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Iraq Report: May 30, 2005

30 May 2005, Volume 8, Number 17
AL-ZARQAWI: WHAT IMPACT ON INSURGENCY? A statement posted on 24 May on an Internet website linked in the past to Al-Qaeda, claimed that Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, the leader of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn, was wounded in Iraq. While not yet confirmed, this news is certain to lead to speculation on the future fighting capability of the group. RFE/RL analysts Roman Kupchinsky and Kathleen Ridolfo report on what impact such rumors may have on the insurgency.

The 24 May Internet announcement did not mention the exact date of al-Zarqawi's wounding, but rumors of his injury have been circulating for weeks, along with unconfirmed reports that he had been taken to a hospital in Al-Ramadi. A U.S. military official confirmed that U.S. forces surrounded and searched the hospital in late April, but did not find him. Al-Zarqawi was also allegedly wounded when he jumped from his vehicle on 20 February to evade U.S. capture. In that incident, U.S. forces arrested his driver and seized a laptop computer reportedly belonging to al-Zarqawi that contained his medical records and considerable information on his group's activities in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2005).

There are two possible schools of thought on the importance al-Zarqawi represents for the Iraqi rebellion.

One is that he is a vital commander and strategist without whom the rebellion would flounder and fall apart. As Robert A. Norton writes in, "Capturing al-Zarqawi, or more likely killing him, will have a profoundly positive effect on the morale of both U.S. and Iraqi forces and take a great deal of the wind out of the sails of the insurgency. If nothing else, it will prove that al-Zarqawi isn't invincible and therefore must not have been protected by Allah, an important psychological element."

The other school of thought is that while al-Zarqawi plays a leading role in his group's ideological and financial structure, the group can, and likely will, continue to function without him.

A recently updated organizational chart of al-Zarqawi's group, posted on the website, provides insight into the operational structure of Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn. The commander of the military wing of the organization, Abu Usaid al-Iraqi, is still listed as a fugitive, as is Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Iraqi, the organization's deputy commander. The three main military leaders of fighting brigades are also free.

This would suggest that al-Zarqawi leaves the day-to-day planning of terrorist activities to commanders and cell leaders, rather than playing a direct role in insurgent activities.

How his possible permanent or temporary removal from action could impact on the group's fighting ability is therefore problematic and premature to predict, but given the organization's structure, it is likely to function very well, at least in the short term, without him. The group's ability to function in the long-term would depend upon the ability of his successors to carry out recruitment and fundraising activities. Should al-Zarqawi die, Iraqis should expect a wave of terrorist attacks carried out in his honor, with insurgents declaring him a martyr.


By Kathleen Ridolfo

The announcement on 21 May by more than 1,000 Iraqi Sunni political, religious, and tribal leaders of the formation of a united political bloc represents the first unified step that Sunnis have taken within the political process since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime. While the move has been welcomed by Sunnis and Shi'ite leaders, much more needs to be done in terms of establishing a firm working relationship between those two sides.

Sunnis, who dominated the Hussein-led government, will not be satisfied until they secure a greater role in the political process. They have learned that their boycott was not useful, but it remains unclear whether their demands have become more realistic. Calls at the recent conference for Iraq's Shi'ite interior minister to step down in favor of a Sunni replacement illustrate the attitude of Sunnis who have yet to accept that they can no longer enjoy sole control over the Iraqi security apparatus, let alone the Iraqi political scene.

Meanwhile, some Shi'ite leaders, who constitute a majority in the transitional government, appear unwilling to participate in any form of power sharing with Sunnis -- a consequence of 30 years of oppression at the hands of a Sunni-dominated Ba'athist government. But Sunni leaders appear to have found an unlikely ally. Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who is best known for his militia's fierce resistance of the U.S.-led occupation, told Al-Arabiyah television in a 22 May interview that he has been accepted by the Sunni-led Muslim Scholars Association and by the Shi'ite party Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) as a mediator to help soothe tensions between the two groups (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2005).

Months Of Preparation

Sunni Waqf head Adnan al-Dulaymi said at the 21 May conference that the bloc was established following several months of meetings among disparate Sunni groups: "We were studying the situation of Sunnis in Iraq for months, in periodic meetings. We were recording proceedings of these meetings that we conducted in the presence of reputable personalities who are active in the Iraqi forum," al-Dulaymi told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI). "Our meetings took place behind closed doors, and we did not announce them to the media. We concluded that it was necessary to hold this conference in order to announce here the establishment of the bloc of Sunnis in Iraq (takkattul Ahl al-Sunnah fi Al-Iraq), with participation of a vast portion of their streams and groups -- Islamists, secularists, representatives of tribes, independent, retired officers, university teachers, craftsmen, and businessmen. We will have a seat in Baghdad. We have agreed that we would rely on [the material support from] our Iraqi brothers in financing this purely Iraqi project."

Participants in the conference included representatives from the Muslim Scholars Association, the Iraqi Islamic Party, and former military leaders from the Hussein regime. The National Dialogue Council, a Sunni group that led negotiations with the transitional government over the assignment of ministerial posts, did not attend.

Conference participants called for the establishment of a rule of law in Iraq and for the inclusion of Sunnis in the drafting of the constitution, RFI reported. "Nothing but the rule of law!" Muslim Scholars Association member Makki al-Kubaysi told the conference. "We all hope that all segments of the Iraqi people will participate in the formulation [of this rule] and in drafting its constitution, without any discrimination between Arabs and Kurds and Turkomans, Shi'a or Sunnis, Muslims or non-Muslims."

But opinions expressed at the conference also revealed the level of frustration and distrust that Sunnis have toward their Shi'ite counterparts. Some participants echoed accusations made by Muslim Scholars Association head Harith al-Dari last week, in which he claimed that Shi'ite militiamen from the SCIRI's Badr Brigades had killed a number of Sunni clerics in targeted assassinations (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 20 May 2005).

"We demand that an independent legal body be set up for the investigation in the crimes of slaughtering and torturing people in detention and arrest, and for raising legal charges against those responsible for the violations. We demand dismissing the minister of interior as he is the first responsible for the work of his ministry," an unidentified conference participant announced at the podium, according to RFI.

Shi'ite Leaders Welcome Bloc

Shi'ite leaders in Baghdad nonetheless welcomed the formation of the Sunni bloc, saying it would serve as a step toward establishing better relations between Sunni and Shi'ite parties.

SCIRI political-relations chief Rida Jawad al-Taqi told reporters in Baghdad on 21 May: "I believe that this conference will become a landmark and that a body will come out of it to represent the overwhelming majority of Sunnis, which will facilitate leading negotiations and dialogue with them so that they can effectively participate either in the Iraqi government or in drafting the constitution."

Regarding the Sunni demand that Interior Minister Bayan Jabr step down, al-Taqi told RFI: "The time that we are going through in Iraq is a time of freedom, so Iraqi citizens in general have the right to raise demands. This is natural and there is nothing sensitive in it."

Jabr was less conciliatory, saying that Sunnis had no right to make demands on the transitional government after they boycotted January's National Assembly election. "Regarding those who demand my resignation: someone who has not received a single [electoral] vote has no right to demand from anyone to step aside. The right to dismiss a particular minister belongs to the National Assembly," Jabr said at a 21 May press briefing, according to RFI.

Shi'ite leaders did pledge to include more Sunnis in the constitutional drafting process. Earlier commitments to that end fell through last week when the 55-member constitutional drafting committee was announced with only one Sunni.

SCIRI member and Iraqi Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi told RFI in a 23 May interview: "There has been a high concern in the process of preparing the constitution [draft]. I think today or tomorrow, [setting up] the [parliamentary] committee, and specifically the constitution committee, will be finished. There is a wish to include all communities of the Iraqi people." Abd al-Mahdi said that the committee "must represent the plurality of political streams and different governorates." "This is the desire that the representation be broad, that the constitution be prepared by experts and Iraqis who represent the Iraqi reality, and that the constitution come as a fulfillment of the wishes of all segments of the Iraqi people," he said.

Abd al-Mahdi dismissed reports of growing sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shi'a, saying that the government and Iraq's ethnic and religious groups are united in their rejection of sectarian violence. "We, basically, denounce any strife and any sectarian conflict in Iraq. The Presidential Council supports the unity of the nation. It wants to do its best in fighting terrorism and sabotages and in the proper enforcement of justice, but we will not allow any incitement of any sectarian strife. All segments of the Iraqi people -- Sunnis and Shi'a, Arabs and Kurds, Turkomans and Christians and Assyrians -- all distance themselves from such strife. There are forces willing to provoke the strife among the Iraqi people. [Abu Mus'ab] al-Zarqawi has repeatedly announced that he wants to hijack the strife for his own goals. All communities, Sunnis and Shi'a, recognize the perpetrator or the perpetrators of this strife. Consequently, there is a unified stance of the government and a unified stance of the people."

IRAQ UNVEILS MASSIVE SECURITY PLAN. Iraq's Interior and Defense ministers announced at a 26 May press briefing in Baghdad that they will launch a massive security operation in Baghdad in an effort to capture terrorists operating there, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. The operation, dubbed Operation Lightning, will employ 40,000 security personnel. "The police and the emergency forces and the traffic police will be present 24 hours a day at 675 [permanent] checkpoints [in Baghdad], in addition to makeshift checkpoints. They will be deterring [the terrorists] with all means of force," Interior Minister Bayan Jabr told reporters at the briefing.

Jabr said that ministry commando forces and an army unit will also carry out operations "according to the intelligence information that we get on the positions of terrorists and on the car bomb making factories. These forces will perform unexpected attacks [operations]." Asked if the security measures, which will effectively divide areas of the city into sectors, will affect civilian movement, Jabr said: "Yesterday, in the National Assembly, one of the ministers referred to this possibility. We have been saying that these measures are for the protection of citizens. Moreover, the Iraqi citizens will feel only comfort and safety."

Interior Minister Jabr said that between 15 April and 25 May, 118 car bombs were detonated in the capital while another 13 cars were deactivated before exploding, RFI reported. From 22 May until today, 78 terrorists were arrested, many of them holding Arab citizenship. In one terrorist hideout, $6 million was seized, he said. Jabr related the details of one raid in the southern Iraqi port city of Al-Basrah in which terrorists attempted to smuggle "highly important" Iraqi government documents out of the country by ship. "Terrorists were arrested who were attempting to smuggle these documents to an Arab, non-neighboring country," Jabr said. The incident remains under investigation, he said. Jabr told reporters that no time limit has been set for the operation, meaning that the measures will be in place indefinitely. (Kathleen Ridolfo)