Politics & Policy

Z Squared

Making sense of the Zawahiri-Zarqawi letter.

So what was all that stuff about the Shiites? I was asking my late friend, James Jesus Angleton, once upon a time the head of counterintelligence for the CIA, about the now-famous letter from Ayman Zawahiri to Abu Musab Zarqawi captured somehow by somebody and posted on the website of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. We were communicating, as usual, through my antique ouija board, and for once the connection was crystal clear.

JJA: Good question, that. There’s an unbelievable amount of verbiage devoted to the Shiites by Zawahiri, picking up on Zarqawi’s proclamation of all-out war against the Shiites in Iraq some time ago. He goes on for several pages, denouncing the Shiite doctrine–even to the point of calling them “Twelver Shiites,” after the messianic descendant of the Prophet–the 12th Imam–who is said to have disappeared, pending his triumphal return at the end of time. He calls them all kinds of names…

ML: Yes, and he blames them for supporting the liberation of Afghanistan, did you catch that? He says that “Rafsanjani himself confessed to it.”

JJA: And how. That’s one of the oddest features of the whole letter. What in the world is Rafsanjani doing there? Especially because Zawahiri segues smoothly from his vicious attack against the Shiites to a call to abandon all attacks against them.

ML: That’s my point exactly. First he calls them every name in the book. Then he says all “people of discernment and knowledge among Muslims” know that Shiites have always cooperated with “the enemies of Islam.” He calls the conflict between any true Muslim state and the Shiites “a matter that will happen sooner or later. This is the judgment of history.”

JJA: Right. And then, without taking a deep breath, he says “the majority of Muslims don’t comprehend this and possibly could not even imagine it,” and therefore the average Muslim man on the street doesn’t understand why Zarqawi is attacking the Shiites. Not only that, but it’s impossible to explain it to them. They can’t possibly get it.

ML: Talk about a dim view of the Muslim masses!

JJA: Yeah, they’re all village idiots, in Zarkawi’s eyes.

ML: But I always thought that the Sunnis were totally indoctrinated to hate the Shiites.

JJA: Me too. So this is baffling. Zawahiri tosses in another peculiar line: “even if we attack the Shia out of necessity, then why do you announce this matter and make it public, which compels the Iranians to take counter measures?”

ML: What’s the deal with that? The papers have been full of stories about all the help the Iranians are giving to the Sunni insurgents, even in the south, where Iran has lots of leverage.

JJA: Indeed. And Zawahiri also “reminds” Zarqawi that “we have more than one hundred prisoners–many of whom are from the leadership who are wanted in their countries–in the custody of the Iranians.”

ML: Odd, isn’t it?

JJA: I’ll say it’s odd. It reads like Iranian disinformation. Zawahiri takes great pains to blame Zarqawi for Iranian meddling in Iraq (reacting to attacks on Shiites), and reinforces the old story about Iran holding al Qaeda “prisoners.” I’ve never believed that.

ML: In fact, the 9/11 Commission, for all its faults, showed a long-standing alliance between the mullahs and al Qaeda, years before 9/11.

JJA: Yes, and including obvious assistance from Iran to several of the terrorists when they traveled to America to do the evil deed.

ML: So why should anyone think that Iran is being mean to them now?

JJA: Because the Iranians want us to believe it. Most of the stuff I’ve seen suggests that Zawahiri himself is in Iran, and has been there ever since Afghanistan, as has bin Laden’s son–and who knows about bin Laden himself?

ML: So you think the letter is just Iranian disinformation?

JJA: No, I don’t think it’s that simple. I think it’s like a CIA assessment. I think it’s groupthink. Letter-by-committee. Lots of it sounds right to me, especially that stuff about using the media, although even there, I have my doubts.

ML: The single best line of the whole document is when Zawahiri says “we are in a battle, and…more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media.” When I read that, I wondered if one of our own spooks hadn’t written it.

JJA: Well, that could also be. It’s certainly true, God knows. But it’s odd that he should say it, if you see what I mean.

ML: Well, he says it in the context of his criticism of the beheadings. “You shouldn’t be deceived by the praise of some of the zealous young men and their description of you as the Sheikh of the Slaughterers etc.”

JJA: But the whole point of the beheadings is to recruit zealous young men. That’s been obvious for years. Videos of beheadings have been used a recruiting tools by the jihadis for a long time. Why turn against them now?

ML: Maybe because the jihad isn’t going very well in Iraq at the moment?

JJA: That’s close, but it doesn’t get us all the way to the key point.

ML: Don’t be coy, please, the damn ouija board is starting to spark again, I’m going to lose you soon.

JJA: The authors of the letter are blaming Zarqawi for the loss of popular support in Iraq. They want to put a human face on the jihad.

ML: Some human face, they want us and the Iraqis to be killed by guns instead of knives.

JJA: Yeah, but even some of their supporters in the media are unhappy with the bloodthirsty methods.

ML: So you think maybe Zarqawi is on the way out?

JJA: It wouldn’t surprise me. Zawahiri does raise a question about the leadership of the terrorists in Iraq by a non-Iraqi like Zarqawi, doesn’t he? “If there is sensitivity (to the leadership of a Jordanian like Zarqawi), what is its effect? And how can it be eliminated while preserving the commitment of the jihadist work and without exposing it to any shocks?”

ML: So it’s a black spot?

JJA: Maybe a mafia kiss.

ML: And what about Zawahiri’s request for money?

I could barely hear Angleton, it actually sounded like he was spitting.

JJA: …Damnest thing I ever heard…wants us to think he’s run out of cash in his cave or some idiotic thing…utter bleeping nonsense…

And he was gone.

Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. He is resident scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.

Michael LedeenMichael Ledeen is an American historian, philosopher, foreign-policy analyst, and writer. He is a former consultant to the National Security Council, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense. ...


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