Ayman al-Zawahiri’s July 9, 2005
Letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

Key Revelations

Iraq is becoming the central battlefield for al-Qaida’s central leadership. The letter makes clear al-Qaida intends to wrest control of Iraq from the Iraqi people so they can use the country in pursuit of other goals. Zawahiri views Iraq as the bridgehead for the creation of a new Islamic caliphate – their ultimate objective.

o Zawahiri Quote: “I want to be the first to congratulate you for what God has blessed you with in terms of fighting 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….”

Al-Qaida’s ambitions do not stop at Iraq’s borders. Establishing the political dominance of Sunni militants in Iraq is only a first step — a means to an end — in realizing al-Qaida’s ambitions of imposing its control over the broader Middle East. Under al-Qaida, Iraq will serve as a terrorist haven and staging ground for attacks against Iraq’s neighbors and quite possibly Western nations.

o Zawahiri Quote: “…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 spread its power in Iraq, i.e., in Sunni areas. . . . The third stage: Extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq. The fourth stage: …[This is] the clash with Israel, because Israel was established only to challenge any new Islamic entity. . . . [T]heir ongoing mission is to establish an Islamic state, and defend it, and for every generation to hand over the banner to the one after it until the Hour of Resurrection.”

o Zawahiri Quote: “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; however, the center would be in the Levant and Egypt.”

The letter demonstrates that pulling US forces out of Iraq is the wrong approach – that terrorists will not simply lay down their arms when American forces depart Iraq. Al-Qaida and its terrorist brethren will not go away when the Coalition hands over security control to Iraqi forces; rather, they are committed to overthrowing the elected, democratic Iraqi government and ruling the country according to their interpretation of Islamic law.

o Zawahiri Quote: “And it is that the Mujahidin must not have their mission end with the expulsion of the Americans from Iraq, and then lay down their weapons, and silence the fighting zeal. We will return to having the secularists and traitors holding sway over us.”

Zawahiri believes in religious intolerance and converting, conquering, or killing anyone who does not believe as he does. His only concern is how to deceive the population that this is not the case by urging Zarqawi to reduce attacks on Shia civilians. Zawahiri contends that Shia are heretics. He views Shi’ism as a “religious school based on excess and falsehood,” and as a danger to what he sees as true, Sunni Islam. Zawahiri does not condemn Zarqawi for killing Shia. Indeed, the Shia, along with anyone who does not blindly follow al-Qaida’s twisted interpretation of Islam, will be forced either to adopt al-Qaida's extremist ideology or face repression or death if the terrorists establish control. Zawahiri’s concerns are purely tactical; managing the press and gaining the support, or acquiescence, of the people.

o Zawahiri Quote: “People of discernment and knowledge among Muslims know the extent of danger to Islam of the 12’er school of Shi’ism. It is a religious school based on excess and falsehood whose function is to accuse the companions of Muhammad of heresy [in] a campaign against Islam, in order to free the way for a group of those who call for a dialogue in the name of the hidden mahdi who is in control of existence and infallible in what he does. Their prior history in cooperating with the enemies of Islam is consistent with their current reality of connivance with the crusaders.”

o Zawahiri Quote: “The collision between any state based on the model of prophecy with the Shi’ites is a matter that will happen sooner or later. This is the judgment of history, and these are the fruits to be expected from the rejectionist Shi’a sect and their opinion of the Sunnis. These are clear, well-known matters to anyone with a knowledge of history, the ideologies, and the politics of states.”

o Zawahiri Quote: “[M]any of your Muslim admirers amongst the common folk are wondering about your attacks on the Shi’a.”

Zawahiri clearly is worried they are losing public support in Iraq, and is attuned to the role of the media in the battle for such support. Zawahiri emphasizes that the struggle is ideological, with each side competing for the popular support and loyalty of the Muslim world. Zarqawi’s methods are backfiring by alienating the Iraqi people with attacks against the Shia.

o Zawahiri Quote: “…[W]e will see that the strongest weapon which the Mujahidin enjoy . . . is popular support from the Muslim masses in Iraq, and the surrounding Muslim countries. So, we must maintain this support as best we can, and we should strive to increase it….”

o Zawahiri Quote: “[T]he Jihadist movement must avoid any action that the masses do not understand or approve. . . .”

o Zawahiri Quote: “I say to you: that we are in a battle, and that more than half 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 nation.”

Zawahiri, who previously termed democracy heretical, is willing to exploit a political process to advance the group’s goals. Zawahiri provides a tacit acknowledgement that the democratic political process unfolding in Iraq appeals to average Iraqis. He then advocates a modified al-Qaida strategy that co-opts that support for democracy in an attempt to expand the group’s Sunni support base in Iraq.

o Zawahiri Quote: “We don’t want to repeat the mistake of the Taliban, who restricted participation in governance to the students and the people of Kandahar 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.”

o Zawahiri Quote: “I stress again to you and to all your brothers the need to direct the political action equally with the military action, by the alliance, cooperation and gathering of all leaders of opinion and influence in the Iraqi arena. . . . [Y]ou and your brothers must strive to have around you circles of support, assistance, and cooperation, and through them, to advance until you become a consensus, entity, organization, or association that represents all the honorable people and the loyal folks in Iraq.”

Zawahiri’s letter to Zarqawi reveals continued points of weakness in al-Qaida senior leaders and what they need to operate and survive:

o Financial shortages: Zawahiri asks for a payment of approximately 100,000 of an unspecified currency until “new lines” – likely with donors – are opened. Moreover, he makes this request in the context of Abu Faraj al-Libi, intimating that his capture adversely affected al-Qaida’s ability to transfer funds.

Zawahiri Quote: “The brothers informed me that you suggested to them sending some assistance. Our situation since Abu-al-Faraj is good by the grace of God, but many of the lines have been cut off. Because of this, we need a payment while new lines are being opened. So, if you’re capable of sending a payment of approximately 100,000 [units of currency] we’ll be very grateful to you.”

o Isolation of senior leadership: Zawahiri appeals to Zarqawi for information about the situation and activities in Iraq.

Zawahiri Quote: “Likewise I would like you to inform us about the Iraqi situation in general and the situation of the Mujahidin in particular in [sufficient] detail. . . . At the least, we should know as much as the enemy knows.”

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