Al-Qaeda planning militant Islamic state within Iraq
Uzi Mahnaimi, Tel Aviv
A RADICAL plan by Al-Qaeda to take over the Sunni heartland of Iraq and turn
it into a militant Islamic state once American troops have withdrawn is
causing alarm among US intelligence officials.
A power struggle has emerged between the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq, an
organisation with ambitions to become a state which has been set up by
Al-Qaeda, and more moderate Sunni groups. They are battling for the
long-term control of central and western areas which they believe could
break away from Kurdish and Shi’ite-dominated provinces once the coalition
According to an analysis compiled by US intelligence agencies, the Islamic
State has ambitions to create a terrorist enclave in the Iraqi provinces of
Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala, Salah al-Din, Nineveh and parts of Babil.
“Al-Qaeda are on the way to establish their first stronghold in the Middle
East,” warned an American official. “If they succeed, it will be a
catastrophe and an imminent danger to Saudi Arabia and Jordan.”
The US conviction that the Islamic State could seize power is based on its use
of classic Al-Qaeda tactics and its adoption last October of a draft
constitution. This was entitled Notifying Mankind of the Birth of the
Islamic State and was posted on a website based in Britain. The group named
10 ministers under its emir, Abu Amer Al-Baghdadi. They included a war
minister, Abu Hamza Al-Muhajer who is also known as Abu Ayub al-Masri and is
Al-Qaeda’s commander in Iraq.
Last week the Islamic State released a video that showed the execution of five
Iraqi army soldiers and four police officers.
The Islamic State’s ruthlessness, combined with extreme religious
fundamentalism, marks it out from other Sunni factions.
As well as the nine victims shown on the video, the group claimed to have
captured an Iraqi army colonel and two of his bodyguards. They threatened to
kill him within 24 hours unless demands to release Al-Qaeda sympathisers
The Islamic State is spearheading the insurgency against US forces and troops
loyal to Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister. In recent months it has been
responsible for chlorine gas bombs and numerous suicide attacks on civilian
It is also behind the deadliest roadside bombs that have racked up American
casualties this year, although US military sources are now confident that in
recent weeks they have gained the upper hand with raids aimed at both the
Islamic State’s leadership and its bomb-making factories. “The mood is
positive but not foolishly so,” said a Pentagon source last week. “The
marines are confident they’ve pushed the bad guys out. There is an element
of propaganda about the all-powerful Al-Qaeda.”
The Islamic State’s brutal targeting of fellow Sunnis has made it unpopular
among some who see Al-Qaeda as foreign influenced and too ready to attack
Iraqis as well as US forces.
According to American diplomats, one of the topics of the visit to Saudi
Arabia yesterday by Dick Cheney, the US vice-president, was Al-Qaeda’s power
Five US soldiers were killed and three were missing after their unit was
attacked in a Sunni insurgent stronghold south of Baghdad yesterday.
Additional reporting: Sarah Baxter, Washington