AMMAN â€” Foreign Al Qaeda militants waging a campaign of suicide car bombings in Iraq plan to send some fighters home in preparation for similar operations in their own countries, the Iraqi interior minister said on Sunday.
Interior Minister Bayan Jabor said documents found with Abu Azzam, said to be a lieutenant of Abu Mussab Zarqawi, the most wanted man in Iraq, signalled a plan to send foreign Arab Sunni militants back home to widen the battlefield beyond Iraq.
“We got hold of a very important letter from Abu Azzam to Zarqawi asking him to begin to move a number of Arab fighters to the countries they came from to transfer their experience in car bombings in Iraq,” Jabor told Reuters in an interview in Amman.
“So you will see insurgencies in other countries,” said Jabor, a member of the Shiite Islamist SCIRI Party, a key component of the Shiite- and Kurdish-led coalition government.
US and Iraqi forces tracked Abu Azzam, an Iraqi, and killed him last week dealing what a US commander called a serious blow to the group responsible for some of the biggest suicide attacks over the past two years.
Hundreds of Islamist fighters had already left Iraq in recent months, Jabor said, though security forces were also braced for a spike in car bomb attacks ahead of October 15’s referendum on a post-Saddam Hussein constitution.
Jabor’s own brother was kidnapped in Baghdad on Saturday, police sources said. The minister did not comment.
Iraq’s leaders have urged fellow Arab governments, including Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia, to do more to help.
The new administration in Baghdad has struggled to win acceptance from the Sunni leaders of the rest of the Arab world, however, who remain suspicious of its dependence on Washington and sectarian ties to non-Arab, Shiite Iran.
Jabor said intelligence indicated some Arab militants had already left Iraq after losing ground during last month’s assault by US and Iraqi forces on the northern town of Tal Afar, where more than 1,500 insurgents were captured.
“They are leaving Iraq to transfer their training skills in car bombings to their original countries,” he said.
Iraq has become a magnet for Islamic militants similar to Soviet-occupied Afghanistan two decades ago, US and Arab security officials say.
While the Afghan war against the Soviets was largely fought on a rural battlefield, security officials say Iraq is providing extremists with more comprehensive skills including training in operations for populated areas.
But Jabor said Zarqawi’s recruitment of Iraqi militants such as Abu Azzam indicated more Iraqis could be joining Al Qaeda, even though many local insurgents owe their loyalties to tribal and other nationalist leaders rather than foreign Islamists.
“Some of the experience has been transferred to Iraqis like Abu Azzam and others, but I believe some of the leaders of the Arab Afghans will remain in Iraq,” Jabor added, referring to foreign Arabs, like Zarqawi, who had operated in Afghanistan alongside the likes of Osama Ben Laden.
Zarqawi’s influence on the overall insurgency was also diminishing with rise of other Iraqi groups, Jabor added.
“Zarqawi is no longer important in my view. His worth or importance has ended with the confusion that is happening where there are now Iraqis and others [in the insurgency],” he said.
Jabor said foreign Arab militants now numbered less than 1,000 compared to between 2,500 and 3,000 six months ago. They were much weaker but readier to inflict more civilian casualties: “There are indications of a sharp weakening of the capabilities of the insurgents,” Jabor said.
Citing intelligence reports, Jabor said effectiveness of insurgent operations dropped to a low of 25 per cent from 80 per cent in terms of killing designated targets, primarily with a sharp drop in attacks on Iraqi security forces although attacks against US forces had not fallen.
But Jabor warned that insurgents were escalating violence in the run up to the referendum to sow fear among Iraqis.
“They will do their best until next week to increase attacks… to scare Iraqis not to participate,” Jabor said.
But they were targeting civilian areas outside the main cities and in villages where Iraqi forces had a lesser presence than in the capital Baghdad and the major cities, he said.
Iraqi authorities already had a plan to implement a two pronged plan that involved extensive searches in the capital.
“There is a public plan and a secret one, the secret one will be very effective in preventing the terrorists from reaching the polling stations,” Jabor said.
“We will do house to house searches to find car bombs because we have information that they want to store them in homes before curfew and then use them in Baghdad.”