Sunday, June 25, 2006

Two Articles on Zarqawi

Fouad Ajami writes a resigned post-mortem on Zarqawi and the situation in Iraq and in the Arab World at his death in the Wall Street Journal, The Extremist is Never Alone. Subscription only, but here is a passage:

In the aftermath of his surprise trip to Iraq, President Bush has returned to an old theme: He has called on the Arabs, yet again, to come to the aid of Iraq. On the face of it, this is the most natural of requests, for the fire in Iraq, and a failure in Iraq, is sure to spill into neighboring Arab lands. But here we are face-to-face with the ways of the Arab world. No Arab cavalry shall ride to Iraq's rescue; no Arab development funds -- in a region wallowing in oil wealth -- shall be committed to Iraq. The foreign leaders who have visited Iraq were from Britain, Australia, Poland, South Korea, Bulgaria, Denmark, Ukraine and Spain. No Arab king or president has deemed it fit to turn up in a show of solidarity with Iraq's people. (A prime minister of Jordan came to repair the breach between the two countries, but prime ministers in Jordan come and go; political power is the king's prerogative.) The Arabs who cross into Iraq are jihadists, and "mules" who bring money to keep the insurgency alive. In the main, Arabs are content to pronounce on Iraq's "innate" violence, and on the errors of the American war. No greater sense of responsibility can be expected from the custodians of political power in the Arab lands.

We should be under no illusions about Iraq's Arab neighbors: They are content to see America bleed, and they see this great struggle as a contest between American power and the region's laws of gravity. True cynics, pessimists through and through, they see the American mission in Iraq as one of extravagant optimism and hubris. The mere claim that the Shiite step-children and the Kurdish highlanders can find a way out of darkness galls them. The Arab ruling elites are invested in the insurgents and the jihadists in Iraq. The more these forces of mayhem engage American power, the more time they buy for the entrenched order. There is no "Arab solution" for Iraq, as there was none for Lebanon in its long Syrian captivity. The Iraqis understood the great Arab silence which attended the death of Zarqawi. A clerical leader of Najaf, Sadr al-Din Qabanji, noted the sorrow with which the men of Hamas responded to the hunting down of Zarqawi. Addressing neighboring Arabs, Qabanji asked the question: "Why do you accept the shedding of our blood?"

The borders of Iraq, examined closely, tell of a powerful but overlooked truth. The borders with Arab lands -- Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait -- are borders with harsh deserts. The more natural borders -- across population centers, contiguous human habitations -- are with Turkey and Iran. In the face of these stark facts of ecology and demography, Arab nationalism and Arab legend, insisting on the "Arabness" of Iraq, declared it the "eastern gate of the Arab world." This willfulness falsified Iraq's life: This was a borderland across Arab-Turkish, and Arab-Persian, divides. And within, there was a Kurdish nation with its own separate memory, its own dream of autonomy and independence. Now this Iraqi order, delivered through American sacrifices, struggles to take hold. The cabinet of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was long in coming, fought over, and divided across sect and ethnicity -- a Shiite interior minister, balanced by a Sunni minister of defense, a Kurdish foreign minister, two portfolios given to the forces of Moqtada al-Sadr, etc. But this is Iraq today, and better this diversity, and the ways of the bazaar, than the pharaonic regime of Hosni Mubarak and the servile culture of his court.

A gap has opened between Arab jihadists and the Sunnis of Iraq. As a celebrated Iraqi intellectual, Hassan al-Alawi, put it: The former have their gaze fixed on the green fields of Paradise, while the latter have theirs fixed on the Green Zone. A balance of fear has been arrived at in Iraq between the Sunnis and the Shiites, a development that issued out of a bloody struggle, and this has altered Iraqi politics for the better. For the first time in their history, Sunni Arabs have come to accept that their old hegemony has been irretrievably shattered; this new order gives them a claim to their country's bounty that is, also for the first time, not indecent.

President Bush took with him to Baghdad the right message: a reaffirmation of the American commitment mixed with a reminder that Iraq's salvation lies in the hands of its new government. The Arabs nearby will say, as they have, that the American leader traveled into an occupied country, that he did not venture beyond the Green Zone, that the place he visited was more his domain than Nuri al-Maliki's. But President Bush called on an elected government, a rare plant in Arab soil. This new government should be strengthened by the promise of American resolve. But it should also take to heart that it is reckoning-time for Iraq's leaders, that it is their country, and their history, that lies in the balance.

In the Atlantic Monthly, Mary Anne Weaver also writes a piece on Zarqawi, The Short Violent Life of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, which appears hastily edited to reflect the fact that the Americans, in the end, succeeded in killing Zarqawi. The article starts and finishes with some de rigeuer bashing of the administration's ways of dealing with Zarqawi, hypothesizing that the US over promoted him to make him the center of the insurgency in Iraq.

Here's a sample of the sort of thing I mean:
"Even then - and even more so now - Zarqawi was not the main force in the insurgency," the former Jordanian intelligence official, who has studied al-Zarqawi for a decade, told me. "To establish himself, he carried out the Muhammad Hakim operation, and the attack against the UN. Both of them gained a lot of support for him - with the tribes, with Saddam’s army and other remnants of his regime. They made Zarqawi the symbol of the resistance in Iraq, but not the leader. And he never has been."

He continued, "The Americans have been patently stupid in all of this. They’ve blown Zarqawi so out of proportion that, of course, his prestige has grown. And as a result, sleeper cells from all over Europe are coming to join him now." He paused for a moment, then said, "Your government is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Western and Israeli diplomats to whom I spoke shared this view - and this past April, The Washington Post reported on Pentagon documents that detailed a U.S. military propaganda campaign to inflate al-Zarqawi's importance. Then, the following month, the military appeared to attempt to reverse field and portray al-Zarqawi as an incompetent who could not even handle a gun. But by then his image in the Muslim world was set.

Of course, the Western and Israeli diplomats are anonymous. So you can't determine what their other opinions are in general, which would provide a context for their views on Zarqawi, so that you could independently determine the extent to which you agreed with the sorts of positions they take. Merely being a diplomat tells us nothing. Kofi Annan is a diplomat, for example, the diplomat in chief at the UN. And look how absurdist his promulgations often are.

In any case, we'll soon learn the extent to which Zarqawi was instrumental in Iraq, or merely a self-promoting fanatic that the Bush Administration bought into. I'd say, he certainly set the benchmark for despicable violence, even by the terms of the article, by his quest to cause a civil war between Sunni and Shi'ites in Iraq and by his repopularization of beheadings, this time on videotape.

And the article itself is contradictory, claiming that one reason Osama made an alliance with Zarqawi was to prevent him from becoming the most important terrorist leader in the world.

Once past that kind of "positioning", the article is rich with information about the details of Zarqawi's career.

"It’s not surprising that Zarqawi embraced Salafism," I was told by Jarret Brachman, the research director of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. "Jihadi Salafism is black and white - and so is everything that Zarqawi's ever done. When he met al-Maqdisi, he was drifting, trying to find an outlet, and very impressionable. His religious grounding, until then, was largely dependent upon whose influence he was under at the time. And since his father had died when he was young, he'd been seeking a father figure. Al-Maqdisi served both needs."


In December 1999, al-Zarqawi crossed the border into Afghanistan, and later that month he and bin Laden met at the Government Guest House in the southern city of Kandahar, the de facto capital of the ruling Taliban. As they sat facing each other across the receiving room, a former Israeli intelligence official told me, "it was loathing at first sight."

According to several different accounts of the meeting, bin Laden distrusted and disliked al-Zarqawi immediately. He suspected that the group of Jordanian prisoners with whom al-Zarqawi had been granted amnesty earlier in the year had been infiltrated by Jordanian intelligence; something similar had occurred not long before with a Jordanian jihadist cell that had come to Afghanistan. Bin Laden also disliked al-Zarqawi's swagger and the green tattoos on his left hand, which he reportedly considered un-Islamic. Al-Zarqawi came across to bin Laden as aggressively ambitious, abrasive, and overbearing. His hatred of Shiites also seemed to bin Laden to be potentially divisive - which, of course, it was. (Bin Laden's mother, to whom he remains close, is a Shiite, from the Alawites of Syria.)

Al-Zarqawi would not recant, even in the presence of the legendary head of al-Qaeda. "Shiites should be executed," he reportedly declared. He also took exception to bin Laden's providing Arab fighters to the Taliban, the fundamentalist student militia that, although now in power, was still battling the Northern Alliance, which controlled some 10 percent of Afghanistan. Muslim killing Muslim was un-Islamic, al-Zarqawi is reported to have said.

Unaccustomed to such direct criticism, the leader of al-Qaeda was aghast.


"Zarqawi had the ambition to become what he has, but whatever happens, even if he becomes the most popular figure in Iraq, he can never go against the symbolism that bin Laden represents. If Zarqawi is captured or killed tomorrow, the Iraqi insurgency will go on. There is no such thing as 'Zarqawism.' What Zarqawi is will die with him. Bin Laden, on the other hand, is an ideological thinker. He created the concept of al-Qaeda and all of its offshoots. He feels he's achieved his goal." He paused for a moment, then said, "Osama bin Laden is like Karl Marx. Both created an ideology. Marxism still flourished well after Marx's death. And whether bin Laden is killed, or simply dies of natural causes, al-Qaedaism will survive him."


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