Al-Zarqawi as Master Strategist in Iraq, Rising Leader of the Global Jihad

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 2 Issue: 20

A series of online statements posted by the mujahideen increasingly downplay the issue of foreign invasion as a factor in the rise of jihad. One of the more recent of these was a posting on October 18 by the Organization of al-Qaeda in Iraq, the group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Referring to the upcoming visit by Secretary General of the Arab League Amr Moussa, who was heading a delegation aimed at convincing the Sunnis to engage with the political process, the statement dismissed the link between political rights for the Sunnis in Iraq and jihad. “We are not fighting to chase the occupier out or preserve national unity or keep borders delineated by the infidel intact. We are fighting,” it explained, “because it is a religious duty, just as it is a duty to take Shari’ah law to the government and create an Islamic state” (

The posting is the second conspicuous statement defining the aims of al-Zarqawi’s group and reprises an earlier, detailed presentation of the stages, policy and purpose of the jihadi campaign in Iraq under al-Zarqawi’s direction. This statement, authored by Abu Abd Allah Ahmad al-Umran “from the Land of Najd” (the area of central Saudi Arabia) and posted by the official mouthpiece for al-Qaeda, was issued through the Global Islamist Media Front, posted on the al-Farouq Islamist forum on October 9 ( The al-Umran statement is a descriptive paean to the achievements of al-Zarqawi, and appears intended to counter mounting flak at his policies in Iraq, coming three days after the controversial intercepted letter from al-Zawahiri addressed to al-Zarqawi.

At the beginning of the three-page analysis, entitled “The Fighting Policy for Qaedat al-Jihad in the Land of the Two Rivers,” al-Umran details how al-Zarqawi and the mujahideen made preparations for fighting the Americans in Iraq more than a year before the invasion of the country. Al-Zarqawi “with his penetrating insight” had planned the systematic transferal to Kurdistan, to “prepare for the fight through establishing training camps and weapons depots all over Iraq.” Attracted to al-Zarqawi, who was known [from his time] in Afghanistan, were “many brothers from the Land of the Two Shrines [Saudi Arabia].” The author takes care to counter doubts on al-Zarqawi’s activity by carefully stressing that the continuous acceleration of operations is on “legitimate targets selected with care, against specific categories [of target].”

Each category of targeting, or “political axis,” forms part of a coherent whole. Al-Umran enumerates three of them, and details them as follows:

The first axis—to “isolate the American army”

This goal is made up of two clear elements. The first is to target the Arab translators cooperating with the military, since these are viewed as the link between the U.S. army and the Iraqi people. By targeting these, the army becomes isolated and any burgeoning understanding between the military and the Iraqis is cut. By rendering the army “deaf,” they are denied up-to-date information from the field. The second element is to target the police and the National Guard, as they play the role of shields to the U.S. military. This element, al-Umran states, is the most conspicuous at the present time, and is now “reaching the stage of targeting the military bases. The shield, the author states, is falling away “and the Americans have no alternative but to withdraw, given the number of casualties, notwithstanding the falsifications of the U.S. media.”

The second axis—the targeting of Arab and foreign ambassadors.

“An indication,” al-Umran asserts, “of the long-term political vision the Organization [of al-Qaeda] maintains.” The aim here is to “isolate the Iraqi government from the international community, and from neighboring countries,” so that the government becomes nothing but a “media” government, reduced to the Green Zone and eventually disappearing altogether. “Illustrations of this axis,” he explains, “are the killing of the Egyptian and Algerian ambassadors and the targeting of those from Pakistan, Bahrain and others.” The author takes issue with objections made on the propriety of killing messengers, arguing that “the prohibition is incumbent only on those who receive the envoys. Since the envoy was not sent to al-Qaeda but to the apostate Iraqi state, they have no immunity.” In addition, the author states, the mujahideen made repeated warnings against the dispatching of envoys, “so there can be no blame on the mujahideen who are fighting a holy war against the Crusader alliance.”

The third axis—the targeting of infidel militias, and the symbols of Unbelief and atheism the Shi’ites.

Al-Umran does not wish to understate the danger posed by the al-Badr Brigades, “who are supported in the first place by Iran, the filthy Shi’ite state and in the second place by Syria.” Underestimating this danger, the author continues “and if no efforts are made to put an end to this organization and liquidate its leadership, operatives and their religious figures, the Mullas and ‘Ayatolkufrs’ such as al-Hakim and al-Sistani, will have evil consequences for the Sunnis and for Islam.” Al-Umran enumerates their crimes: targeting Sunni religious scholars, appropriating Sunni mosques, forming the large part of the National Guard and the Iraqi Army. “The arena must be cleared, now, of any rival,” the author insists, “before the American army withdraws from Iraq, so that the long war can begin against this Shi’a Ghadr (‘Treachery’) Brigade [substituting the word ‘Treachery’ for ‘Badr’].” Once this is achieved, and Sunnis take their revenge on the Shi’a, “the Mujahideen will gain mastery over Iraq, set up Shari’a courts, suppress heresy and the things that are repudiated [by Islam].”

This, al-Umran explains, is the policy of Qaedat al-Jihad in the Land of the Two Rivers, for which he claims a resounding success. “All the Arab and Western powers,” he asserts, “are gambling on the Iraqi war, wishing to destroy the mujahideen there, since they know that victory for the mujahideen means that jihadi operations will spill over the Sykes Picot borders [the 1916 redrawing of the Middle East map by France and Great Britain] to reach the Arab states bordering Iraq, then the nearest enemies, and thence onto the other western states in a worldwide jihadist movement.”

Throughout the analysis, which carries the tone of a public relations presentation (“This, Gentlemen, is the great Organization of Qaedat al-Jihad!”), al-Umran is at pains to establish the idea of an ordered, well thought-out plan behind the actions of al-Zarqawi, who “possesses unimaginable capabilities.” It appears to be a bid to magnify al-Zarqawi’s individual prestige and genius as a strategist independent of bin Laden and al-Zawahiri—and one worthy of a world leader of jihad—one who “has become the leader of the Organization of al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers, indeed perhaps of the Organization in the Middle East and North Africa!” Al-Umran supports this claim by building up the historical pedigree, and extending the origins of his fully-formed project back to Afghanistan. The author carefully lays stress on the long preparation for the conflict with the United States. The message of a “global” organization, and not one that represents a minor regional formation, is reinforced by the emphasis on al-Zarqawi, at the earliest stage, having “recruited followers, in particular from the [Saudi] lands of Najd and Hijaz and from Yemen” and from the presence of recruiting agents “in every country in these regions.” Any perception that al-Zarqawi is late on the scene is also countered by the interpretation of his delayed appearance in Iraq as a deliberate policy to wait for the fall of the Ba’athist regime, “so that al-Zarqawi could make a clean start far from any charge that he was supporting or aiding the Ba’athist party personified by Saddam.”

The final paragraph carries the crux of the statement: “al-Qaeda in Iraq is re-establishing other al-Qaedas spreading the jihad in all parts of the globe just as the mother al-Qaeda organization did from Afghanistan.” That is, that al-Zarqawi is now the true heir to the mother of modern jihad.