Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Zarqawi: from farce to tragedy

There is good news, farcical news, and tragic news.

The good news is that Zarqawi really is dead, killed by a U.S. airstrike. That's one really bad guy who can't kill any more. (However, it seems that his death is just inspiring more people, deluded or bad or both, to continue his terror tactics. Saddam Hussein, who is on trial -- fair or not -- isn't inspiring anyone to go out and commit murder. There is a lesson there for those who are willing to learn.)

The farcical news is the details of his death. Zarqawi, we were told, was Number One bad guy in Iraq, the evil genius behind virtually the entire vicious, bloody mess. But the Independent is reporting that in the days before his murder -- let's not mince words: whether it was justified or not, he was not tried and executed, nor did he die of natural causes -- Zarqawi was living with virtually no guards and just five companions, including two women and an eight year old girl. Such a big shot.

The tragedy is that, even in their moment of triumph, having killed the Big Bad (and, presumably, an eight year old girl), American troops killed yet more innocents who were doing nothing other than trying to keep the peace. The Independent reports:

The only resistance encountered by American commandos was from local Sunni villagers in the village of Ghalabiya, near Hibhib, who thought the strangers were members of a Shia death squad. Villagers who were standing guard fired into the air on seeing the commandos, who in turn threw a grenade that killed five of the guards. American regular army troops later came to Ghalabiya to apologise and promise compensation to the families of the dead men.

These weren't insurgents attacking U.S. troops. These were ordinary men trying to keep their village safe from death squads, and in the quagmire of the Iraqi civil war, their tragic, pointless deaths at the hands of trigger-happy U.S. commandos doesn't rate anything more than a throw-away paragraph.

It's clear that Zarqawi was nothing more than a two-bit opportunistic murderer with the gift of self-promotion. He wasn't the brains behind the insurgence, he wasn't even the biggest player in the vicious civil war that the Americans brought on. He was as much the creation of the Pentagon as he was his own man: he and Osama bin Laden hated each other -- scarily, bin Laden was "too moderate" for Zarqawi -- and Saddam was trying to have him arrested. He was never a member of al Qaeda, except in Colin Powell's dishonest speech to the U.N. Only after the U.S. invaded Iraq did Zarqawi, ever the opportunist, change the name of his previously insignificant group to "al Qaeda in Iraq". Powell's accusations were especially duplicitous given that Zarqawi was hiding out in northern Iraq, in the Kurdish Zone, where Saddam was powerless. Zarqawi was, quite literally, protected by U.S. and British jets in the no-fly zone.

Marc Lynch on Abu Aardvark discusses the killing of Zarqawi:

His death will not likely end or even diminish the Iraqi insurgency, but it may change its character. Zarqawi has been a real organizational and mobilizational force in the Iraqi jihad, but does not seem to have been the central mastermind that his and American propaganda alike made him out to be. The Iraqi insurgency has always been far more complicated than either "regime dead-enders" or Zarqawi's jihad [...]
The one place where Zarqawi's death might make a real difference is in the Sunni-Shia dynamic. Zarqawi's rabid anti-Shi'ism went beyond tactical or strategic considerations, of trying to push civil war ot make the American project untenable. Even by radical Islamist standards, his anti-Shi'a focus was extreme (though not by any means unique). If Zarqawi's group drops off in prominence for a while as it reorganizes, you might see less of an anti-Shi'a focus in the attacks.

Nir Rosen from the New America Foundation has this to say:

Zarqawi was not very important in the first place, and hardly represented the majority of the resistance or insurgency. When he arrived in northern Iraq he was a nobody. After the war he descended into Iraq proper and began to organize the disparate foreign fighters who had come to fight with Saddam's army against the American invasion. [...] Zarqawi and his foreign fighters were a numerically insignificant proportion of the anti American fighters.

It took the United States to make Zarqawi who he became. Intent on denying that there was a popular Iraqi resistance to the American project in Iraq, the Americans blamed every attack on Zarqawi and his foreign fighters, and for a while it seemed every car accident in Baghdad was Zarqawi's fault. The truth was that much of Iraq's Sunni population, alienated by the Americans who removed them from power and targeted them en masse during raids, supported and participated in the anti American resistance. Even many Shias claimed resistance. [...] But by blaming Zarqawi for everything the Americans created the myth of Zarqawi and aspiring Jihadis throughout the Arab world ate it up and flocked to join his ranks or at least send money.

I can't hope but wonder, in the coming weeks and months, will the White House feel the need to invent another Big Bad to blame everything on, or will they grow up and learn that not all terrorists/insurgents/partisans/whatever are on the same side?

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