More than 90 percent of the suicide attacks in Iraq are carried out by terrorists and foreign fighters recruited, trained and equipped by al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a U.S. military spokesman said Monday.
Al-Zarqawi and al-Qaida in Iraq “are real threats to the citizens, security and stability of Iraq and we continue to conduct aggressive operations to eliminate the threat they pose not only to Iraq, but also to the rest of the region,” Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said in a statement.
The Washington Post reported Monday that U.S. military was conducting a propaganda campaign to “magnify the role” of al-Zarqawi to turn Iraqis against him and to link the war in Iraq to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
According to the newspaper, some U.S. military intelligence officials believe the campaign has overstated al-Zarqawi’s importance within the Iraqi insurgency.
Lynch’s statement did not refer directly to the Post story but said “a recent article” had called into question the threat posed by al-Zarqawi.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Lynch said. “The terrorists and foreign fighters that he recruits, trains and equips carry out more than 90 percent of the insidious suicide attacks against the men, women and children of Iraq attacks that have killed or injured thousands of Iraqis in the last year alone.”
The Post quoted Col. Derek Harvey, who it said served as a military intelligence officer in Iraq, as telling an Army meeting at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., last summer that al-Zarqawi and other foreign fighters had conducted deadly bombing attacks but remain “a very small part of the actual numbers.”
“Our own focus on Zarqawi has enlarged his caricature, if you will ? made him more important than he really is, in some ways,” the Post quoted Harvey as saying, citing a transcript of the meeting. “The long-term threat is not Zarqawi or religious extremists, but these former regime types and their friends.”
The newspaper said Harvey did not return its phone calls seeking comment on his remarks.
Lynch acknowledged that al-Qaida in Iraq represents a “relatively small portion” of the insurgency but “their impact has been ruthlessly devastating.”
He cited statements attributed to al-Zarqawi on Islamist Web sites calling for foreign fighters to come to Iraq and declaring war against Shiites and coalition forces here.
In January, al-Zarqawi’s group said in a Web statement that it had joined five other Iraqi insurgent groups to form the Mujahedeen Shura Council. Since then, al-Zarqawi’s group has stopped issuing its own statements.
On April 2, Huthayafa Azzam, believed to have close ties to Iraqi militants, told The Associated Press that al-Zarqawi had been confined to a military role within the coalition, specifically barred from making public statements and from any political or propaganda role.
Azzam said Iraqis in the Shura Council had demanded that al-Zarqawi give up his political role ? particularly in propaganda ? because he had “embarrassed” them with statements about regional politics, al-Qaida’s activities and beheading videos.