A Moderate Tone from Osama bin Laden Regarding the Iraqi Shi’ites

A Moderate Tone from Osama bin Laden Regarding the Iraqi Shi’ites as a Departure from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Fiery Rhetoric – An Article by SITE Institute Co-Founders, Rita Katz and Josh Devon 

The co-founders of the SITE Institute, Ms. Rita Katz and Mr. Josh Devon, published an op-ed article today, July 26, 2006, to the Boston Globe, explaining the position Osama bin Laden took in regards to the Iraqi Shi’ites in his speech that was issued July 1, 2006.  The opinion piece finds that rather than calling for renewed attacks against the Shi’ites of Iraq, bin Laden has taken a more moderate tone to this group, which is a departure from the fiery rhetoric of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.  Instead, bin Laden believes that the Shi’ites should be placed aside as the Mujahideen should concentrate their attack on what the al-Qaeda Emir believes to be the greater enemy, the American forces.

 For your convenience, below is the article:


Osama’s olive branch to Shi’ites

AFTER THE RELEASE of Osama bin Laden’s latest audio message, some media reports indicated that bin Laden was calling for renewed attacks against the Shi’ite s of Iraq. However, a careful analysis of bin Laden’s message demonstrates that the Al Qaeda leader is instead toning down Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi’s venomous rhetoric toward the Shi’ite s .

Prior to Zarqawi’s rise to prominence as head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, the leadership and ideologues used a shared enmity toward the West as a way of uniting disparate jihadists. The Shi’ite s were an issue to address only after repelling the West from the lands of Islam.

Zarqawi, however, viewed the jihad in Iraq and elsewhere primarily as a war against the Shi’ite s and attacked them mercilessly with both language and weapons. In a letter discovered in Iraq in February 2004, Zarqawi called the Shi’ite s “the insurmountable obstacle, the lurking snake, the crafty and malicious scorpion, the spying enemy, and the penetrating venom.” Declaring war on the Shi’ite s in an audio message released on Sept. 14, 2005, Zarqawi dictated that Al Qaeda “has decided to launch a comprehensive war on the Shi’ites all over Iraq, wherever and whenever they are found.” In his last audio message published on June 1, Zarqawi claimed, “the main purpose of the Shi’ite faith was to destroy Islam,” and argued that “fighting them is also a must according to the Kitaab [the Koran] and the Sunnah” [tradition]. Zarqawi accused the Iranians of conspiring with the Americans to harm the position of Sunnis in the Middle East, especially in Lebanon, where, Zarqawi argued, “the Shi’ites are being represented by Hezbollah where they received their orders from Iran, the axis of evil and the crib of the expected Mahdi, the Anti-Christ.”

While many jihadists rallied to Zarqawi’s cause against the Shi’ite s , some of the Al Qaeda leadership remained skeptical of this tactic. In his intercepted letter to Zarqawi from July 2005, Zawahiri, who shares a hatred of the Shi’ite s with Zarqawi, attacked Zarqawi’s strategy of targeting the Shi’ite s , asking, “And is the opening of another front now in addition to the front against the Americans and the government a wise decision? Or does this conflict with the Shi’ite s lift the burden from the Americans by diverting the mujahideen to the Shi’ite s , while the Americans continue to control matters from afar? And if the attacks on Shi’ite leaders were necessary to put a stop to their plans, then why were there attacks on ordinary Shi’ite s ? Won’t this lead to reinforcing false ideas in their minds, even as it is incumbent on us to preach the call of Islam to them and explain and communicate to guide them to the truth?”

In what may be an effort to refocus Al Qaeda in Iraq on the Americans, Osama bin Laden called the Shi’ite s “cousins” in his most recent audio message released July 1, nearly three weeks after Zarqawi’s death. Substantially moderating Al Qaeda’s tone toward the Shi’ite s , bin Laden’s language was a marked departure from Zarqawi’s customary derogatory epithets. In the message, bin Laden directs Al Qaeda’s attention on the Americans and their collaborators, relieving the general Shi’ite population of direct culpability.

Speaking directly to the mujahideen in Iraq, bin Laden said, “I tell you that the first step needed to stabilize Iraq is to get the Crusaders’ armies out by fighting, then to punish the parties’ leaders . . . who lied to the people and told them that the way to get the Crusaders out is to participate in the political process.” Specifically addressing Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, Zarqawi’s successor in Iraq, bin Laden reiterated, “I also advise him to concentrate his fighting on the Americans, as well as their allies and supporters, in their war against Islamic people in Iraq.”

While ultimately bin Laden’s beliefs likely afford no room for Shi’ite Islam, the terrorist leader recognizes that the Shi’ite s are a far weaker foe than the Americans and that the mujahideen must first concentrate on expelling America from Iraq. Attacking the Shi’ite s and the Americans simultaneously necessitates that the mujahideen fight two wars at the same time. By recasting the role of the Shi’ite s in Iraq, even if only temporarily, bin Laden can concentrate the jihad on the Americans more effectively. The Americans, devoid of their Shi’ite allies, may find the occupation of Iraq even more intractable.

Rita Katz and Josh Devon are co-founders of the SITE Institute, an international terrorist-investigation and information group.

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