Letter from al Qaeda High Command to Zarqawi: An Analysis

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 2 months ago

The Department of Defense has recently released a letter from a previously unknown (to the U.S.) but highly placed al Qaeda leader, “Atiyah.”  There is some brief analysis by the U.S. Military Academy at the front end of the released document.  The analysis by West Point focuses mainly on the dissatisfaction of the al Qaeda leadership with Zarqawi’s harsh tactics.  So I want to add a few comments to the analysis that do not overlap with the main thrust of their analysis.

Of importance to the proper understanding of facist Islam today is not so much that the al Qaeda leadership counseled against Zarqawi’s use of harsh tactics.  It is the question ‘why?’  We get a glimpse into their thinking when Atiyah encourages patience, stating:

The path is long and difficult, and the enemy isn’t easy, for he is great and numerous and he can take quite a bit of punishment as well. However, true victory is the triumph of principles and values, the triumph of the call to Islam. True conquest is the conquest of the hearts of people, and the regard for seeing the Treaty of Hudaybiyah as a victory.

The invocation of the Treaty of Hudaybiyah is particularly interesting.  While Muhammed was still alive, access to Mecca was under the dispute by two different tribes, or clans.  A detailed analysis of this treaty is beyond the scope of this post, but it may be briefly pointed out that Muhammed and his followers made a treaty with the Quraish tribe to have alternate access to Mecca (i.e., They retreated the first year his amassed followers made their pilgrimage to Mecca, and made their sacrafices outside the city, but the next year they were supposed to have unrestricted access to Mecca).  In fact, not only did Muhammed and his followers have unrestricted access to Mecca, but within two years they were numerous enough that they demanded and obtained the surrender of the tribe in Mecca.  The region soon saw a rapid spread of Islam.

The Atiyah letter is more than a little reminiscent of the Treaty of Hudaybiyah and the ensuing actions by Muhammed and his tribe.

“… be humble to the believers, and smile in people’s faces, even if you are cursing them in your heart, even if it has been said that they are “a bad tribal brother,? and what have you.

Among the most crucial of things involved is exercising all caution against attempting to kill any religious scholar or tribal leader who is obeyed, and of good repute in Iraq from among the Sunnis, no matter what. Instead, we should confront anyone evil by many other means of discourse and fervor of speech, and such, and with a bit of wisdom, patience, and deliberateness. We should continue in our jihad, and when God opens the way, and we have the wherewithal, then we can behave differently in accordance with what is appropriate for that time. Perhaps it will be he, himself (the one who was your enemy) who will come to you humbled, belittled, apologizing, frightened, cowering as he asks for forgiveness.”

The befriending of the people, if you will, “winning the hearts and minds of the people,” has an ulterior motive.  It is the right thing to do only insofar as it helps to achieve the objective.  In this Machiavellian quote, Atiyah says to Zarqawi:

” … you, as a leader and a jihadist political organization who wants to destroy a power and a state and erect on its rubble an Islamic state, or at least form the building block on the right path towards that, need all of these people.”

In one quote, Atiyah sums up both the strategy and the goal.  They need the people, but the people are a means to the end, and will end up cowering before the victors.  The goal is to destroy a power and a state and erect on its rubble an Islamic state.

They will not hesitate to wreak violence to accomplish their ends.  The letter cites as an example Muhsin Abd al-Hamid, an Islamic scholar who earned a doctorate at Cairo University in 1972.  Al Hamid was involved in the effort to bring the Sunni population into the political fold:

Another Sunni leader, the head of the Islamic Party, Muhsin Abd al-Hamid, declared that the Sunnis will form a special committee to “negotiate with the honorable resistance” to bring into the political process. He said the Sunni position after the Cairo conference will undergo an important change in that “the honorable resistance” will warn the Zarqawi group to suspend terrorism or face “disciplinary action in the field.” Most important of all, the Sunnis will participate fully in the forthcoming parliamentary elections.

His crime earns him the ire of al Qaeda.

” … we may skip over the traitor Muhsin ‘Abd-al-Hamid and others like him, since they have obviously become unbelievers and heretics, may God save us from that, and since from the aspect of shari’a, their status is clear and apparent, and from the aspect of politics, their treachery appeared before the people as did their loyalty to the apostate state and the evil of their position, such that their enmity does not hurt but benefits us; although it is not appropriate to turn towards killing or fighting them now and it is not good, indeed harmful, as God knows best.”

The desire would be to kill him, but the time is not appropriate for it.  They are patient, awaiting the right time for the right action.  Atiyah acknowledges that time is important.

” … prolonging the war is in our interest.”

At this point, hopefully it would not be too presumptuous to mention my post Observations on Timeliness from the Small Wars Manual.

On an unrelated point, this letter should bring to a swift conclusion the silly debate about where al Qaeda is located.  The letter says that they are in Waziristan.  Perhaps since they said it, we and Musharraf will believe it.  One can only hope.

Finally, it is clear that al Qaeda is fighting from the perspective of religious conviction.  I will go on the record and say that I do not believe that the prospect for winning the war is directly a function of our military might, any more than I believe it is based on strategy.  These things are important, but unless our military, and indeed, our country as a whole, is basing our actions on solid and tested politics and ethics, these being based on a solid philosophical and religious edifice, we are engaging in a conflict without being armed.  Without the right world view, our warriors will end up being nothing more than paid mercenaries.

Winning requires the right belief system … the right world view.  Without it, we are doomed because the enemy has a belief system.


You are currently reading "Letter from al Qaeda High Command to Zarqawi: An Analysis", entry #316 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Terrorism,War & Warfare and was published October 4th, 2006 by Herschel Smith.

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