The Letter from al-Zawahiri to al-Zarqawi

Zawahiri outlines his grand strategy. The primary battlefield of the Global Jihad is Iraq, in the Heart of Islam. His goal is to drive the Americans out, establish an Islamic State that will lead to the Caliphate, and take over the Arab World.

He also notes the weaknesses in the strategy. The US Disaggregation Strategy clearly worries him. He knows that if the movement fractures, it will fail.

He chastised Zarqawi for the public beheadings and attacking Shia mosques, not because Zawahiri sees these as wrongs, but because he knows that many Muslims will misinterpret these actions and turn against the Jihadis.

Here’s the letter

On the importance of Iraq:

I want to be the first to congratulate you for what God has blessed you with in terms of fighting battle in the heart of the Islamic world, which was formerly the field for major battles in Islam’s history, and what is now the place for the greatest battle of Islam in this era, and what will happen, according to what appeared in the Hadiths of the Messenger of God about the epic battles between Islam and atheism. It has always been my belief that the victory of Islam will never take place until a Muslim state is established in the manner of the Prophet in the heart of the Islamic world, specifically in the Levant, Egypt, and the neighboring states of the Peninsula and Iraq

As for the battles that are going on in the far-flung regions of the Islamic world, such as Chechnya, Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Bosnia, they are just the groundwork and the vanguard for the major battles which have begun in the heart of the Islamic world. We ask God that He send down his victory upon us that he promised to his faithful worshipers.

Al-Qaeda’s Grand Strategy in Iraq:

If our intended goal in this age is the establishment of a caliphate in the manner of the Prophet and if we expect to establish its state predominantly-according to how it appears to us-in the heart of the Islamic world, then your efforts and sacrifices-God permitting-are a large step directly towards that goal.

So we must think for a long time about our next steps and how we want to attain it, and it is my humble opinion that the Jihad in Iraq requires several incremental goals:

The first stage: Expel the Americans from Iraq.

The second stage: Establish an Islamic authority or amirate, then develop it and support it until it achieves the level of a caliphate- over as much territory as you can to spread its power in Iraq, i.e., in Sunni areas, is in order to fill the void stemming from the departure of the Americans, immediately upon their exit and before un-Islamic forces attempt to fill this void, whether those whom the Americans will leave behind them, or those among the un-Islamic forces who will try to jump at taking power.

There is no doubt that this amirate will enter into a fierce struggle with the foreign infidel forces, and those supporting them among the local forces, to put it in a state of constant preoccupation with defending itself, to make it impossible for it to establish a stable state which could proclaim a caliphate, and to keep the Jihadist groups in a constant state of war, until these forces find a chance to annihilate them.

The third stage: Extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq.

The fourth stage: It may coincide with what came before: the clash with Israel, because Israel was established only to challenge any new Islamic entity.

The need for popular support:

And it’s very important that you allow me to elaborate a little here on this issue of popular support. Let’s say:

If we are in agreement that the victory of Islam and the establishment of a caliphate in the manner of the Prophet will not be achieved except through jihad against the apostate rulers and their removal, then this goal will not be accomplished by the mujahed movement while it is cut off from public support, even if the Jihadist movement pursues the method of sudden overthrow. This is because such an overthrow would not take place without some minimum of popular support and some condition of public discontent which offers the mujahed movement what it needs in terms of capabilities in the quickest fashion. Additionally, if the Jihadist movement were obliged to pursue other methods, such as a popular war of jihad or a popular intifadah, then popular support would be a decisive factor between victory and defeat.

In the absence of this popular support, the Islamic mujahed movement would be crushed in the shadows…This is precisely what the secular, apostate forces that are controlling our countries are striving for. These forces don’t desire to wipe out the mujahed Islamic movement, rather they are stealthily striving to separate it from the misguided or frightened Muslim masses.

Therefore, the mujahed movement must avoid any action that the masses do not understand or approve

Prepare for a Sudden US Withdrawal:

My answer is, firstly: Things may develop faster than we imagine. The aftermath of the collapse of American power in Vietnam-and how they ran and left their agents-is noteworthy. Because of that, we must be ready starting now, before events overtake us, and before we are surprised by the conspiracies of the Americans and the United Nations and their plans to fill the void behind them. We must take the initiative and impose a fait accompli upon our enemies, instead of the enemy imposing one on us, wherein our lot would be to merely resist their schemes.

Securing the support of the tribes and people:

Second: This is the most vital part. This authority, or the Sharia amirate that is necessary, requires fieldwork starting now, alongside the combat and war. It would be a political endeavor in which the mujahedeen would be a nucleus around which would gather the tribes and their elders, and the people in positions, and scientists, and merchants, and people of opinion, and all the distinguished ones who were not sullied by appeasing the occupation and those who defended Islam.

We don’t want to repeat the mistake of the Taliban, who restricted participation in governance to the students and the people of Qandahar alone. They did not have any representation for the Afghan people in their ruling regime, so the result was that the Afghan people disengaged themselves from them. Even devout ones took the stance of the spectator and, when the invasion came, the amirate collapsed in days, because the people were either passive or hostile. Even the students themselves had a stronger affiliation to their tribes and their villages than their affiliation to the Islamic amirate or the Taliban movement or the responsible party in charge of each one of them in his place. Each of them retreated to his village and his tribe, where his affiliation was stronger!

The Attacks on Shia:

I repeat that I see the picture from afar, and I repeat that you see what we do not see. No doubt you have the right to defend yourself, the mujahedeen, and Muslims in general and in particular against any aggression or threat of aggression.
[Zawahiri lists that the Shia cooperate with the Americans and oppose the Salafists]

We must repeat what we mentioned previously, that the majority of Muslims don’t comprehend this and possibly could not even imagine it. For that reason, many of your Muslim admirers amongst the common folk are wondering about your attacks on the Shia. The sharpness of this questioning increases when the attacks are on one of their mosques, and it increases more when the attacks are on the mausoleum of Imam Ali Bin Abi Talib, may God honor him. My opinion is that this matter won’t be acceptable to the Muslim populace however much you have tried to explain it, and aversion to this will continue.

Indeed, questions will circulate among mujahedeen circles and their opinion makers about the correctness of this conflict with the Shia at this time. Is it something that is unavoidable? Or, is it something can be put off until the force of the mujahed movement in Iraq gets stronger? And if some of the operations were necessary for self-defense, were all of the operations necessary? Or, were there some operations that weren’t called for? And is the opening of another front now in addition to the front against the Americans and the government a wise decision?…

Beheading:

Among the things which the feelings of the Muslim populace who love and support you will never find palatable – also- are the scenes of slaughtering the hostages. You shouldn’t be deceived by the praise of some of the zealous young men and their description of you as the shaykh of the slaughterers, etc. They do not express the general view of the admirer and the supporter of the resistance in Iraq, and of you in particular by the favor and blessing of God.

…. the general opinion of our supporter does not comprehend that, and that this general opinion falls under a campaign by the malicious, perfidious, and fallacious campaign by the deceptive and fabricated media. And we would spare the people from the effect of questions about the usefulness of our actions in the hearts and minds of the general opinion that is essentially sympathetic to us.

I say to you: that we are in a battle, and that more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media. And that we are in a media battle in a race for the hearts and minds of our Umma. And that however far our capabilities reach, they will never be equal to one thousandth of the capabilities of the kingdom of Satan that is waging war on us. And we can kill the captives by bullet. That would achieve that which is sought after without exposing ourselves to the questions and answering to doubts. We don’t need this.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq did eventually stop the video-taped beheadings. Zawahiri wanted AQI to just shoot men off camera, so the violence stays out-of-sight and out-of-mind.

Zawahiri is focusing the bulk of his efforts in Iraq and Pakistan and recognizes that this is primarily an Information War to win control of the public.

He repeatedly states the utmost importance of Iraq to the Global Jihad in his videos as well. All the wars on the fringes, from Afghanistan, to Xinjiang, to Thailand, to Somalia only set the stage for the primary battle in the center of the Islamic World.

Two years later, his latest videos describe the progress, and lack thereof, in his strategy.

Al-Qaeda established its first government and the foundation of the Caliphate: The Islamic State of Iraq.

Zawahiri intially reached out to the Sunni Ulema to gain their support for AQ and the jihad. Two years later, he has grown frustrated with the Ulema’s passiveness and refusal to recognize the Islamic State of Iraq.

He continues to try and rally public support for the war in Iraq. Perhaps he expected hundreds of thousands to rally to Al-Qaeda and fight the Americans. Instead, a trickle of 100 a month enter Iraq.

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