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US Says Letter Reveals Al-Qaida as Perverter of Islam

The United States Wednesday made public a letter from a senior al-Qaida figure to the group's chief operative in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, that, among other things, questions his tactic of attacking Iraqi Shiite mosques. The State Department said the letter reveals al-Qaida as a confederacy of evil, and a perverter of Islam. .

The letter from second-ranking al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri to the Iraqi insurgency chief is said to have been acquired during U.S. operations in Iraq, and it reflects apparent apprehension among al-Qaida leaders about the public relations effect of Mr. al-Zarqawi's brutal tactics.

The document made public in English and Arabic by the office of U.S. Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte is said to have been written by Mr. al-Zawahri in July.

Among other things, it says the goal of al-Qaida goes beyond the expulsion of U.S. forces from Iraq to the establishment of radical Islamic rule across the Middle East.

But it cautions against repeating mistakes of the Taleban in Afghanistan, and questions some of the tactics of Mr. al-Zarkawi, a Jordanian-born militant and self-proclaimed al-Qaida leader in Iraq.

It says ordinary Muslims find tape footage of the al-Zarkawi group's slaughter of hostages in Iraq unpalatable, and also says they cannot accept its bomb attacks on Iraqi Shiite mosques, remarking that public aversion to the tactic will continue.

The letter further says that more than half the battle is taking place in the media, and that it is a race for the hearts and minds of the Islamic world.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said the letter shows the media-savvy of al-Qaida, but also clearly reveals the evil nature of the enemy being faced in Iraq:

"This isn't a question of hearts and minds, it's a question of bodies and gore, quite frankly. Meaning that this is a network and this is a confederacy of evil that will stop at nothing to advance its radical agenda. And that agenda was made very clear: it's a caliphate that will start in Iraq and move to take over Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, and practice the kind of abuse and intolerance and perfidy that we saw under the Taleban in Afghanistan, which was in cahoots with these guys," Mr. Ereli says.

Mr. Ereli said the best evidence of what al-Qaida and its allies are all about is their own writing.

He said the United States released the letter so that those claiming to be speaking in the name of Islam can be seen by Muslims for what they are, in his words, perverters of that religion.