Washington, 4 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The top U.S. commander in Iraq says the United States has obtained intelligence linking Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi to suicide bombings aimed at Shi'a Muslims in Baghdad and Karbala.
General John Abizaid, the head of U.S. Central Command, made the announcement yesterday during a House of Representatives Armed Services Committee hearing in Washington. "We have intelligence that ties Zarqawi to this attack," he said. "We also have intelligence that shows that there is some linkage between Zarqawi and the former regime elements, specifically the Iraqi intelligence service, and we are concerned to see a terrorist group come into close coordination with former Iraqi intelligence service people."
Al-Zarqawi is a suspected Al-Qaeda associate. Washington believes Al-Qaeda to be responsible for the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States that killed 3,000 people. The U.S. administration says al-Zarqawi is orchestrating attacks in Iraq in an effort to spark a civil war between the country's Shi'a and Sunni communities.
Suicide bombers struck mosques in the two cities on 2 March, killing at least 117 people on the holiest day of the calendar for Shi'ite Muslims. The death toll is expected to rise further.
The head of the U.S. civil administration in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, said there will be a significant increase in border security in Iraq because of the bombings. "It is increasingly apparent that a large part of this terrorism comes from outside the country, and we are strengthening border protection to counter it," he said. "There are 8,000 border police on duty today, and more are on the way. We are adding hundreds of vehicles and doubling border police staffing in selected areas. The United States has committed $60 million to support border security."
Last month, U.S. intelligence intercepted a letter believed to have been written by al-Zarqawi to senior Al-Qaeda leadership. The letter sought support for sparking a religious war in the country. The U.S. government has offered a $10 million reward for information leading to al-Zarqawi's capture or death.
General Abizaid also said the political process in Iraq will likely usher in a moderate government. "I don't believe that it's likely for extremists to take charge of Iraq," he said. "I believe that the process is more likely to produce a moderate, although not necessarily [a] recognizable Western democracy, but a moderate government [that] will protect the rights of its people."
The general said he believes U.S.-led efforts to promote democracy in Iraq will have an important impact on the Middle East. "The fact that a government like Iraq would emerge as a moderate state in the middle of territory not noted for its moderation will have a huge impact on the entire region," he said. "And if we failed there and the extremists were to succeed there, the opposite effect would affect the region in a way that would be very bad for all of us."
But the road, Abizaid said, may be difficult. He said Americans can expect more casualties in Iraq as extremists try to derail the 30 June transfer of authority and security responsibilities to a new Iraqi government. However, Abizaid also said he does not expect a civil war to break out.
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