Iraqi security officials and citizens downplayed the impact of al-Qaeda in Iraq's announcement pledging allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri as the successor to Osama bin Laden and vowing retaliatory armed attacks.
On Tuesday (May 10th), al-Qaeda in Iraq announced its allegiance to al-Zawahiri as the commander of the terrorist group in place of bin Laden, who was killed May 2nd in a raid carried out by US forces in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, 60 km northeast of the capital Islamabad.
In the same statement, al-Qaeda threatened to launch terrorist attacks in Iraqi cities in retaliation for the death of their leader.
"Al-Qaeda's threats to launch retaliatory attacks to avenge the death of their leader are no more than media ploys and the wishes of a sick man through which it is trying to cover up its inability to launch major powerful attacks as it used to in the past," said Maj. Gen. Saleh Ghani al-Rubaie of Iraqi ground forces command in the northern sector.
Al-Rubaie told mawtani.com, "Their declaration of allegiance to Ayaman al-Zawahiri did not bring in anything new since terrorist groups usually follow any figure who adopts a terrorist methodology based on killing and bloodshed."
Al-Rubaie said that Iraqi security forces killed more than 68 al-Qaeda leaders and seized huge stockpiles of their weapons since last year.
"They no longer have the ability to recruit new terrorists as in the past and the borders are now almost entirely closed before them," he said. "Therefore, declaring allegiance to al-Zawahiri or anyone else, or threats to launch bloody operations, will be meaningless on the ground."
Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari, official spokesperson for the Iraqi Ministry of Defence, expressed his doubts that al-Qaeda would be able to launch a major attack in Iraq.
"If the terrorists of al-Qaeda were able to launch attacks in Iraq, they would not have hesitated and would not be waiting for an event like the death of their leader to do it," he said.
"Small scale attacks are the most they can do now, which are generally ineffective on the progress of security and the economy, or even the political process," al-Askari said. "We are determined to wipe them out soon by arresting or eliminating the rest of the terrorists. Therefore, I see these threats as no more than ink on paper."
Col. Salem Omar al-Heeti, commander of the Iraqi Army's Second Armoured Regiment, 7th Division, said, "The time of threats is gone. Let them come out and try what they are planning to do, and they shall see a violent answer from the Iraqi forces, which will surprise them. Their end is death or detention, as was the fate of their former leaders and accomplices."
Iskandar Witwit, a member of the Iraqi parliament's defence and security committee, said he expects al-Qaeda's declaration of allegiance to al-Zawahiri to have no influence on the progress of the political process, or the security or economic situation in the country.
"Al-Qaeda in Iraq is paralysed in many ways. It suffers from a shortage in fighters and weapons, and also from an internal crisis of confidence. Therefore they are falling one after the other in the hands of the Iraqi forces," he told Mawtani.
In the Iraqi street, citizens said they gave little importance to al-Qaeda's declaration of allegiance to a new leader.
Baghdad resident Mustafa Qadouri, 43, said, "There shall be nothing new in the policies and methods of al-Qaeda because they are basically founded on the idea of killing. We are not afraid of these threats at all because Iraqi forces can handle them."
"These are last gasp threats," said Ammar Saadi, 36, who also lives in Baghdad. "They have nothing more than that because they have excelled in issuing the statements of threats through the internet only."
"They will not be able to carry out their threats because Iraqi cities will remain under the control of the Iraqi forces, and law and order."