expanding into the Palestinian territories
and North Africa.
"The most important thing is that the jihad continues with
steadfastness ... indeed, prolonging the war is in our interest,"
says the writer, who goes by the name Atiyah. The letter, released
last week, was recovered in the rubble of the Iraqi house where Abu
Musab al-Zarqawi, former leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, was killed by a
US bomb in June.
If the letter is accurate, it provides a window into the group's
strategic thinking on Iraq that differs starkly from the one the
Bush administration has been expressing publicly - a view the
president reiterated Wednesday when he said that Al Qaeda believes
that "America is weak, and if they can kill enough innocent people
we'll retreat. That's precisely what they want."
While the letter was released only recently, Atiyah, thought to
be a senior Al Qaeda leader whose full name Atiyah Abd al-Rahman,
apparently wrote it last December from the Pakistani region of
Waziristan. It has surfaced among a flurry of other communiques from
Al Qaeda's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a videotape this
week in which he lashed out at Mr. Bush and Pope Benedict XVI. On
Sept. 28, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, believed to have replaced Mr.
Zarqawi as the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, published an Internet
statement in which he reached out to Sunni tribal leaders who have
been in conflict with Al Qaeda. And a new group claiming to be Al
Qaeda in Palestine issued a video attacking Palestinian political
But the Atiyah letter, reflecting as it does the candid opinions
of Al Qaeda, rather than the group's propaganda statement crafted
for public consumption, appears to offer the most insight. It is
largely focused on the fact that Zarqawi's tactics were alienating
Iraqi Sunni leaders, and urges him to move with more caution.
He strongly warned Zarqawi against assassinating Sunni leaders.
Al Qaeda is a Sunni organization that has been trying to use
minority Sunni anxiety in Iraq to build support. The letter also
called the Zarqawi-organized bombing of three hotels in Jordan in
2005 a "mistake," arguing that expanding Iraq's jihad beyond its
borders too soon will cost them public support.
At one point, Atiyah muses that perhaps Zarqawi should step down
from his leadership role, "if you find at some point someone who is
better and more suitable than you." Since Zarqawi's death, a "more
suitable" figure from Al Qaeda's standpoint has indeed emerged. …