- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2004

Tuesday’s horrifying bomb attacks that killed close to 150 people in the Iraqi cities of Karbala and Baghdad while the country’s Shi’ites celebrated their holiest day, Ashoura, really comes as no big surprise. Anyone vaguely familiar with the precarious situation in the country would have foreseen these attacks. That is everyone except, it would appear, those currently running the place.

Last month, Coalition forces in Iraq discovered a letter believed to have been authored by Ahmad Al-Khalayla, a man better known as Abu Musab Zarkawi. Al-Khalyla, or Zarkawi, is none other than Osama bin Laden’s Jordanian chief of operations. It is believed he was the mastermind behind the planned Millennium attacks that were thwarted by Jordan and the attack on the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad.

The State Department offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest. Zarkawi is also believed responsible for the carnage of the Istanbul attacks against a synagogue and a British bank last November that killed 23 and wounded about 300 people.

In the letter, which was translated and distributed by the Coalition Provisional Authority, Zarkawi not only warned of pending actions against Iraq’s Shi’ites, but in fact outlined his plan of action after admitting to past attacks.

“We will undertake suicide operations and use car bombs to harm them,” predicted Zarkawi in the letter, referring to Iraq’s Shi’ites.

“We were involved in all the martyrdom operations — in terms of overseeing, preparing, and planning — that took place in this country. … I have completed 25 of these operations, some of them against the Shi’a and their leaders, the Americans and their military, the police, the military, and the coalition forces,” boasted the Jordanian terrorist.

In chilling words, Zarkawi then warned: “There will be more [attacks] in the future, God willing.” And indeed, he kept his word as several simultaneous assaults Tuesday left nearly 200 dead between the twin Iraqi attacks and similar violence carried out in the Pakistani city of Quetta.

Matthew Letitt, a senior fellow in terrorism studies with the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, who debriefed a group of experts recently returned form Iraq, told United Press International: “We were expecting attacks like this during Ashoura.”

In the letter, Zarkawi breaks down his “enemies” into four distinct groups: Americans, Kurds, Iraqi troops, police and “agents,” and the Shi’ites, whom he classifies as “key for change” (in Iraq).

“Targeting and striking their religious, political, and military symbols will make them show their rage against the Sunnis and bare their inner vengeance. If we succeed in dragging them into a sectarian war, this will awaken the sleepy Sunnis who are fearful of destruction and death at the hands of these Sabeans — i.e., the Shi’a.”

If the contents of Zarkawi’s letter are authentic, and indeed his aim is to generate discord between the Shi’ite and Sunni communities, as is believed to be the case, then what better day to target the Shi’ites than on the holiest of days, Ashoura?

Ashoura commemorates the death of the martyr Hussein, the third Shi’ite Imam, and the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, at the hands of the Caliph Yazid in battle at Kerbala in 680 AD. It marks the beginning of the Sunni-Shi’ite schism, which continues to this day. And Tuesday’s horrific events in Iraq and Pakistan are not about to help much in terms of inter-Muslim relations.

These attacks, on the heels of the massive car bomb in September 2003 that killed Ayatollah Sayed Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim in Najaf, practically came with advanced warnings. They were clearly foreseeable and were almost announced ahead of time. The questions that should be asked now are: Why were they not preventable and prevented? Where were the security and intelligence services — both the coalition’s and whatever Iraqi security services exist?

It is not as though this event sneaked up on them. “We need to bring the Shi’a into the battle because it is the only way to prolong the duration of the fight between the infidels and us,” wrote Zarkawi. How could such clear signals have passed by undetected?

“Fighting the Shi’a is the way to take the nation to battle. The Shi’a have taken on the dress of the army, police and the Iraqi security forces and have raised the banner of protecting the nation, and the citizens,” continues Zarkawi’s call to battle.

“Souls will perish and blood will be spilled. This is, however, exactly what we want. … If we are able to deal them blow after painful blow so that they engage in a battle, we will be able to reshuffle the cards so there will remain no value or influence for the ruling council, or even for the Americans who will enter into a second battle with the Shi’a. This is what we want.”

And on bloody Tuesday, Zarkawi was 150 or so senseless deaths closer to getting his way.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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