Haykel On Zarqawi Letter Us Officials

Haykel on Zarqawi Letter

US Officials are denying the allegation by Sunni radicals in Iraq that Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi was killed during the US invasion of Iraq in April of 2003. They say they have proof that Zarqawi was active in Iraq later that spring. Meanwhile, wire services report that Zarqawi’s mother died in Jordan. His sister denies the US charges against him. I was struck in this report that Zarqawi is said by the US to be a chemical and biological weapons specialist. This must be a reference to the ricin allegedly produced at the Ansar al-Islam base near Sulaymaniya. But Zarqawi ran away to fight in Afghanistan while just a teenager, and I fail to see how he possibly could have become a chemist or biologist. If he exists and is important, he can’t be more than an imaginative and poorly educated thug. Even the letter attributed to him could not possibly have actually been composed by him, though he could have dictated the main points, because it was far to flowery.

For some definitions of Salafism, which comes up below, see Guilain Denoeux’s article, especially under ‘jihadi salafism.’

Speaking of which, I am very grateful to my colleague, Bernard Haykel, a Middle East expert at New York University, for permitting me to reprint here his analysis of the Zarqawi letter, posted at a discussion list on Thursday:

” . . . on Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi’s alleged letter to UBL which

was found in Iraq and has now been translated on the CPA’s website[:] I

first read it in Arabic on two Jihadi websites (Abd al-Mun`im Halima’s

(aka Abu Basiir) and Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi’s Minbar al-Tawhid

wa-l-Jihad). Both sites did not claim the letter as an authentic piece,

but rather stated explicitly that the US authorities were claiming it to

be Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi’s. I will return to this last point in a moment.

I believe the letter to be either a forgery or one that was written by a

radical Sunni neophyte, perhaps even a sympathizer of al-Qaeda’s, but not

someone associated directly with the movement. When I first read it, the

letter’s language struck me as odd and not entirely in line with Jihadi

Salafi rhetoric and ideology. For example, the letter refers to the Kurds

in disparaging terms and this is inconsistent with Jihadi ideology for the

simple reason that the term Kurd (an ethnic or national designation) is

not an analytical category for the Jihadis–they simply don’t use this

language. One must remember that a number of Kurds are Jihadis themselves

and certainly the majority of Kurds are Muslim.

A second point that baffled me was the negative talk about the Muslim

Brotherhood (MB) and what bad things they had done in Syria! What have

they done in Syria? In 1982 they rose up in Hama against what all Salafis consider

to be a heretical (Nusayri) regime in Damascus: surely a good thing from

al-Qaeda’s perspective, though the MB were crushed and all the survivors

either fled into exile or were imprisoned. Since then some Brothers have

returned to Syria, having cut deals with the Damascus regime and abjuring

political activity, and this is perhaps what is being alluded to in

Zarqawi’s letter. I don’t think so, however. Many if not most of the

Brothers have refused to return to Syria and some, such as Abu Mus`ab

al-Suri (not the same as the abovementioned al-Zarqawi) who resides in

Yemen, threw his lot in with the Jihadis while still retaining his Muslim

Brotherhood identity.

The relationship between the Brotherhood and al-Qaeda is complex and

often very negative (al-Qaeda, for example, vilifies all Brothers who agree

to participate in the political processes of states ruled by the “Hypocrites” (i.e.,

lapsed Muslim rulers), but in the letter we get language that is not in keeping with

anything I’ve encountered before in Jihadi Salafi writings. Finally, the fact that the

Jihadi Salafis have not claimed the letter to be written by one of their

own, and the fact that today al-Qaeda has allegedly disassociated itself

from the `Ashura attacks (all the while still excoriating Shii beliefs),

lead me to think that someone else’s hand is at work in “Zarqawi’s

letter”. The argument that the language in this letter is too difficult

to forge, is not a compelling since any well-educated graduate of any

Shari`a college could have written it, and there are thousands if not tens

of thousands of such people floating around these days. I know that both

Mike Doran and Juan Cole commented on this letter earlier, confirming it

as Jihadi-Salafi. While I have the utmost respect for their work and

analysis, I have to respectfully disagree with what they’ve said about

this letter.

Bernard Haykel

New York University