U.S. forces in Iraq have captured what they say is a letter from a key supporter to insurgent leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, indicating that there is a split in the insurgency, which the letter blames on poor leadership.
The U.S. command in Iraq says troops found the letter during a raid in Baghdad last Friday. Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman says experts have confirmed its authenticity as message from senior aide Abu Asim Yemeni to the insurgent leader Abu Musab Zarqawi.
"The letter is important because it highlights the fact that Zarqawi's influence and effectiveness may be deteriorating. It describes low morale and weak and incompetent leadership, and goes on to allege to Zarqawi that he has abandoned his followers because he is now a fugitive himself," he said.
According to a translation of the letter provided by U.S. forces in Iraq, it describes some trouble between groups of insurgents that the apparent writer, Mr. Yemeni, says "cannot be forgiven." He reports to his old friend Mr. Zarqawi that "morale has weakened" and "lines have become separated due to some leaders' actions." The letter says, "We have leaders that are not capable of being good leaders" It also expresses suspicion about some envoys who claim to speak for Mr. Zarqawi, and warns him not to believe everything his closest aides tell him.
Mr. Yemeni reports that one local insurgent leader told his followers to either carry out suicide bombings or go home, and that some of the fighters did not know what to do and felt they had been "humiliated and immorally treated." The letter also indicates that Mr. Yemeni and his men feel abandoned because Mr. Zarqawi does not come to visit them anymore. The letter says, "The situation has changed dramatically and that is not acceptable to God."
Still, Mr. Yemeni pledges allegiance to Mr. Zarqawi, and urges him to rectify the situation.
In spite of the apparent problems, U.S. officials say the Zarqawi insurgency can still do considerable damage. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spoke about it at a news conference last week. "In terms of the entire insurgency, you've got to remember the Zarqawi thing, numerically, is relatively small. It just happens to be the most lethal element," he said.
At the same news conference, the top U.S. military officer, General Richard Myers, added this on the Zarqawi group's capabilities. "Zarqawi is, by all accounts, pretty well financed, and he has a number of young folks bent on jihad that he puts right into the fight and right into the suicide vehicles," he said.
Pentagon officials note that both Mr. Zarqawi and Mr. Yemeni are not Iraqi, and they believe most of their recruits and financing also come from outside the country.
Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman says the insurgents' continuing capability in spite of their problems does not mean they will succeed in the long term. "We know that the insurgents in Iraq still have the ability to carry out attacks. In fact, we've seen many attacks in the past week and some of them rather spectacular," he said. "It doesn't take a lot to kill innocent civilians on the streets of major cities. But what the insurgents have failed to do, and will fail in, is achieving any sort of strategic objectives."
Mr. Whitman says the successful political process in Iraq is evidence that the Iraqi people have chosen a future very different from the one the insurgents want for the country.