Selim Saheb Ettaba
Agence France Presse
BAGHDAD: Jordanian Islamist Abu Musab Zarqawi has rallied the insurgency in Iraq thanks to his endorsement by Al-Qaeda and demonization by the U.S. For several months, most claims of attacks carried out by the insurgency, dominated by supporters of the former Baathist regime, have been issued by groups purportedly linked to Zarqawi's network, formerly known as Tawhid wal Jihad (Unity and Holy War), Iraqi and U.S. officials said.
Zarqawi's name is a convenient tag for ousted President Saddam Hussein's Baath party and security-service veterans who want to disguise their involvement and gain popular support for their violence, the officials said.
"Baathists are no longer supported by the people in Iraq," said the Interior Ministry's intelligence chief Major General Hussein Kamal.
He said: "The Baathists have chosen to hide behind the religious Jihadi front to regain the sympathy of the people and control the minds of the ignorant. This led Zarqawi to be the front."
Kamal added: "They (the Baathists) are working with the Islamists under joint leadership to gather intelligence and wage operations," he said. "By Islamists, I mean Al-Qaeda and others existing in Iraq."
He added that the partnership was also spurred by the crackdown on insurgents by the new Iraqi security forces.
Baathists saw the Al-Qaeda brand name as a useful calling card, Kamal said.
"They are hiding behind Al-Qaeda because Al-Qaeda is the biggest enemy to the United States and to the West."
A spokesman for the U.S. Army's 42nd Infantry Division, in charge of four provinces north of Baghdad, including three of the most restless in the country, confirmed the prominence of the Baathist trend within the insurgency.
"Here in our region the vast majority of the insurgents are former regime elements," said Major Richard Goldenberg.
Kamal said: "No operation carried out by the Baathists has been claimed in the name of the Baath party. They have been using other names like the Islamic Army, Tawhid wal Jihad or the Salahaddin Brigade ... all cells linked to the Zarqawi group." Statements are often an opportunity for groups to advertise themselves, even if they are not involved in the attack.
"It is one of two things: either the insurgents are claiming to be part of Zarqawi's vast network or they will make an attack and Zarqawi will take credit for it," the U.S. military spokesman said.
A sound criterion to determine the actual involvement of foreign fighters is suicide attacks.
"The majority of suicide bombers are (non-Iraqi) Arabs," concurred General Kamal, citing specifically Saudis and Yemenis.
"I don't have an exact number of how many of Zarqawi affiliates there are (in Iraq) but I would say those who have entered the country illegally are in the hundreds. That is according to information given by Arab terrorists detained in Iraq," he said.
In a message attributed to Zarqawi and found in January 2004 in the possession of an alleged high-ranking Pakistani Al-Qaeda operative, the author lamented the lack of eagerness for martyrdom in Iraqi insurgents.
"The Iraqi brothers still favor their own security and prefer to go back to the arms of their wives, away from all fears. The members of these groups sometimes boast that none of them has been killed or been taken prisoner," the document reads.
Goldenberg acknowledged the responsibility of the U.S. in the rise of Zarqawi, for whose capture Washington is offering the same bounty as for Osama bin Laden: $25 million.
"It is a two-edged sword since you create someone who is popular. For this maybe we gave him much momentum for his publicity, but at the same time the Iraqis see him as an outsider."