January 6, 2004 | Front Page Magazine

Osama Targets Iraq

In his latest public statement, Osama bin Laden has made Iraq the central staging grounds for his perpetual jihad. In fact, Osama bin Laden's newest audiotape had three purposes: to assert his leadership of the violent Iraqi jihad against American troops after Saddam's capture, to warn the Saudis not to strip its school curricula of Islamist fundamentalism. and to halt any peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. His latest audiotape, which aired on al-Jazeera Television on Sunday, January 4, was in fact his opening speech for the new season of terror against the Kuffars. The war against the “infidels” remains on. However, in the new Jihadist electronic message, the war must widen, deepen and reaches global horizons. It must take the same trajectory but at higher levels. In a sum, the program of al-Qaeda for 2004 is to kill the idol of Peace and reverse the Western value of Progress. 


The tape began with Osama's comments on the Israeli peace process. “You should bring down the Road Map to Peace, and you should reject the Geneva Peace Document between Israelis and Palestinians,” he ordered. The voice of Osama bin Laden was clear, his intonation was slow and his ideological determination unshakeable. On Palestine, the Osama jihad address is clear: No internationally sponsored agreement should be accepted. Peace cannot take place infidels like the Jews. Arafat promises peace but works for war. Hamas and Islamic Jihad promise an Islamic Palestine and wage war for it. But the man who blasted the towers in New York isn't big on nuance; he simply believes peace must be destroyed between Israel and Palestine. Israel must vanish and Palestine would come under his own, revived Caliphate. In fact, bin Laden has never spoken of a Palestinian state, not one time including this last audiotape. Rather, he describes a falasteen (Palestine), a province of an empire he is attempting to re-establish. In the portions of the read speech, aired by al-Jazeera, Osama's main guideline on the Palestinian battlefront was to “fight those regimes who abandoned the support” of suicide bombers, whom he identifies as “martyrs.” He fulminates against those who stopped “funding the families of the Shuhad'a,” the men — he didn't mention women yet — who blew up themselves for the sake of the faith.

And he never forgets a wrong in need of vengeance. First, he blasts those Arab regimes who “have abandoned the struggle” and instead sided against the Palestinians in Sharm el Sheikh in 1996. Osama criticizes them for responding to the call of President Clinton that year to end the suicide attacks. He criticizes them again for meeting with President Bush at the same location in 2003 for the same purpose. The Jihadist commander is sending a powerful message: Bush or Clinton are two faces of one infidel coin. The war is not against one U.S. President, but against all American Presidents who travel to the region to mobilize against terrorism. Osama's first command: No Peace in Palestine and no Israel in the Middle East.


Bin Laden is known to connect historical dots. Like Hafez Assad and Khomeini's addresses, his speech is marinated with grand normative moments. Addressing the Arabs in general, he condemned their leaders for not understanding the logic of cousinhood. In the Arab world, a main political paragdigm has always been maintained by the ruling elites of the region: We and our brothers will fight our cousins, and we and our cousins will fight all strangers. Al-Qaeda and its constellation have applied the axiom under Jihadist guidelines. To them, Arabs and Muslims must leave aside all their internal conflicts aside when “infidels” show up.

In Osama's mind, Arab monarchs and Presidents-for-life should have opposed the first American intervention in 1991, even though a despicable Arab regime had invaded a peaceful Arab neighbor. His evidence against the regimes is drawn from the last war. “They hesitated in supporting America in Iraq only because they feared for a regime change in their midst.” On that one, the master of al-Qaeda was right on target. That was the real reason behind the Arab League opposition to the war. When they met in Beirut back in 2002, most of the regimes shielded Saddam, not out of solidarity with the wild dictator, but to preempt the long term consequences of his toppling. Bin Laden understood that and he is banking on the sentiment still surviving.

Then Osama mentioned Saddam's capture. “If he mentioned that event, it means that the audio is authentic,” the al-Jazeera anchors repeated all day long. They were followed by their counterparts in the BBC, CNN and the rest of the world's news agencies. In fact, Osama did not pronounce the name of Saddam Hussein, at least not in the aired segment nor on the piece posted on any website. All the while, the news outlets overlooked Osama's real aim in releasing the audiotape: to assert his inheritance of the jihad in Iraq. Saddam may have been captured, but now Osama has stepped forward to insinuate the al-Qaeda leadership as the head of the violent resistance in Iraq.

When I was interviewed about bin Laden's next step in the wake of the Iraqi leader's capture, I told a myriad of media, including MSNBC, Radio America and others, that the Terrorist-in-Chief would release a cassette to his al-Qaeda brethren around the planet taking over operations in Iraq. Perhaps it is too complex for many among our analysts and Mideast experts, but the essence of this last move is simple. From the arrest of Hussein onward, bin Laden commands the war in Mesopotamia — or at least that's what he intends to do. And that's what al-Jazeera pounded Arab ears with for a whole day.


Out of the blue, to many observers, the speech rages against the Saudis and other Gulf states for “accepting under infidel pressures, to change the curricula in Muslim lands.” This statement did not come so out of blue to me, though. The Wahhabi madrassa system is the Jihadists' investment plan. No jihad in schools, means no Jihadist pupils, no fodder for suicide bombing missions against the infidels. Al-Qaeda must fight that to the death, and mass death did indeed ensue in the Saudi Kingdom. The unseen part of the story started with a very long doctrinal document sent by OBL to the political and scholarly establishment in Saudi Arabia last summer, in which he discouraged “changes in the programs as a whole.” Back in May, the al-Qaeda strikes in Saudi Arabia sent a stronger warning. The monarchy did not consent to pass leadership to the Yemeni-born madman; hence, came the November rain of fire in Riyadh. The collision course seemed to have occurred as Saudi security cracked down on more terrorist cells. In his first message of 2004, Osama had to draw a line in the sand: Do not reform; do not allow progress to destroy Islamic fundamentalism. Or else.


To accentuate his quasi-fatwa, bin Laden dubs the War on Terror and recent Mideast regional developments as a “religious war on Islam.” Better, he defines it as an economic warfare against the Islamic people. He criticizes the economic strength of the Arab countries combined, which “is lesser than the economy of Spain.” Ironically, this fact was first cited by many U.S. critics of Islamic fundamentalism, as they analyzed the negative effects of Jihadism on the Arab world. This equation was used by political analysts such as Daniel Pipes and by other intellectuals described as neo-conservatives. Here it is twisted in the service of victimization, which feeds Islamist jihad.


When Osama compared the economies of “one country, Spain with 21 Arab countries” the Sultan of Jihad made sure to add, “Spain, a country which was Muslim in the past.” The addition is indicative of OBL's future designs. Al Andalous (Spain, or Andalousia) is not forgotten yet. It was a part of the empire, and Osama seems to assert that it may one day return, violently if necessary. The hint is highly important after September 11. Everything is ideologically possible. All is not over, in the Jihadist mind, even the reconquest of a nation lost to Islam in the Middle Ages.


One threat addressed to the Gulf states had strategic meaning. Osama warned them not to welcome nor meet with the “Ruling Council of Iraq.” This only makes sense: the more Arab governments receive the delegates of the multi-ethnic and democratic Iraq in their midst, the less influence the fundamentalists will have in Baghdad. The lessening of Iraqi fear of the West will increase their fear of the Jihadists. Hence, bin Laden is angry with the ones he accuses of playing to American ears, the Gulf states, and angry at them for receiving their brothers and sisters of Iraq. OBL is angry in all directions. Arabs cannot welcome other Arabs who oppose carrying out jihad against the infidels, or the jihad will intensify.


And as usual the final award goes to the messenger, al-Jazeera TV. The Qatar-based production studio excels in sensationalist build up. The al-Jazeera officials steadfastly refuse to reveal when nor how they received the audio ape from the man who killed 3,000 innocents in twenty minutes. This is allegedly out of their concern for the ethics of professional journalism. Fine. But better than that, their director boasts about the “supreme quality of the Arabic language used by Osama.” As a linguistic expert, he claims that this “will have a high impact on the street.” That's probably why the station aired the entire (edited) segment about twenty times that day. To give it additional “high impact,” al-Jazeera assembled the regular panels of “experts” to analyze the tape's “hidden messages.” That is, in case the Arabic laymen missed Osama's “real message,” al-Jazeera would explain. And one must nervously mention that the “speech writers” of the tape and the “commentators” who “analyzed” it shortly afterwards use the same terminology and certainly came to the same conclusions: Jihad against Peace and Progress must continue.

Walid Phares is a Professor of Middle East Studies and Religious Conflict and a Terrorism expert with MSNBC.


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