Osama bin Laden’s speeches on June 30 and July 1 are notable because they portray his confidence and focus, command of the al-Qaeda organization and steady application of a strategy that seeks to prompt U.S. actions that spread U.S. military and intelligence forces in a thinner and more costly manner. They also show the dexterity of al-Qaeda’s media arm in producing tapes that are timed to exploit unfolding international events. The speeches were clear, well-informed, forward-looking and taunting. They merit closer examination in the West than such unenlightening headlines as “Bin Laden sounds tired” and “Bin Laden urges war on Iraqi Shias” and “Bin Laden may be injured or dead” suggest they have been given.
Bin Laden’s June 30 speech was a formal eulogy for the slain chief of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Bin Laden praised al-Zarqawi as “an intrepid knight, the lion of jihad and a man of resolve and sound opinion” and said that his death was a “big calamity and a grave matter” for all Muslims. He added, however, that al-Zarqawi’s death was God’s will, and that much of his work had been completed before he was killed. Underscoring al-Qaeda’s intention that Iraq serve as a safe haven for launching operations into the Levant, bin Laden said that al-Zarqawi successfully “established a base [in Iraq] for defending religion and regaining Palestine, God willing.” He also noted that al-Zarqawi had fully executed the main role of all senior al-Qaeda leaders: instigation to jihad. Al-Zarqawi’s leadership in fighting the U.S.-led coalition and its Iraqi collaborators, bin Laden wrote, “encouraged people from all places far and near, including worshippers and sinners, to come and attack them in Iraq” .
As important as eulogizing al-Zarqawi, bin Laden used the June 30 speech and part of his July 1 speech to reassert al-Qaeda’s priorities in Iraq: making war on the U.S.-led “infidel” forces and their “Iraqi agents,” not on Iraqi Shiites; and, making sure the Iraqi insurgency has a thoroughly Iraqi leadership and orientation. In doing this, bin Laden first had to whitewash some of al-Zarqawi’s actions, saying, “He was tough on infidels and merciful toward believers.” He also made clear that he, Ayman al-Zawahiri and all of al-Qaeda wanted no war with the Shiites at this time unless it is forced on them by the Iraqi Shiite leaders.
“To those who accuse Abu Musab al-Zarqawi of killing some segments of the Iraqi people, I say…Abu Musab, may God have mercy upon his soul, had clear instructions [implicitly, from bin Laden] to focus his fighting on the occupying invaders, led by the Americans, and not to target whoever wanted to be neutral, but whoever insisted on fighting along with the Crusaders against Muslims should be killed, regardless of their sect or tribe. Supporting the infidels against Muslims is one of the 10 things that nullify Islam, as stipulated by scholars” .
Bin Laden returned to this theme on July 1 and, in essence, drew a line in the sand for Iraq’s Shiites. Implicitly admitting that sectarian animosities in Iraq were beyond his control, bin Laden said that while al-Qaeda’s priority was “the expulsion of the crusader armies through fighting them,” he and other Sunnis—foreign and Iraqi—ultimately would protect “the defenseless people of Islam in the land of the two rivers [who] are facing genocide by the [Shiite] gangs or rancor and treachery…spread in all sensitive areas in al-Jaafari’s previous government. They exist today also in the present government of al-Maliki.” The Sunnis would not start a civil war, bin Laden warned, “[but] southern Iraqis cannot participate with the United States and its allies in invading al-Fallujah, al-Ramadi, Baqubah, Mosul, Samarra, al-Qaim and other towns and villages while their areas remain safe from reprisal and harm.” Bin Laden then reasserted the Sunnis’ live-and-let live position, however, by urging Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, al-Zarqawi’s successor, “to concentrate his fight against the Americans and their supporters in their war on Muslims in Iraq” .
Also on July 1, bin Laden re-emphasized the overriding importance he attaches to al-Qaeda supporting, advising, but not leading the Iraqi insurgency. Bin Laden has long argued that for Islamist insurgencies to succeed, they must be led by the nationals of the country at war. This is the same point al-Zawahiri made to al-Zarqawi in a July 2005 letter, and which was acted on earlier in 2006 when al-Zarqawi was demoted from being the leader of the Iraqi insurgency to its military commander . Building on Abu Hamza al-Muhajir’s June 13 statement that “God has been very generous and bountiful by granting us gallant and hospitable brothers who have gathered with us in the Mujahideen Shura Council and have given the best example and have become the best support. We have taken vows to support each other…,” bin Laden urged al-Muhajir “to strongly remain in the Mujahideen Shura Council. Disagreement is full of evil. Union is mercy, but division is nothing but plight” .
The remainder of bin Laden’s July 1 speech focused on bracing the Iraqis to ignore Baghdad’s amnesty offers and complete the defeat of the U.S.-led coalition and on what he described as the new U.S. threat to Islam that is emerging in Somalia. The cause of “the great calamities that befell the land [Iraq],” bin Laden said, “is the Crusader’s entry and occupation of the country with the connivance with the leaders of the parties that encouraged them to invade Iraq and that called on their followers to join the services of renegade governments which were installed by America, such as the government of Allawi, al-Jaafari, and al-Maliki…” Bin Laden called on all Iraqis “not to be deceived by the parties and groups that entered and participated in these governments.” To do so, he said, would be “like the stupid man who tries to persuade wolves to stop devouring sheep. This can never happen.” The only salvation, bin Laden concluded, “is by holding to God’s tether, getting together, avoiding disunity and upholding jihad…Your swords are your fortresses” .
Speaking to Somalis, bin Laden said “you can survive only by upholding Islam and being one [in] hand with the Islamic Courts…” He urged them to avoid negotiations with Somali General Abdullahi Yusuf’s Baidoa-based government. “There must be no dialogue…except with the sword,” he said. “Don’t waste time. Fight them immediately.” Yusuf is a U.S. agent, bin Laden argued, and will be used to further the thinly disguised U.S. war on Islam. He continued:
“Preparations for sending [international] military forces to Somalia upon America’s instructions are part of this context, claiming that it is meant to help the people of Somalia and to establish security there. By saying so, they would be lying.
“Somalia has been suffering from tribal feuds since the defeat of the United States in it several years ago. Can any sensible person believe that they have discovered this tragedy today? Or is the real reason that the Islamic Courts have controlled the capital and imposed its influence on most of the important areas and are now striving to establish an Islamic state.
“We cannot possibly understand the reason for the arrival of any military forces in Somalia from whatever state, even if it is claimed that they are Islamic, other than as a continuation of the Crusade against the Islamic world. We warn all countries of the world against responding to America by sending international forces to Somalia” .
Clear but unspoken in the speech was bin Laden’s attempt to goad the United States into another intervention in the Muslim world. Having seen Washington rush to become involved in a potential UN-led intervention in Darfur after he threatened jihad in that Sudanese region, bin Laden would clearly welcome U.S. involvement on the ground in Somalia and his July 1 speech deliberately throws the gauntlet down at the Bush administration’s feet. Not only would such an action be seen as a U.S. attack on Islam across the Muslim world, but it would fit perfectly into al-Qaeda’s bleed-America-to-bankruptcy strategy by contributing to the spread of U.S. military and intelligence assets to as many different Muslim countries as possible.
Taken together, the two speeches strongly suggest that bin Laden remains in control of al-Qaeda. The appointment of Abu Hamza al-Muhajir—reportedly a former member of al-Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad—to succeed al-Zarqawi is clearly meant to curtail the excesses of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Bin Laden’s words also reassert traditional al-Qaeda policies: no war with Shiites unless the Shiites force it; the subordination of al-Qaeda fighters to local leadership; and mujahideen unity in face of the pending U.S. withdrawal.
The speeches also show that bin Laden is more than adequately informed about breaking world events. Beyond Iraq, bin Laden’s discussion of Somalia not only laid a trap for the United States—as he did regarding Darfur—but warned Somali Islamists of the dangers of international intervention just a day before the African Union agreed in principle to field such a force.
1. “Bin Laden Mourns Al-Zarqawi’s Death,” http://www.tajdeed.or.uk, June 30, 2006.
3. Osama bin Laden, “To the nation, in general, and the mujahideen in Iraq and Somalia, in particular,” http://www.muslim.net, July 1, 2006.
4. Letter from al-Zawahiri to al-Zarqawi, http://www.dni.gov, October 10, 2005.
5. “Statement by Abu Hamza al-Muhajir,” The Mujahideen News, June 13, 2006.
6. Osama bin Laden, July 1, 2006.