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    Middle East
     Jun 9, 2006
Death of Zarqawi: George gets his dragon
By Sami Moubayed

DAMASCUS - The killing of the world's No 1 terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, 40, in Iraq on Wednesday, as announced by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, will undoubtedly and dramatically change the political landscape in the war-torn country.

Al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq was killed in a US air strike on an isolated safe house north of Baghdad at 6:15pm local time on Wednesday, Maliki said.

The man who was portrayed as having been everywhere yet nowhere, and who has been blamed for every evil in Iraq since the US invasion in 2003, is finally dead. It is America's single most important achievement since the arrest of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in December 2003. Undoubtedly, for now, it will overshadow all the bad publicity the

Americans have been getting for the Haditha massacre of last November, where 24 Iraqi civilians were killed by US marines, or the Ishaqi massacre, where another 11 were killed by US troops in March.

As the world stands back to digest the killing of Zarqawi, who had a US$25 million reward for his head, Iraqis hold their breath, wondering whether his demise will actually make their lives any better. Or will his killing inflame the insurgency and produce many more Zarqawis?

Zarqawi's death marks a momentous two days for Maliki. On Thursday, Jawad al-Bulani, a Shi'ite and a former army colonel under Saddam, was chosen to lead the Interior Ministry. General Abd al-Qadir Jasim, a Sunni, was approved in parliament as defense minister. Jasim was until now commander of Iraq's ground forces.

The two key security jobs were left temporarily vacant when Maliki's government of national unity took office on May 20 because his coalition partners were unable to agree on candidates, and has been a major political stumbling block. Agreement has also been reached for Shirwan al-Waili to become the new minister for national security.

Since Zarqawi appeared on the world stage in 2003, he has been a phenomenon that has overshadowed his boss, Osama bin Laden. Many in the Arab world doubted whether the Jordanian-born Zarqawi even existed. (Some reports indicate that Jordanian intelligence provided information on the location where he was killed.)

Living up to the Arab conviction in "conspiracy theories", many argued that Zarqawi was created by the Americans to justify their problems in Iraq. Whenever something went wrong, they would blame it on Zarqawi. Or, as Arab radicals would say, he was created by the Americans to pin their crimes on him. And even in the US, on April 10 the Washington Post said the US military had conducted major propaganda to exaggerate Zarqawi's role in Iraq.

So while Zarqawi may not have been created by the Americans, he certainly was magnified by them, and inflated to dramatic proportions to justify why Iraq was in such a mess.

While the US is basking in Zarqawi's death, as is the United Kingdom, it should not be forgotten that they were not the only ones after his blood.

Jordanian intelligence wanted him. So did Maliki, the Iraqi Kurds and the Mehdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr, the rebel Shi'ite cleric. So did the Badr Brigade of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a leading Shi'ite organization. So did Iran. So did Saudi Arabia. So did the average Iraqi citizen.

In a recent audio message, Zarqawi not only attacked the US and the Sh'ite-dominated government in Iraq, but also Iran. He had even claimed that the US, Iran and Shi'ites in general were collaborating to destroy Islam. He has also plainly called for continued attacks against Shi'ites and called Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani an "an atheist".

Zarqawi, after all, did not have the religious legitimacy to become the No 1 leader of political radical Islam. Nor did he have the family heritage, connections and money of bin Laden.

Nor did he have the education and record of someone like Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's deputy. Zarqawi was a terrorist who appeared out of seemingly nowhere, to inflict as much hardship and pain on the Iraqis and the Americans as he could.

The crucial question is just how much Zarqawi was responsible for holding his side of the insurgency together - that is, will the edifice fall away, or withstand the blow?

As the British Broadcasting Corp reported, "It is likely he [Zarqawi] has had a considerable impact in terms of leadership, tactics and inspiration. But he was not a one-man band."

Indeed, writes Syed Saleem Shahzad, Zarqawi's killing could be a blessing for the Iraqi resistance, in which his notoriously awkward personality was a problem: he resisted strict orders from the al-Qaeda leadership to reconcile differences between Sunnis and Shi'ites. In fact, he did his best to exacerbate sectarian strife.

And Zarqawi was even a major problem for the nationalist Iraqi resistance in the hands of Sunni tribes of the north. Many times, they clashed with Zarqawi over strategy.

The Iraqi tribes in Samarra and Mosul have ties with the southern tribes, which are Shi'ite. Many top Sunni tribal leaders have houses in the upscale neigborhoods of Basra in the south, and many top Shi'ite tribal elders have houses in Baghdad.

These tribal leaders were members of a chieftains' council during Saddam's time and they knew one another well. After the US occupation of Iraq, the Sunni-dominated Iraqi resistance tried to make a breakthrough with the southern Shi'ite tribes, but Zarqawi resisted this.

This bred resentment against Zarqawi and his followers in Samarra, the nucleus of the Iraqi resistance, even leading to the sides killing each other's members.

With Zarqawi's death, therefore, there is a strong chance of a major reconciliation between the Shi'ite groups and the Sunni-dominated Iraqi resistance: the main irritant in their relations is dead.

The rise and fall ...
Zarqawi (whose real name was Ahmad al-Khalayleh) was born into poverty in the small town of Zarka in Jordan (northeast of Amman) on October 20, 1966. His family lived near a cemetery and by the time he was 18, both his parents were dead.

He grew up playing soccer in the streets of Zarka, and dropped out of Prince Talal Primary School before obtaining his high-school diploma, pursuing from here on the life of a "street boy".

Zarqawi became a delinquent young man who drank heavily, decorated himself with tattoos, and was arrested briefly in the 1980s for sexual assault in Jordan. In jail he was influenced by Islam and, on his release, decided to travel to Afghanistan to help fight the Soviets.

It seemed the logical thing to do for an able young man who could not get a decent job because he had a criminal record, no education and no money. The warriors who went to Afghanistan were well fed and well paid by the resistance leader, Osama bin Laden.

But to Zarqawi's surprise, the Soviets left Afghanistan in February 1989, just as he arrived. He did not engage in combat, but rather, befriended bin Laden. At the time, bin Laden was an ally of the United States, fighting a common enemy, the Soviet Union.

Instead of leading guerrilla attacks, Zarqawi became a newspaper reporter for an Islamic newsletter published in Afghanistan. Bin Laden tried to recruit him into al-Qaeda, but Zarqawi refused, claiming that his only enemies were the Jews in Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom in Jordan, whom he described as "perverters of Islam and a disgrace to the Prophet Mohammed".

Zarqawi eventually returned to Jordan with the one aim of toppling the Jordanian monarchy of King Hussein, a longtime ally of the West. He was arrested for his activities in 1992 and spent seven years in jail.

During this time, Hussein signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1993, adding to Zarqawi's wrath against the Hashemite family, accusing them of having abandoned the Arab cause. When he was released in 1999, he vowed to topple the monarchy (by now under the crown of current King Abdullah II) and replace it with an Islamic caliphate.

Contradicting stories emerged about his years in prison in Jordan. Some inmates described him as a strong leader who commanded respect and fear from fellow prisoners, while others remembered that he was a man with limited political abilities, completely incapable of leading a political or military movement.

Out of jail, Zarqawi tried to blow up the SS Radisson Hotel in Amman, to create havoc in the Hashemite kingdom and disturb the new reign of King Abdullah II. When he failed, he fled Jordan and went to Pakistan, residing near the border with Afghanistan, where he reportedly met bin Laden again.

He then moved to Afghanistan and set up a military training camp, with bin Laden's support, in Herat, specialized in creating poisons for warfare. According to Jordanian intelligence, he also formed a terrorist group called Jund al-Sham in 1999, with $200,000 from bin Laden.

It was founded by 150 jihadis whom he had recruited from bin Laden's al-Qaeda. Its primary purpose was to destroy Jordan, and create terror in neighboring countries once part of Bilad al-Sham (Greater Syria), including Syria and Palestine.

Apparently, he continued to travel to Jordan, under false passports, and was arrested again in 2001 but was soon released. Authorities did not know who he was. Soon afterward, he was sentenced to death in absentia for the attempted attack on the SS Radisson.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, a joyful Zarqawi went back to Afghanistan to help bin Laden and Mullah Omar of the Taliban in their war against the Americans. He was allegedly wounded in a US attack and traveled to Iraq to have his leg treated in a hospital owned by the Iraqi president's son, Uday Hussein.

By 2002, Zarqawi had set up permanent base in northern Iraq where he joined the radical Ansar al-Islam to fight against Kurdish militias striving to maintain Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq. Throughout this time, Zarqawi was a nobody in world politics, unknown outside of Jordan.

His name became famous when then-US secretary of state Colin Powell gave his famous speech at the United Nations on February 5, 2003 (six weeks before the war), accusing Saddam of having weapons of mass destruction and links to al-Qaeda.

Zarqawi's presence in Iraq was one of the reasons Powell cited proving that Saddam was linked to bin Laden. The speech, which became famed for its inaccuracy, referred to Zarqawi as Palestinian and not Jordanian. A Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report in 2004, however, confirmed that there was no evidence proving that Saddam was informed of or involved in Zarqawi's treatment at an Iraqi hospital.

It said, "There is no conclusive evidence that the Saddam Hussein regime had harbored Zarqawi." Opponents of this claim say that it would have been impossible for Zarqawi to slip into Iraq, and be treated at a hospital run by Uday Hussein, without the knowledge and blessing of the Iraqi president. Naturally, this was challenged by King Abdullah of Jordan, who said that Jordan knew of his journey to Iraq and demanded that the Iraqi government extradite him, but Saddam refused.

According to MSNBC television, everybody knew that Zarqawi was in Iraq in 2002. The Pentagon had pushed to carry out an operation against him at least three times, but this had been vetoed by the National Security Council. The administration of President George W Bush was interested in building up allies for its upcoming war on Iraq and did not want a small invasion for the sake of a until-then petty official in al-Qaeda, to jeopardize the coalition Bush was working on creating.

Former CIA official Michael Scheuer later told reporters that Bush "had Mr Zarqawi in his sights for almost every day for a year before the invasion of Iraq and he didn't shoot!"

When the war began, Zarqawi found himself in the middle of a battle he had longed avoided. He knew that he could not fight the Americans and had wanted to concentrate his operations against Jordan. Prior to the war, he had carried out a high-profile terrorist attack in Amman, killing Laurence Foley, a senior US diplomat based in Jordan on October 28, 2002.

When interrogated by Jordanian authorities, the three suspects confessed that they had received money and arms to carry out their operation from Zarqawi. One of the leaders of the operation, it was revealed, had received $27,000 for planning the murder. Zarqawi was again brought to court in absentia for the killing of Foley and sentenced to death - for the second time in his life.

At 36 years old, Zarqawi was one of the world's youngest terrorists, with two death sentences hanging over his head. There was no turning back for his terrorist operations so he decided to work full time from within Iraq, leading the al-Qaeda branch against the US Army after the downfall of Saddam's regime in April 2003.

On October 24, 2004, he officially announced that he was working with al-Qaeda, and on December 27, 2004, bin Laden delivered a speech that was broadcast on the Doha-based Al-Jazeera TV, calling Zarqawi "the prince of al-Qaeda in Iraq". He asked all jihadists "to listen to him and obey him in his good deeds".

A trail of terror
Among Zarqawi's "achievements" in Iraq are those listed below. They have either been attributed to Zarqawi, or proudly claimed by Zarqawi.

1. Bombing of the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad on August 7, 2003, killing 19 people.
2. Bombing the United Nations headquarters at the Canal Hotel in Baghdad on August 19, 2003, killing 22 people, including the UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.
3. A car bomb in the holy Shi'ite city of Najaf on August 29, 2003, killing 85 people, including Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, the leader of SCIRI.
4. Four car bombs at different police stations in Baghdad and the headquarters for the International Red Cross on October 27, 2003, killing 35 people and wounding 220.
5. A suicide bombing at the headquarters of Italy's police force in Iraq, killing more than 30 people on November 12, 2003.
6. An armed attack on the office of the governor of Karbala (another Shi'ite holy city) on December 27, 2003, killing 19 people.
7. A car bomb at the gates of the Green Zone on January 18, 2004, killing 31 people.
8. Two car bombs at police stations in Iraq on February 10-11, 2004, killing 100 people.
9. A truck bomb at a Polish base on February 18, 2004, killing 10 people.
10. A series of bombing on the holy Shi'ite day of Ashoura, carried out in Baghdad and Karbala on March 2, 2004, killing 181 people.
11. A car bomb at Baghdad's Mount Lebanon Hotel on March 17, 2004, killing seven people.
12. A bombing in Basra, killing 74 people on April 21, 2004.
13. An attack on US marines in Ramadi on May 2, 2004, killing six Americans.
14. The kidnapping then beheading of American businessman Nicolas Berg on May 11, 2004. He was shown live on videotape being beheaded by a masked man, believed to be Zarqawi himself. He claimed to be killing the American in retaliation to the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal.
15. A car bomb assassinating Izz al-Din Salem, the interim president of the Iraqi Governing Council, on May 18, 2004.
16. A failed assassination of Iraqi Deputy Interior Minister Abdul-Jabbar Yusuf on May 22, 2004.
17. A car-bomb attack on a convoy in Baghdad on June 14, 2004, killing 13 people, including three employees of General Electric.
18. The kidnapping and killing of Korean hostage Kim Sun-Il on June 22, 2004.
19. The kidnapping of two Americans (Jack Hensley and Eugene Armstrong) and a Briton (Kenneth Bigley) from their homes in Baghdad on September 16, 2004.
20. A car bomb in the Shi'ite town of Karbala, killing 60 people on December 19, 2004.
21. Zarqawi asked his followers to boycott the Iraqi parliamentary elections and unleash hell on those who participate, because by doing so, he claimed, they were legitimizing the US occupation of Iraq. No elections are free or real so long as the Americans are in Iraq, he added. On the day of the elections on January 30, 2005, more than 40 people were killed by Zarqawi's men.
22. A car bomb killed 125 people in Hillah on February 28, 2005.
23. A series of attacks in April-June 2005 after the formation of the Iraqi parliament led to the killing of an estimated 800 Iraqis.
24. A suicide bombing on July 16, 2005, killed 98 people in Mussayib.
25. A car bomb killed 112 people in Baghdad on September 14, 2005.
26. Car bombings at two hotels in Baghdad killed 17 Iraqis on October 24, 2005.
27. The deadly terrorist attacks at hotels in Amman on November 9, 2005, killing 60 people, including Palestinian officials and Syrian-born Hollywood director Mustapha al-Akkad, who had produced a film about tolerant Islam in Hollywood in the 1970s.
28. Another car bomb attack at the Hamra Hotel in Baghdad killed six on November 18, 2005. Bombers in two mosques killed 74 Iraqis.
29. About 180 Iraqis were killed in suicide attacks on January 4-5, 2006.

Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst. He is the author of Steel & Silk: Men and Women Who Shaped Syria 1900-2000 (Cune Press 2005).

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