Intercepted Document Discusses AQI's Strategy
In early March Coalition Forces raided a remote farmhouse 30 miles northwest of Baghdad. During the operation three members of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) were killed and another three were detained. While searching the premises, Coalition Forces found three computers, a thumb drive, computer disks, and a stack of documents. Coalition Forces also found a document on one of the deceased terrorists laying out one AQI commander’s thoughts on tactical and strategic doctrine. This document was eventually intended for Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the Egyptian born leader of AQI, and was written by a man named Abu Safyan who claims to be based in Diyala. The terrorist who carried this document was likely a lower level AQI associate serving as a courier between Abu Safyan and higher level leaders. Abu Safyan’s position in AQI’s hierarchy is unknown, but his doctrinal thoughts and connection to senior leadership indicate he serves in some leadership capacity. Moreover, many practices in the doctrine he lays out have been widely practiced by AQI in recent months. Though only the thoughts of one man, his insights are useful for distilling some of AQI’s current thinking and the wide gap that currently exists between the terrorist group and the Awakening movement that it has alienated in the past few years.
Abu Safyan identifies the Awakening movement, the Shi’a led government, Kurds, and Coalition Forces as AQI enemies. Among these enemies he focuses on the Awakening movement indicating that it is the greatest threat to the network. AQI was displaced from central Iraq last year in large part because of the rise of the Awakening movement and therefore it is no surprise that it is identified as AQI’s primary enemy. Furthermore, AQI’s recognition of the movement as a direct threat is substantiated by the significant increase in attacks against Awakening leaders, offices, and checkpoints since the end of 2007.
The overall thrust of Abu Safyan’s strategy for dealing with the Awakening movement is to infiltrate and defeat it as a means of repenetrating areas that AQI was displaced from last year. He recommends a continuation of AQI’s cellular structure with an overall emir as the commander of locally and regionally based groups. The emir directs intelligence agents, and cells devoted to sniper, security/assassination, and martyr operations, as well as other individuals and cells as needed. Abu Safyan places a high degree of importance on intelligence and infiltration as key to taking down local Awakening movements. AQI must first “enter the heart of the enemy’s house and infiltrate it” using “Islamic State personnel” who’s “identities must be completely unknown to the enemy.” Most importantly, he mentions repeatedly the importance of operational security stressing that “intelligent and faithful” individuals are needed who can deceive the Awakening movements without revealing their intentions. He bemoans the fact that AQI members have not always kept silent and protected plans and identities. Moreover, he warns about being infiltrated by Awakening members – “a huge mistake committed by some of the group Emirs and soldiers.”
After an Awakening movement is infiltrated the next step is to gather intelligence about the group. Infiltrators should find out who the leaders are, where the groups operate, their safe havens, checkpoints or other congregating areas, and what military and economic resources are available to them. Lastly, infiltrators should identify possible weaknesses to be exploited. Once the emir collects intelligence, he can use martyrs (suicide bombers) and snipers (small arms fire) to attack and kill Awakening leaders and members at checkpoints. When local Awakening forces become thrown off by these attacks, soldiers of the Islamic State can begin to move weapons from larger caches to forward positions in and around cities and areas. At this point, the emir “can attack and surprise the enemy and bring down the city or the area.” Once an area is seized the emir can decide whether or not to stay and attempt to control the area. If the decision is to stay, Safyan offers advice on how to wage defensive war for cities and villages under AQI control. He suggests launching attacks from trenches that should be dug in various positions around areas so that American UAVs and fighter jets cannot target AQI fighters. If the emir decides to withdraw, he should leave behind buried IEDs and suicide bombers to attack the enemy when he returns.
Since being displaced from central Iraq last year AQI has been desperate to repenetrate areas of interest like Baghdad and Baqubah. The network has moved to fringe areas in Anbar, Salah ad Din, Diyala, and north Babil and Wasit provinces in order to do so. But as Abu Safyan makes clear the key to repenetrating areas is to take down the Awakening movements that now protect them. AQI has attempted to infiltrate local movements and conduct attacks against them as Abu Safyan describes, but Awakening members have thus far denied their efforts and fought back against the attacks.
In addition to attacking Awakening movements, Abu Safyan advocates attacks against infrastructure vital to the economy, the government, and Iraqi Security Forces. He suggests attacking gas and oil fields, wells, pipelines, and even tankers in Basra in order to reduce government income and halt salaries to the Awakening, the police, and the military. In addition, electric stations, power lines, police stations, military bases, and food supplies should be attacked. Overall, the objective is to “attack all the targets that strengthen the enemy economically and militarily.” Abu Safyan also advocates conducting attacks using chemical weapons arguing that “we need specialists in this sensitive field.” He suggests throwing large amounts of nitric acid, bacteria, or other chemical materials into lakes, valleys, and water pipes in order to “spread the killing and dangerous illnesses.”
Perhaps the greatest insight that Abu Safyan offers is into the role of psychological war in AQI’s overall strategy. As Abu Safyan makes clear, AQI intends to sow confusion, tension, disorder, and “security chaos” among Iraqis in order to achieve its long-term goals. In referring to those who infiltrate Awakening groups he stresses the need “to spread false and imaginary information to the enemy so they can be confused and drown from inside until they lose their trust in their own soldiers.” Infiltrators should first build the trust of local Awakening groups. In order to cause uncertainty among Awakening members infiltrators should then secretly plant IEDs in the middle of the night. This will cause members to become “disoriented and afraid” and “they will not trust even their own soldiers.” At the same time infiltrators should begin to tell local Iraqis that Awakening members are “liars and deceivers,” that “they rape and steal the women,” and that “they are spreading corruption everywhere.” In this way, “the general public (the enemy’s people) will begin to hate the awakening and Kataib (Translator Comments: Kataib is the Arabic word for Battalions) and we can begin to implement the Media War.”
For Abu Safyan the media war consists of three components. First, to distribute “CDs against the Awakening leaders, Anbar revolutionaries and the apostates Kataib (Battalions) to the general public everywhere to expose their malignancy and lies.” Second, to “spread publications to the general public showing the crimes and misbehaviors of the Awakening movement and show their betrayal with all the apostate parties and Kataib (Battalions).” And third, to make people aware that the Americans, the Awakening movement, Kataib, and apostate (Shi’a) parties and agents cannot be trusted because they will betray them in the end. Additionally, Abu Safyan advises bringing in foreigners with knowledge of Sharia and “help them implement their Islamic indoctrinations.” Essentially, he seeks the cloak of religion “to explain to the people why we are fighting and whom we are fighting with…whom the mujahidin are and who are the people we’re fighting.”
Beyond the Awakening movement and Sunni Arab population Abu Safyan advises using psychological war and propaganda to create broader fissures in society by creating disunity among Sunnis, Shi’a, Kurds, and Americans. AQI insurgents should infiltrate Awakening and Shi’a areas and there:
they shall place two missiles, one against the Awakening and another
against the Shia, even against the nearest American Center. The enemy will fight
against each other and then the Media person will distribute threatening
publications among all the areas and cities of the Awakening. Such publications
will contain Jaysh Al-Mahdi Shi’a slogans and the other publications will have the
Awakening slogans and the Ba’ath party threatening the Shia. This will ignite
sedition and battles among them will increase. We must use the war of
deception to distract their unity if God is willing. Also, we must attempt to
instigate sedition and hostility between the Crusaders and the local government
and the Shia. And between the Awakening and the Shia through using sedition.
Here Abu Safyan’s writing reflects AQI’s intense desire to create a war of all against all in Iraq manifested not only through physical violence, but also psychologically. It is not enough to instigate violence, but AQI must “always leave the enemy in psychological conflict and worry.”
Abu Safyan concludes by laying out the benefits of this strategy. He believes that it will cause divisions between the Shi’a, the Sunni Awakening, and the Kurds that will lead to “continuous conflict and perhaps wars that might in the future be destructive.” He hopes that over time this will weaken the pressure against AQI and weaken the group’s enemies by causing them to fight amongst themselves. In his words, “they can never have stability.” They must “keep busy among themselves” so that they “will not ALL unite against us.” Once this is accomplished AQI can “work against them and attack them as they fight among themselves without any difficulty on our part.”
Abu Safyan’s writing shows that AQI is patient and dynamic. Even though it has suffered defeats in the last year AQI remains a dangerous enemy.