The death of a terrorist

Zarqawi's death, Bush's loss

Did our beloved warmonger really intend to kill the celebrated terrorist, al-Zarqawi? My guess is that he did not. I speculate that Zarqawi's death on June 7, 2006 was due to some misunderstanding, a failure in communications, or perhaps a US military commander taking matters into his own hands.

George W. Bush got a lot of mileage out of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The reverse was also true; Zarqawi owed his name and fame to the Bush Regime. It was a two-way street, a symbiotic relationship based on mutual need and taste for blood, slaughter and destruction. Though the two apparently never met, they were soul mates of a sort. Had they been dedicated to some less violent field of endeavor, let us say music, one might've strummed the guitar while the other fiddled, or perhaps they would've sung harmony together.

Zarqawi was just another hard-working but unknown, struggling terrorist until February 2003, when Colin Powell made his famous speech to the UN, presenting supposed "evidence" of WMDs. On that occasion, Powell also cited al-Zarqawi's presence in Iraq as proof of Saddam's link to al-Qaida.

That alleged "link" was blatant fiction as it was clear even back then that Saddam and al-Qaida were not even speaking to each other, but truth and facts were irrelevant. It served Bush as part of the casus belli he needed at the time, and later came to need even more after the WMD story fell through.

For Zarqawi, this was his big chance. He was like an understudy, suddenly chosen by the producer to be the movie's leading bad guy, and, being a person with considerable charm, talent and energy, he made the most of it and was propelled to stardom in the role of world-class super-villain, poster boy for terror, the bad guy who made Bush look like the good guy.

It appears that talent scouts from the Bush Regime had had their eye on Zarqawi as early as 2002. NBC News later reported (3/2/2004) that the Pentagon had three opportunities to wipe Zarqawi out before the war started, but somehow didn't pull the trigger. Well, maybe they just blundered, but two years later, in November 2004, Zarqawi was captured at Falluja, and released because "nobody recognized him."

Imagine, the most famous bad guy in Iraq, a $25 million bounty on his head, and nobody recognized him! Well, that might have worked in a movie script, and I do recognize that life can be even stranger than fiction. But I really suspect that there was something we weren’t being told. My suspicion is that, despite all the "Get Zarqawi!" rhetoric, there was also another message out there, "Hands off Zarqawi!" -- something to that effect.

Zarqawi may have killed a few American GIs, who seem to be pretty expendable as far as Bush is concerned. This Zarqawi also personally beheaded a young American civilian, Nicolas Berg -- apparently for the purpose of making a gory video of the killing which he then posted on the internet. But mostly Zarqawi killed his fellow Muslims. His victims were not "collateral damage." This mass murder of innocent civilians was Zarqawi's version of holy war--to slaughter Shi'a on a massive scale. In a letter addressed to his fellow Sunnis, he said:

"In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate … … The Shi'a are the insurmountable obstacle, the lurking snake, the crafty and malicious scorpion, the spying enemy, and the penetrating venom.. . . I mean that targeting and hitting [the Shi'a] in their religious, political, and military depth will provoke them to show the Sunnis their rabies . … If we succeed in dragging them into the arena of sectarian war, it will become possible to awaken the inattentive Sunnis as they feel imminent danger and annihilating death at the hands of these [Shi'a]."

Those were the words of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and he was a man of action who practiced what he preached. He killed dozens, perhaps hundreds of Iraqis, mostly Shi'a. He also blew up their mosques, including their most sacred shrines, and did all he could to provoke the Shi'a into full scale retaliation against the Sunni, who would then be forced to defend themselves. No two ways about it, Zarqawi wanted civil war. Sunni versus Shi'a.

To be sure, there were serious Sunni-Shi'a problems before Zarqawi ever arrived on the scene. The seeds of these problems go back centuries, and it's possible that civil war might've erupted without Zarqawi. But it must be said that he certainly did his level best to bring it about.

The Bush Regime would undoubtedly prefer a quiet Iraq where Halliburton, Bechtal, Chevron and other corporations could loot in peace. But, given that it's not going to be that way, about the last thing the Neocons would want is for the Sunni and the Shi'a to unite against the occupying forces.

Divide et impera seems to be the policy today, just as it was back in Roman times. We don't have it quite from the horse's mouth, but there are some voices which appear to be coming from the same barn. One of these is that of Dr. Daniel Pipes, a Neo-Conservative Middle East Scholar whom President Bush nominated to the board of the "United States Institute of Peace," a Congressionally sponsored think tank. Presumably, the Bushies take Dr. Pipes' opinions into consideration. In the February 28th issue of the New York Sun, Dr. Pipes published an essay expressing his view that civil war in Iraq is something the US could live with.

"The bombing [ ] of the Askariya shrine in Samarra, Iraq, was a tragedy, but it was not an American or a coalition tragedy," Dr. Pipes wrote. "[W]hen Sunni terrorists target Shiites and vice-versa, non-Muslims are less likely to be hurt. Civil war in Iraq would be a humanitarian tragedy but not a strategic one."

The more literate members of the Bush Regime probably read that essay and gave it some thought. They may even have sat down with Dr. Pipes and talked it over.

However, back in Iraq, some of the resistance -- Sunni as well as Shi'a -- was less willing to live with Zarqawi and his program. The reason is obvious: any serious hope of getting rid of the occupation forces would require some semblance of Iraqi unity.

Sami Ramadani, a political refugee from Saddam's regime and a senior lecturer at London Metropolitan University, published an essay in the UK Guardian on September 30, 2004, saying, "The vast majority of Iraqis reject Zarqawi and his ilk -- as do the resistance and its supporters in Falluja, Sadr City and across Iraq. Many even suspect that the occupation forces are somehow encouraging the likes of Zarqawi."

Not even al-Qaida seemed thrilled with Zarqawi's program. There was a lengthy letter that turned up in October 2005; its authenticity has been hotly debated. Professor Juan Cole, whose opinion I highly respect, believes it to be a Shi'ite forgery, while others, including Michael Scheuer, defend its validity. It's addressed to Zarqawi and purports to be from Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaida's number two man. Here are some lines from it:

"Many of your Muslim admirers amongst the common folk are wondering about your attacks on the Shi'a. The sharpness of this questioning increases when the attacks are on one of their mosques, and it increases more when the attacks are on the mausoleum of Imam Ali Bin Abi Talib.

"Can the Mujahidin kill all of the Shi'a in Iraq? Has any Islamic state in history ever tried that? And why kill ordinary Shi'a considering that they are forgiven because of their ignorance?"

Whoever wrote that letter appears to be very patiently and diplomatically trying to reason with Zarqawi and persuade him to change his modus operandi, to ease up on the Shi'a and instead go after the "Crusaders." The letter very gently suggests that Zarqawi's tactics are costing al-Qaida popular support and giving terrorism a bad name.

Others in the Arab world express less patience with the terrorist. An essay in the Egyptian online weekly Al-Ahram (6/15/2006), has this to say: "The death of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi [ ] should have been a reason to celebrate, but it wasn't. The reason is that Zarqawi should have been killed by the Iraqi national resistance and not by the US occupation forces. The latter have created the myth of Zarqawi. The Americans have created that ogre of a man to justify their imperial policies. Zarqawi deserves a US medal for services rendered."

Arabs of various factions seem to have felt that Zarqawi was on the wrong track and doing harm -- a fact that should be quite obvious to anyone but a nut-case fanatic, which Zarqawi certainly appears to have been. And this brings us back to the question of whether George W. Bush would really want to wipe out his poster-boy terrorist who's been serving his propaganda campaign so outstandingly well. And I just don't think he did intend it.

I strongly suspect that Bush wanted to keep Zarqawi alive and active, doing what he does so well. Of course this wouldn't have been for reasons of gratitude and loyalty; we've seen the kind of loyalty Bush displays to his associates. "Kenny-boy" Lay, for example, whom Bush suddenly no longer knew, will rot in prison. Likewise Jack Abramoff, whom Bush doesn't remember having met. That's what Bush's gratitude is like. A friend in trouble is a friend forgotten in Bush's book. Bush is a pragmatic utilitarian when it comes to personal relationships; he wouldn't have hesitated to kill Zarqawi had it served his purpose. However, I believe that Bush could've continued to make good use of Zarqawi, and that he had relatively little to gain from having him offed at this time. Yes, a momentary propaganda coup, but that'll soon pass, probably well before the November elections. There seems to be a lack of motive for this killing.

Air Force General Gary North was presented by Larry King of CNN as "the man responsible for the airstrike that killed al- Zarqawi." From those words we can picture General North in his command post, closely following the progress of the manhunt and directing the operation, hands on. Like in a movie. Well, maybe, but not likely.

North is a three-star general, commander of U.S. and coalition air operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, certainly a busy man who would hardly have much time for micromanaging. During the month of May, for example, the U.S. Air Force carried out 750 air strikes just in Afghanistan alone; such actions would have to be planned and directed by numerous lower ranking officers. The Zarqawi operation probably went something like this: The information on Zarqawi's location came in, and someone, presumably a relatively low ranking commander who happened to be on duty at that moment, made a quick decision and gave the order that sent two F 16s on the bombing run. General North may not have even known of the attack until it was all done and over with.

Intriguingly, General North refused to say anything about the people who did the job. So I can only speculate, and this is what I suggest as a possibility: the commander who gave the order may have been acting on his own. He might've figured that if he were to let it be known to higher-ups, that nothing would've been done.

Of course Bush, once presented with the accomplished fact, had little choice but to go along with it, claim a victory, and play it for all it was worth. The very next morning, Bush got on TV and gloated over the death of his soul mate.

Privately, the Neocons may be deploring their loss. Meanwhile, just about everyone else, including the Iraqi resistance, stands to gain from the demise of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is now presumably recounting his deeds to one whom he called "the Merciful, the Compassionate."

Daniel Borgström
June 19, 2006
Revised 6/28/2006