Video Shows al-Zarqawi Fumbling With Rifle
Friday, May 5, 2006; 2:41 AM
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is shown wearing American tennis shoes and unable to operate his automatic rifle in video released by the U.S. military as part of a propaganda war aimed at undercutting the image of the terror leader.
The U.S. command showed the footage to reporters at a time when it is stepping up operations against al-Qaida in Iraq and making overtures to other Sunni groups. The Americans hope to isolate religious extremists from insurgents they believe are more likely to cut a deal to end the war.
The clips shown Thursday were part of a longer video that U.S. troops seized in a raid last month. Al-Qaida in Iraq militants posted an edited version of the same video on the Internet April 25 _ but without the embarrassing segments.
Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, spokesman for the U.S. command, mocked al-Zarqawi as the previously unseen footage showed a smiling al-Qaida leader first firing single shots from a U.S.-made M-249 light machine gun. A frown creeps across al-Zarqawi's face as the weapon jams. He looks at it, confused, then summons another fighter.
"It's supposed to be automatic fire. He's shooting single shots," Lynch said. "Something is wrong with his machine gun. He looks down, can't figure out, calls his friend to come unblock the stoppage and get the weapon firing again."
By contrast, the edited version which the militants posted on the Web showed what happened only after the fighter fixed the weapon _ a fierce-looking al-Zarqawi confidently blasting away with bursts of automatic gunfire.
His fellow fighters and associates appear similarly inept in the newly released footage. One reaches out to grab a just-fired weapon by the barrel, apparently unaware that it would burn his hand. The camera quickly pans to the ground and then away.
"His close associates around him ... do things like grab the hot barrel of the machine gun and burn themselves," Lynch said. "Makes you wonder" about their military skills.
Another clip showed the Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi _ who has derided everything Western _ dressed in a black uniform but wearing New Balance tennis shoes as he walked to a white pickup.
Lynch said the full video was discovered during one of several raids against al-Qaida in Iraq safe houses in the Baghdad area starting with an operation last month near Youssifiyah, 12 miles southwest of the capital. U.S. forces have killed 31 "foreign fighters" since April and have captured 161 al-Qaida in Iraq officials since the beginning of the year, Lynch said.
He said al-Zarqawi was focusing operations on the Baghdad area, a religiously mixed city where more than 20 percent of Iraq's 27 million people live. Planning documents also seized in the Youssifiyah raids spelled out this strategy, which also involves fewer attacks in Sunni areas.
"Zarqawi is zooming in on Baghdad, and we are zooming in on Zarqawi," Lynch said.