Zarqawi's crimes exaggerated, say U.S. agents in Iraq

All Rights Reserved
The Vancouver Sun (British Columbia)
October 4, 2004 Monday
Final Edition
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. A5

LENGTH: 687 words

HEADLINE: Zarqawi's crimes exaggerated, say U.S. agents in Iraq

BYLINE: Adrian Blomfield, Daily Telegraph

DATELINE: FALLUJAH

FALLUJAH -- Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the terrorist leader believed to be responsible for the abduction of Briton Kenneth Bigley, is "more myth than man'', according to American military intelligence agents in Iraq.

Several sources said the importance of Zarqawi, blamed for many of the most spectacular acts of violence in Iraq, has been exaggerated by flawed intelligence and the Bush administration's desire to find "a villain" for the post-invasion mayhem.

U.S. military intelligence agents in Iraq have revealed a series of botched and often tawdry dealings with unreliable sources who, in the words of one source, "told us what we wanted to hear."

"We were basically paying up to $10,000 a time to opportunists, criminals and chancers who passed off fiction and supposition about Zarqawi as cast-iron fact, making him out as the linchpin of just about every attack in Iraq," the agent said.

"Back home, this stuff was gratefully received and formed the basis of policy decisions. We needed a villain, someone identifiable for the public to latch on to, and we got one."

The sprawling U.S. intelligence community is in a state of open political warfare amid conflicting pressures from election-year politics, military combat and intelligence analysis. The Bush administration has seized on Zarqawi as the principal leader of the insurgency, mastermind of the country's worst suicide bombings and the man behind the abduction of foreign hostages.

He is held up as the most tangible link to Osama bin Laden and proof of the claim that the former Iraqi regime had links to al-Qaida.

However, fresh intelligence emerging from around Fallujah, the rebel-held city that is at the heart of the insurgency, suggests that the insurgency is led and dominated not by Arab foreigners, but by members of Iraq's Sunni minority.

Pentagon estimates have put the number of foreign fighters in the region of 5,000. However, one agent said: "The overwhelming sense from the information we are now getting is that the number of foreign fighters does not exceed several hundred and is perhaps as low as 200.

"From the information we have gathered, we have to conclude that Zarqawi is more myth than man. He isn't in the calibre of what many politicians want to believe he is.

"At some stage, and perhaps even now, he was almost certainly behind some of the kidnappings. But if there is a main leader of the insurgency he would be an Iraqi. The insurgency, though, is not nearly so centralized to talk of a structured leadership."

Military intelligence officials complain that their reports to Washington are largely being ignored. They accuse the Pentagon of over-reliance on electronic surveillance and aerial and satellite reconnaissance carried out for the CIA.

In recent weeks American military command in Iraq has claimed a series of precision air strikes on targets in Fallujah identified by the CIA as housing known associates of Zarqawi.

It has denied that there were any civilian casualties, despite television footage showing dead and wounded women and children being pulled from the rubble of flattened homes on several occasions.

Both U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have, to varying degrees, conceded that intelligence on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction program was misleading. But both continue to maintain that the continued violence since Saddam was ousted is because Iraq is now the front line in the "war on terror."

No concrete proof of the link between Zarqawi and bin Laden was offered until earlier this year when US officials trumpeted the discovery of a computer disk, allegedly intercepted by Kurdish Peshmerga. Among its files was an apparent draft of a letter from Zarqawi to bin Laden.

But senior western diplomats in Baghdad claim the letter was almost certainly a hoax.

They say that, while the two men may have met in Afghanistan, it appeared they never got along and there has been a rift for several years.

The diplomats describe Zarqawi as deeply ambitious. His actions are aimed as much at boosting his position in the Islamic terrorist fraternity as striking at the United States.

Copyright 2004 Deutsche Presse-Agentur
Deutsche Presse-Agentur
October 4, 2004, Monday
10:03:18 Central European Time
SECTION: Politics

LENGTH: 567 words

HEADLINE: British daily says Jordanian terrorist Zarqawi largely a "myth"

DATELINE: London

BODY:
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born terrorist leader linked to al Qaeda and held responsible for the beheading of Western hostages in Iraq, is "more myth than man", Britain's Daily Telegraph reported Monday, quoting unnamed U.S. intelligence agents. Sources in U.S. military intelligence in Iraq had said that the persona of Zarqawi had been largely manufactured to provide a "villain" for consumption in the United States, the London daily reported. The sources spoke of "botched and often tawdry dealings" with unreliable sources who "told us what we wanted to hear", the Telegraph's correspondent in Iraq said. "We were basically paying up to 10,000 dollars a time to opportunists, criminals and chancers who passed off fiction and supposition about Zarqawi as cast-iron fact, making him out as the linchpin of just about every attack in Iraq," one agent said. "Back home this stuff was gratefully received and formed the basis of policy decisions. We needed a villain, someone identifiable for the public to latch on to, and we got one," the agent added. The Telegraph, a conservative daily which backed the U.S.-led invasion and tends to support U.S. President George Bush, said the U.S. intelligence operation in Iraq was "in a state of open political warfare" as a result of political pressures in a U.S. election year. Zarqawi, 38, is depicted as the man behind the most sensational atrocities in Iraq, from car bombs to the abduction and beheading of a series of Western hostages. His group, Tawhid and Jihad, is held responsible for the beheading of U.S. worker Nick Berg in May this year and for the beheading of two U.S. hostages seized in Baghdad on September 16, Jack Hensley and Eugene Armstrong. Most reports say Zarqawi carried out the killings in person. British engineer Ken Bigley, 62, abducted with Hensley and Armstrong, is apparently still being held by the group. The Telegraph cast doubt on the significance of Zarqawi, saying that evidence from Fallujah indicated that the prime movers in the insurgency centred on the largely Sunni city west of Baghdad were native Iraqis, not foreign jihadists. Disputing Pentagon estimates of 5,000 foreign fighters in the Fallujah region, one agent told the Telegraph: "The overwhelming sense from the information we are now getting is that the number of foreign fighters does not exceed several hundred and is perhaps as low as 200. "From the information we have gathered we have to conclude that Zarqawi is more myth than man. He isn't in the calibre of what many politicians want to believe he is. "At some stage, and perhaps even now, he was almost certainly behind some of the kidnappings. But if there is a main leader of the insurgency he would be an Iraqi. The insurgency, though, is not nearly so centralized to talk of a structured leadership," the agent said. The Telegraph also questions Zarqawi's alleged links to Osama bin Laden, saying the only evidence was a letter on a CD intercepted by Kurdish peshmerga guerrillas. It said unnamed senior diplomats in Baghdad believed the letter was almost certainly a hoax. The two men might have met in Afghanistan but it appeared they never got on and there had been a rift for several years, the diplomatic sources said. The paper also said reports that Zarqawi had had a leg amputated after an injury also appeared to be incorrect. dpa rpm emc

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