‘Zarqawi replaced at head of Iraq resistance’

AMMAN — Iraq’s resistance has replaced Abu Mussab Zarqawi as political head of the rebels, confining him to a military role, the son of Osama Ben Laden’s mentor told AFP Sunday in Jordan.

“The Iraqi resistance’s high command asked Zarqawi to give up his political role and replaced him with an Iraqi, because of several mistakes he made,” said Hudayf Azzam, who claims close contacts with the rebels.

“Zarqawi’s role has been limited to military action,” said Azzam, whose late father Abdullah Azzam was the mentor of Ben Laden, Al Qaeda boss.

“Zarqawi bowed to the orders two weeks ago and was replaced by Iraqi national Abdullah Ben Rashed Al Baghdadi,” Azzam said.

Azzam, 35, whose father was known as the “prince of mujahedeens,” said he regularly receives “credible information on the resistance in Iraq.”

He said Zarqawi “made many political mistakes,” including “the creation of an independent organisation, Al Qaeda in Iraq.”

“Zarqawi also took the liberty of speaking in the name of the Iraqi people and resistance, a role which belongs only to the Iraqis,” Azzam said.

As a result “the resistance command inside and outside Iraq, including imams, criticised him and after long discussions demanded that he be confined to military action,” Azzam said.

“Zarqawi pledged not to carry out any more attacks against Iraq’s neighbours after having been criticised for these operations which are considered a violation of Sharia [Islamic law],” Azzam said.

Zarqawi is Iraq’s most-wanted man with a $25-million US bounty on his head. The feared militant is accused of masterminding a large part of the Iraqi insurgency including some of its most gruesome attacks and hostage beheadings.

He has been sentenced to death three times in Jordan for the murder of a US diplomat in 2002 and two conspiracy plots. He has also claimed several attacks on the country, including hotel suicide bombings in November that killed 60 people.

Nevertheless, Azzam insisted that Zarqawi remains strong on the ground.

“He is stronger than before on the battlefield and the resistance has profited from his military experience,” he said.

“Five organisations have rallied around Zarqawi: the Mujahedeen Army, Ansar Al Islam [also known as Ansar Al Sunna], the Islamic Army for the Liberation of Iraq, Al Tawid Wal Hujra and Revolution 20 Brigades,” he said.

The joint US-Iraqi operation launched in mid-March around Samarra, north of Baghdad, aimed at “dismantling these five groups,” Azzam said.

General John Abizaid, the commander of US forces in the Middle East, said at the time that the offensive targeted Al Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgent groups in Samarra.

“Generally it’s linked to the notion that in that vicinity where they’re operating that there are some hard Al Qaeda in Iraq nodes and some hard insurgent nodes that need to be dealt with,” Abizaid said.

Azzam also expected “several mistakes made in the past, such as some hostage-taking, not to occur again.”

Asked about the wave of abductions in Iraq targeting journalists, Azzam said: “Not all journalists are innocent.”

“The resistance is against the occupiers. It is a natural and legitimate right,” he said.

Azzam said that last week’s liberation of US hostage Jill Carroll, the Christian Science Monitor journalist who was held in Iraq for 12 weeks, allowed the release from jail of “wives and sisters of resistance brothers.”

“When the American army cannot succeed in arresting resistance members, they arrest their wives or other members of their family,” Azzam said.

In 1984, Ben Laden decided to leave his native Saudi Arabia for Afghanistan to follow Abdullah Azzam, who became his mentor.

Before being killed with two of his sons in a bomb attack against their car in Afghanistan in November 1989, Abdullah Azzam wrote a five-volume encyclopaedia on jihad which has become the reference book for his Muslim followers.

Abdullah Azzam also founded the Muslim Brotherhood in the Palestinian territories

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