- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2005

BAGHDAD — The recent upsurge in violence in Iraq can be attributed to a meeting in neighboring Syria about a month ago of lieutenants of the Jordanian-born terror leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, a senior U.S. military official said.

The meeting was held to try and ramp up terrorist attacks, particularly suicide car bombings, throughout Iraq, said the official who did not want to be identified. He said Zarqawi may have attended the meeting.

The spiraling violence has killed nearly 500 people since the April 28 announcement of the new Shi’ite-dominated government.

Insurgents gunned down a senior Iraqi Interior Ministry official yesterday and the bodies of seven men shot in the head were found outside Baghdad.

Zarqawi, according to information obtained by the U.S. military, was angered by a perceived lull in the militants’ campaign, the official told reporters. His call for increased attacks sparked the deadly wave of violence.

The official said there had been 21 car bombings in Baghdad during May, compared with 25 such attacks in the capital in all of 2004.

The official also said the military obtained intelligence from detainees, Iraqi military sources and data from the field to corroborate that the meeting took place in Syria, which the United States has accused of not doing enough to curb the flow of foreign fighters into the country.

“[Zarqawi] allegedly was not happy with how the insurgency was going, the government was getting stronger and coalition forces not being defeated. Some intelligence reports from captives showed that al-Zarqawi directed people to start using more vehicle-borne devices and use them in everyday operations,” the official said.

Zarqawi is Iraq’s most-wanted terrorist and has a $25 million bounty on his head — the same as for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Asked whether he had heard about such a meeting, Iraq’s presidential adviser for security affairs, Gen. Wafiq al-Samarie, said, “I have no information about that.”

In Damascus, officials at Syria’s foreign and information ministries were unavailable for comment.

In an audiotape posted on the Internet yesterday, Zarqawi defended the killing of “innocent Muslims” in suicide bombings against U.S. forces, saying it was legitimate under Islam for the sake of jihad (holy war), Reuters news agency reported.

“The killing of infidels by any method including martyrdom (suicide) operations has been sanctified by many scholars even if it means killing innocent Muslims. This legality has been agreed upon … so as not to disrupt jihad,” Zarqawi said on the tape posted on an Islamist Web site.

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