U.S. officials say they have intercepted a letter from the number two official in the al-Qaida terrorist network to its chief in Iraq, outlining a broad strategy to dominate the Middle East and saying some of the Iraqi insurgents' most brutal tactics are hurting the movement.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman says the letter was sent by al-Qaida's second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri, to tell the group's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, that some of his tactics are wrong. According to Mr. Whitman, the letter criticizes the Zarqawi group's disregard for the wellbeing of the Iraqi people, and its use of highly-publicized brutal tactics like beheading hostages and bombing civilians at mosques, acts which the letter says are alienating the masses.
The Pentagon spokesman says the letter acknowledges that the al-Qaida network has lost many senior leaders and had its communications and funding systems disrupted, and includes a request for money. Mr. Whitman says that in the letter, the organization's number two leader refers to a lack of unity of effort and perhaps even unity of command.
He also says the letter indicates that al-Qaida leaders are resigned to defeat in Afghanistan.
Mr. Whitman says the letter, which was obtained roughly three months ago, confirms the U.S. view of the Iraqi insurgency and its relationship to the global terrorist movement. The Pentagon spokesman says the letter defines al-Qaida's goals as the defeat of U.S. forces in Iraq, the establishment of a large Islamic State in the Middle East, and then moves against moderate Arab governments and Israel. The strategy outlined in the letter is similar to what U.S. officials, including President Bush, have been saying about al-Qaida's plans, and Mr. Whitman acknowledged that the contents of the letter have been known at top levels of the U.S. government for some time.
Mr. Whitman would not say exactly where, when or how the letter was obtained, or whether it had been received by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. And he would not provide direct quotations from the letter. But he did say the Defense Department believes the letter is genuine, based on a variety of factors he would not specify.
The Pentagon spokesman would not comment on the fact that since the letter was reportedly sent, al-Qaida in Iraq has continued to behead hostages and attack Iraqi civilians, tactics that the group's senior leadership apparently opposes. The Pentagon reported on Thursday that the number of insurgent attacks in Iraq has increased in recent months, and that the attacks are focusing more and more on Iraqi civilians, rather than coalition troops. Officials say they expected such an increase in advance of Iraq's constitutional referendum later this month, and elections scheduled for December.