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Document appears to seek al Qaeda help in Iraq

A U.S. Army humvee passes a roadside protest in Khaldiyah on Friday. Iraqis were protesting a U.S.-imposed curfew and calling for the release of detainees.
A U.S. Army humvee passes a roadside protest in Khaldiyah on Friday. Iraqis were protesting a U.S.-imposed curfew and calling for the release of detainees.

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CNN's Barbara Starr on the captured letter calling for al Qaeda to help start an Iraqi civil war.
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U.N. officials meet with Iraq's Governing Council to discuss transitional government.
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President Bush in Charleston, South Carolina, defends the war in Iraq.
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• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide
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Osama Bin Laden

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A 17-page document seized at a suspected al Qaeda safe house in Baghdad appears to have requested the terror network's help in sparking a civil war in Iraq, setting Shiite Muslims against Sunni Muslims, U.S. officials have said.

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said Monday officials believe the letter was written by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian believed connected to al Qaeda, and meant for Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The document, first reported in The New York Times, takes credit for 25 suicide attacks in Iraq, and says U.S. troops make easy targets.

But the writer states that few Iraqis have been willing to support his fighters beyond offering them refuge and says they will "lose the pretext" for waging attacks if a new Iraqi government takes power as scheduled at the end of June.

Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor said the letter "was clearly intended to be read by senior leadership of al Qaeda outside of Iraq." It asks the intended recipients' help "to bring the Shia into the battle," according to an excerpt published in the Times.

"It is the only way to prolong the duration of the fight between the infidels and us," it states. "If we succeed in dragging them into a sectarian war, this will awaken the sleepy Sunnis, who are fearful of destruction and death" in a potential civil war.

Dexter Filkins, a New York Times reporter who was given access to the document by the U.S. military, told CNN it was "sort of part business plan and part plea for help."

"Basically, they were saying, 'It's really hard here. We're not getting a lot of support. We think we're losing. Here is this sort of last-ditch plan that we can come up with. Can you help?' "

Further, Filkins said, the author of the document was "deferential" to the recipient, telling him: " 'We realize that you're the big fish, and we're not competing with you, but we are at your disposal. And you just tell us what you need to do, and here are our ideas.' "

Filkins, interviewed on CNN's "American Morning," said of the letter: "Assuming it was authentic ... it was a stark admission that things were not going very well for them."

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the document provided a "very revealing" look at the strategy of at least one element of the opposition to the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.

"They describe the weaknesses they have in their efforts to undercut the coalition's efforts, but at the same time it shows they haven't given up," Powell said.

Senor agreed, saying the letter "clearly outlines what has been working from our perspective."

"The document expresses great concern about our efforts to hand over sovereignty to the Iraqis," Senor said. "In fact, it explicitly says that once Iraqis are in control of their government, it will make it virtually impossible for the foreign terrorists to operate."

The letter was on a computer disk captured in January along with Hassan Ghul, a man identified as an al Qaeda courier, senior coalition officials said. Ghul identified Zarqawi as the letter's author, one official said.

In a speech to the United Nations February 5, 2003, Powell cited Zarqawi's presence in northern Iraq as evidence of a "sinister nexus between Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network."

On Monday, Powell said the Zarqawi document "certainly lends some credence" to those claims.

U.S. officials said last month that mounting evidence suggests Zarqawi was involved in some of last year's major attacks in Iraq -- against Italian forces, U.N. headquarters in Baghdad and the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf. (Full story)

The first attack killed 16 Italian soldiers, two Italian civilians and nine Iraqis in Nasiriya. More than 20 people, including United Nations envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello, were killed in the headquarters bombing. The mosque attack in Najaf killed 126 people, including a Shiite spiritual leader.

Zarqawi, who is suspected of masterminding the slaying of an American diplomat in Amman, Jordan, moved into Iraq to plan the attacks, officials believe. Although not a member of al Qaeda, he is affiliated with the terrorist organization, officials say.

Fewer troops to patrol larger area starting in April

Also Monday, military officials said the U.S. Army division taking command of Baghdad in April will be a more mobile, less obtrusive force, tasked with patrolling a larger area with fewer troops.

The 1st Cavalry, which takes over authority of Baghdad from the 1st Armored Division on April 15, will rely on armored humvees rather than tanks and fighting vehicles, Col. Mike Formica said Monday.

The 1st Cavalry will have fewer troops but will be responsible for a wider area than the 1st Armored Division, said Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling. The new jurisdiction also covers Baghdad but extends west and north of the city as well, Hertling said.

"It was a conscious decision by the part of the Army to take what was an armored brigade combat team and transform us into a motorized brigade combat team," Formica said. "The difference is we will be much more mobile and less obtrusive in many cases."

U.S. officials have long talked of the need to make the Army less visible and less obtrusive, particularly in the capital.

Part of the aim is to cut down on what are seen as "attacks of opportunity" against U.S. soldiers and to allow the Iraqi police and security forces to fill the gap.

U.S. officials say Baghdad still needs about 10,000 more police officers. The city, which is the size of Los Angeles, California, has 9,000 trained police officers, Hertling said.

Despite regular attacks, the military has made significant gains against improvised explosive devices -- home-made bombs that have been the weapons of choice against U.S. soldiers. In January, troops found and defused more bombs than were detonated, Hertling said.

Other developments

• U.S. troops are holding number 48 on the Pentagon's top-55 most wanted list, according to Pentagon officials. Muhsin Khadr al-Khafaji, a Baath party regional chairman was taken into custody over this past weekend. Officials would not elaborate on the circumstances surrounding al-Khafaji's detention.

• Two U.S. soldiers were killed and six others wounded while conducting ordnance disposal operations near the town of Sinjar, close to the Syria border, a U.S. military official said Monday. "It's our understanding the accident happened as part of ordnance disposal and not as part of a hostile attack," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said. The deaths bring the total of U.S. troops killed in Iraq since the war began in March to 535.

• A United Nations team's study of whether elections in Iraq are possible this summer is "going extremely well," according to Secretary General Kofi Annan, who spoke with reporters Monday. The team is expected to meet with a broad range of Iraqis. Annan said he expects to have a recommendation by the end of the month.

CNN's Jane Arraf contributed to this report.

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