THE leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is attempting to set up his own mini-army and move away from individual suicide attacks to a more organised resistance movement, according to US intelligence sources.
Faced with a shortage of foreign fighters willing to undertake suicide missions, Zarqawi wants to turn his group into a more traditional force mounting co-ordinated guerrilla raids on coalition targets.
Al-Qaeda is sending training and planning experts to help to set up the force and infiltrate members into Iraq with the assistance of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, the sources said.
Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser, said this weekend that the majority of American and British troops would have left by the end of next year. "By the middle of 2008 there will be no foreign soldiers in the country," he predicted.
In a video posted yesterday on an Islamist website, Ayman al-Zawahiri, deputy leader of Al-Qaeda, claimed that 800 "martyrdom operations" in three years had "broken the back of America in Iraq".
The change of strategy will make it easier for Zarqawi to link up with Iraqi insurgents and evade the allied special operations teams trying to track him down.
Zarqawi came close to capture two weeks ago, Defense News, the international news weekly, reported yesterday. An American raid on a terrorist safe house in Yusifiya, 20 miles southwest of Baghdad, was aimed at capturing one of his lieutenants, but when five men at the house were interrogated, it emerged that Zarqawi had been in a house close by.