Fabricated PSY OPS Zarqawi letter provides frame for ongoing Iraq violence
Copyright 2004 National Post, All Rights Reserved
National Post (Canada)
March 4, 2004 Thursday Toronto / Late Edition
SECTION: World; Pg. A10
LENGTH: 565 words
HEADLINE: Massacre the work of al-Qaeda, U.S. says: Saddam loyalists may have helped terrorists: general
SOURCE: Bloomberg News, with files from Reuters
BYLINE: Todd Zeranski and Tony Capaccio
WASHINGTON - U.S. General John Abizaid, the commander of the Iraq occupation, said there is evidence Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an alleged al-Qaeda associate, was behind Tuesday's massacre of Shiites in Baghdad and Karbala and may have been assisted by loyalists of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.
"The level of organization and the desire to cause casualties among innocent worshippers is a clear hallmark of the Zarqawi network, and we have intelligence that ties Zarqawi to the attack," Gen. Abizaid said in testimony to the House Armed Services committee in Washington.
The attacks occurred almost at the same time in the capital, Baghdad, and the holy city of Karbala and took place during the Shiite holy day of Ashura. They involved at least four suicide bombers and explosives that were remotely detonated.
Mohammed Bahr-al-Ulloum, the president of the Iraqi Governing Council, told The Associated Press the death toll in yesterday's blasts has increased to 271, with 393 wounded. That sum would be almost double the toll of 143 cited by the United States yesterday.
Zarqawi has become the focus of U.S. concerns about attempts to foment a civil war in Iraq and wreck its future as a democracy while Iraqis attempt to revive the oil-driven economy. U.S. officials had portrayed Zarqawi as attempting to win al-Qaeda support for a wider insurgency.
The U.S. occupation authority last month released a letter it said was written by Zarqawi and destined for al-Qaeda that described a plan to provoke a war within four months between Sunni Muslims and the majority Shiites. The aim was to block the transfer of sovereign power to an Iraqi body set for June 30, according to the letter.
After the congressional briefing, Gen. Abizaid told reporters U.S. special forces soldiers conducted raids on Monday night that helped to thwart even more deadly attacks.
"There's no doubt we disrupted a plan that had even greater dimensions than we saw on the ground," he said. "Clearly, there was a plan for Basra that was disrupted and clearly there was a desire to bring in car bombs."
Police in the British-supervised southern city, Iraq's second-largest, took into custody four people suspected of preparing blasts there, including two women in a Shiite procession who were wearing belts with explosives, The Associated Press reported yesterday. Two men were arrested in connection with a car found to contain a bomb.
At least 41 people were killed in Quetta, Pakistan, in an attack on Shiite worshippers on Tuesday. There is no evidence so far that the assault was connected to the Iraqi bombings.
Gen. Abizaid, who heads U.S. Central Command, said Zarqawi, a Jordanian, has been seeking alliances with remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime.
"We also have intelligence that shows there is some linkage between Zarqawi and the former regime elements, specifically the Iraqi intelligence service," Gen. Abizaid said. "We are concerned to see terrorist groups come in close co-ordination with former Iraqi intelligence service people."
Fifteen people have been arrested in connection with the bombings, a coalition military spokesman in Baghdad said yesterday. Al-Qaeda has denied it was behind the attacks.
The U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, said in Baghdad yesterday terrorism was increasingly coming from outside the country and border security was being tightened.