Iraq descends into chaos as US claims terror chief is losing grip

IRAQ’S terrorist mastermind Abu Musab Al Zarqawi is losing support and his men are suffering from low morale, American officials claimed last week, after seizing a letter apparently intended for the Jordanian militant.

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By  James Hider Published  May 8, 2005

IRAQ’S terrorist mastermind Abu Musab Al Zarqawi is losing support and his men are suffering from low morale, American officials claimed last week, after seizing a letter apparently intended for the Jordanian militant. “Morale is down and there is fatigue among Mujahedin ranks,” the letter, whose authenticity cannot be verified, read. It also admonished Zarqawi for “abandoning” his followers after the siege of Fallujah last year. The Pentagon said that the letter provided a “certain amount of proof that [Zarqawi’s] influence and effectiveness is waning”. Nonetheless, insurgents have launched a wave of deadly attacks in recent days, killing around nearly 300 people in the past week. A suicide bomber killed at least 60 people and wounded 150 more last Wednesday in northern Iraq when he walked into a crowd of people outside a police recruiting office and blew himself up. The bomber struck in the Kurdish city of Irbil, 200 miles north of Baghdad, as a large crowd gathered outside the local offices of the Kurdistan Democratic party, which also serves as a police recruiting centre, police and security officials said. At least seven cars were destroyed outside the centre, and pools of blood were left on the street outside. Several nearby buildings were damaged. Taxis and ambulances rushed to the scene, ferrying the dead and wounded to local hospitals. A US military spokesman said the bombing came as Iraqis were applying for police jobs at the recruitment office. US sources put the death toll from the blast at 50, while state-owned television and the Al Arabiya network both said 60 people died. The US military also suffered a blow when two F18 aircraft disappeared late last Monday night while flying support operations. The wreckage of one of the jets and a pilot’s body were later found. Officials said that there was no sign of hostile fire having brought down the aircraft, which may have collided in a sandstorm. American soldiers killed 15 insurgents during a separate incident in a gunfight in the western city of Ramadi, in the heart of the Sunni Triangle. However, guerrillas carried out a string of attacks, killing three policemen in Samarra to the north of Baghdad, as well as shooting dead a senior official from the Water Ministry in the capital. Four car bombs exploded in Baghdad and another in Mosul. An Iraqi soldier and a businessman working with the US military were killed in separate incidents. Meanwhile, US officials said that the letter seized had been written by an Al Qaeda lieutenant named Abu Asim Al Qusaymi, a Yemeni and was addressed to Sheik Abu Ahjmad, an apparent alias for Zarqawi. It was seized in a raid on April 28 on a house in Baghdad — an operation that also yielded sketch maps for bomb attacks and kidnappings and a list of targets. US officials said that the letter, dated the day before the raid, could be a sign of growing weakness and dissension in Zarqawi’s group, which carried out the beheading of Kenneth Bigley, the kidnapped British engineer, as well as scores of car bombings. In the midst of the violence, Iraq’s new Shia-dominated Government was sworn in, more than three months after elections that many had hoped would undermine the insurgency. After ministers swore to defend Iraq from its numerous enemies, Ibrahim Al Jaafari, the new prime minister, reminded them of the huge challenges they faced: “You all know the heavy legacy inherited by this Government. We are afflicted by corruption, lack of services, unemployment and mass graves. I would like to tell the widows and orphans ... your sacrifices have not gone in vain.” Mr Jaafari’s government has less than eight months left to complete its main tasks: draft a new constitution by mid-August and submit it to a referendum no later than October 15. If approved, new elections must be held by December 15 under Iraq’s transitional law.

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