Terrorists Know Time Running Out as Iraqi Sovereignty Approaches
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 15, 2004 As the June 30 turnover of sovereignty in Iraq to the Iraqi people approaches, terrorists trying to start a civil war in the country know their window of opportunity is closing, the Coalition Provisional Authority administrator said today.
Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III told "ABC News This Week" host George Stephanopoulos the 17-page letter written by fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi seeking help from top al Qaeda leaders shows Zarqawi knows the terrorists are failing and that their time is running out.
Though Iraqi security forces in particular have been targets of recent attacks, Bremer said, the Iraqi people are firm in their resolve and are continuing to apply for security-related positions.
"You know, with all these attacks against the police, and last week against the Army, we still have more people applying for jobs in the police and the army and the border patrol than we have slots for," Bremer said. "So I think there's a real firmness in the Iraqi people. And if you read the Zarqawi letter, he realizes time is not on his side. He very clearly says, 'Once democracy is in place here, there's no pretext for continuing this terrorist attack in Iraq.'"
In the letter, Zarqawi claims credit for 25 suicide bombings, all of the major bombings in Iraq over the last several months.
"We've all along felt that the suicide attacks were not typical of the way the Iraqis have been operating," Bremer said. "In fact, Iraqis have said to us from the start that they thought foreigners were behind these suicide attacks. We've known since the summer that we had a major terrorist infiltration here with al Qaeda. But the coalition administrator added he doesn't think the war has escalated al Qaeda's role in Iraq.
"We're engaged in a world war against terrorism," he said. "It has many fronts. It happens that, since the summer, we've been on the front lines of this war on terrorism. It's a war that was declared on us during the last decade, and came home to all of us on Sept. 11."
Bremer said there is "no question" that Zarqawi wrote the 17-page document, captured last month with an al Qaeda courier. In it, he laid out plans for using suicide attacks he hoped Shiites would blame on Sunnis as a means of causing civil war and derailing progress toward a stable and democratic Iraq. "If we're able to deal them blow after painful blow so that they engage in a battle," he wrote, "we'll be able to reshuffle the cards and there will remain no value or influence for the ruling council or even for the Americans, who will enter into a second battle with the Shiites."
Bremer said the United States supports the unity of Iraq, and the Iraqis have shown a lot of restraint, even after hundreds of them have been killed. "There hasn't been any wild sectarian reaction," he noted.
Emphasizing that the U.S.-led coalition will have to continue to go after the terrorists, Bremer said, "We've doubled the reward for Zarqawi's capture or death. We're conducting a major campaign to capture him, because we believe that he's still in Iraq." The reward for Zarqawi now stands at $10 million.
More than 100 Iraqis were killed last week in three separate attacks. But the Feb. 14 attack on a police station in Fallujah, a hotbed of anti-coalition activity, appears to be the most sophisticated yet, Stephanopoulos pointed out. Bremer said it's too early to know who conducted that attack. "But we've had a pattern of suicide bombings over the last three or four months that exactly fit the strategy that's outlined in Zarqawi's letter," Bremer noted.
Coalition officials are still analyzing the sophisticated and well-organized Fallujah police station attack, Bremer said. "The tactics were well conducted," he noted. "The motive may have been to release prisoners at the police station and also to kill prisoners. There were foreigners involved. We're still looking into that to try to find out what the implications are. It's no surprise to us that there are foreign terrorists here in this country. They've been here since July."
The handover of sovereignty June 30 won't mean the coalition forces will go away, Bremer said. "We and the Iraqis recognize that the coalition forces will be needed here for some time until the Iraqi security forces themselves are capable," he said.
Bremer said once sovereignty is turned over to the Iraqis, the United States no longer will be an occupying force in Iraq. "That has some political resonance for the Iraqi people," he said. "They don't like to be occupied. Frankly, we don't like to be occupiers. It will help with the security of the country to have the Iraqis have a political stake in their future."