- Jul 31, 2005
- Reaction score
- Political Leaning
Al Qaeda's top operative in
Iraq is drawing growing numbers of Iraqi nationals to his organization, increasing the reach and threat of an insurgent group that has been behind many of the most devastating attacks in the country, U.S. officials and Iraqi government leaders say.
The group, headed by Jordanian-born radical Abu Musab Zarqawi, previously was composed almost exclusively of militants from other Arab nations, and has symbolized the foreign dimension of a stubborn insurgency fighting to oust U.S. forces.
But Zarqawi "is bringing more and more Iraqi fighters into his fold," a U.S. official said, adding that Iraqis accounted for "more than half his organization."
The U.S. officials indicated that the infusion of Iraqis, including, apparently, former members of the Iraqi intelligence service and military, represented a change in the group's makeup rather than a major expansion.
Mowaffak Rubaie, Iraq's national security advisor and a former Shiite activist, said "there's no doubt" that once-nationalistic elements of the insurgency were drifting toward Zarqawi and his extremist Salafi sect, also known as Wahhabism, which seeks to establish a puritanical society modeled on early Islamic times.
"There's a tendency to religion-ize the insurgency," he said. "Religion is a strong motive. You're not going to find someone who's going to die for Baathists. But Salafists have a very strong message.
Zarqawi's reported success in recruiting Iraqis to his cause comes as frustration is mounting among the minority Sunni Arabs, who fear they will be marginalized in the new Iraq and are prepared to fight its emergence.
The CIA and other agencies have resisted pressure to provide an estimate of the number of insurgents in Iraq, partly out of concern that it would foster the impression that there is a finite population that can be stamped out.