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Zarqawi's Death and the Iraqi Insurgency

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaida in Iraq leader, was killed Wednesday in a U.S. air strike. In recent years, the Jordanian-born Zarqawi came to Iraq to wage a terror campaign in a country already awash in violence. However, Zarqawi and Iraq's various insurgents did not share a common vision.

In announcing al-Zarqawi's death, President Bush said the terrorist was killed by U.S. Special Operations forces acting on tips and intelligence from Iraqis. Bush said Zarqawi sought to defeat America and its coalition partners and to turn Iraq into a haven where al-Qaida could wage war on free nations.

President Bush said, "To achieve these ends, he worked to divide Iraqis and incite civil war. Only last week he released an audiotape attacking Iraq's elected leaders and denouncing those advocating the end of sectarianism."

Zarqawi's deadly legacy includes bombings, assassinations, suicide attacks, kidnappings, and beheadings. He also spread Internet messages calling upon Islamic extremists to join a "jihad," or holy war, which he tried to foment in Iraq.

Reactions to his death in his hometown of Zarqa, Jordan were mixed.

"Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his group claim that the crimes they are doing are related to Islamic values. Actually they are not," said one resident.

Another resident said Zarqawi's fate rests with God. "We do not know if he was fighting for Islam or his beliefs. If he was fighting for Islam may God let his soul rest in peace,” he said. “If he was not, God will judge him."

In an attempt to drive a wedge between Iraq's Shia and Sunni communities, Zarqawi, a Sunni Muslim, denounced Shias as "traitors" and "snakes."

However, Middle East expert Nora Bensahel of the think-tank in Washington, D.C. says Zarqawi was not concerned about Iraq as a nation.

"Zarqawi didn't have a vision for what a future Iraq should look like that was about Iraq,” Bensahel said. “Iraq was a player in a broader global struggle and that's not something that either the Sunni or the Shia communities inside Iraq see themselves as. They are concerned about the future of their own country."

Just as he tried to exploit Iraq's sectarian divide, Bensahel says Zarqawi sought to topple the new Iraqi government, which he considered to be an American creation. President Bush said the Iraqi government participated in the hunt for Zarqawi  -- a fact Bensahel says is important.

"This is something that the new government can really claim as a major success, and it is something which may well unite particularly moderates among Sunni and Shia communities,” she said. “Someone who had come into their country from outside and caused such destruction and such pain is now no longer going to be able to do that anymore.”

The death of Zarqawi is not expected to quickly decrease the level of violence in Iraq. Former American ambassador to that country, David Newton, says peace is up to the Iraqis themselves.

"The real issue in Iraq is the question of sectarianism, and whether Iraqi identity can win out in the end over sectarian identities,” he said. “The real question is reducing the Sunni insurgency and also trying to reduce the retaliatory Shia insurgency. That task is really more for the Iraqis than for the Americans."

President Bush says there are tough days still ahead in Iraq, but he says Zarqawi's death renews confidence that terrorism will be defeated.

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