By Fredrik Dahl
BAGHDAD, May 9 (Reuters) A purported al Qaeda document published by the U.S. military may or may not be authentic but its message that the Sunni Islamist guerrillas face problems in Iraq could reflect reality, security experts said today.
The U.S. military published late on Monday what it said was a captured document that showed the militant group recognised it was weak and unpopular in Baghdad.
The document, an apparent review of the group's strategy in the capital where it has claimed some of postwar Iraq's bloodiest attacks, was seized with videos on April 16 near Yusufiya, just southeast of Baghdad, a U.S. statement said.
A translation of the undated, three-page document suggested al Qaeda was reviewing tactics in the city, currently focused on car bombs and other guerrilla tactics, and proposing improving its military capabilities to hold territory in any civil war.
Security experts reacted with caution and scepticism to its publication, noting a long-running public opinion battle between the United States and the Iraqi government it backs on the one side and Sunni Arab insurgents including al Qaeda on the other.
''I have a question mark to say the least,'' said Mustafa Alani, an Iraqi senior consultant of the Gulf Research Center based in Dubai. ''Who wrote this, we don't know.'' ''It is true that they (al Qaeda in Iraq) have problems but why produce such a document to highlight the problems?'' he said.
''Why admit all the weaknesses in a written document?'' The document was mentioned in a news briefing last week at which the U.S. military also aired what it said were outtakes from a video promoting Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al Qaeda's best known leader in Iraq, that was posted on the Internet.
A spokesman mocked the Jordanian's competence with a gun and his choice of American sports shoes, seen in the unedited film.
''There is a strategy to ridicule al Qaeda and Zarqawi,'' said Magnus Ranstorp at the Swedish National Defence College. ''It could also be part of a U.S. psychological campaign.'' ''It is a question of isolating these forces and driving a wedge between them and the rest of the population,'' he added.
''BAGHDAD STRATEGY'' A U.S. military statement accompanying its transcript of the ''Baghdad Strategy'' document quoted it as reading: ''Al Qaeda in Iraq attacks mosques and other public places to draw media attention and is having difficulty recruiting members because the people of Iraq do not support its cause.'' The accompanying document did not include that sentence, and the military could not immediately clarify the issue on Tuesday.
It has previously released what it says are captured documents showing dissent or disillusion in the guerrilla ranks.
Alani said al Qaeda had lost public support in Iraq and was now also losing the backing of the domestic Iraqi resistance to U.S. occupation, which he said felt it had an interest in the political process, unlike Zarqawi.
''I believe we are now witnessing some kind of gradual divergence between the two movements,'' he said, adding al Qaeda faced difficulties both with recruiting and logistics in Iraq.
Ranstorp said he did not believe al Qaeda had any problems finding new recruits from outside Iraq eager to fight the U.S.
military, but said the movement had become more unpopular inside the country, partly due to attacks on crowds of civilians.
Some military intelligence sources in Iraq and figures within the Sunni insurgency have lately cast doubt, however, on the perception of rifts between secular Sunni nationalists and al Qaeda's pan-Islamic militants, seeing continued cooperation.
The document published by the U.S. military showed the unknown author putting the strength of active fighters, referred to as ''mujahideen'' or holy warriors, at about 110 in Baghdad.
''These are very small numbers compared to the tens of thousands of the enemy troops,'' it said.
''How can we increase these numbers?'' Since U.S. and Iraqi officials generally assess the ranks of the Sunni insurgency in the thousands, the figures may refer to hardcore Islamist militants, rather than all Sunni gunmen.
REUTERS CH RS2302