The death of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has been widely hailed as a significant blow to al-Qaida in Iraq, especially as it coincided with the announcement that key government security posts had been filled and approved by the Iraqi parliament.
However, James Carafano, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, says al-Zarqawi’s assassination does not in and of itself represent a turning point for the violence in Iraq. Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now’s Encounter program, Mr. Carafano explains that’s because there are still many other groups dedicated to destabilizing the country. Nonetheless, says Alexis Debat, a former French defense ministry official and currently a senior fellow at the Nixon Center in Washington, Zarqawi’s death is a “significant, symbolic victory,” and it may signal the beginning of a closer cooperation between the Iraqi government and the Sunni community and thus a “major trend change.” James Carafano suggests that Zarqawi’s end does represent a major psychological victory because it happened “only because Iraqis enabled it.” That is, one or more Sunni Arab informers most likely played a major role in providing intelligence on Zarqawi’s whereabouts. Alexis Debat adds that Sunni leaders may have started to realize that, from a strictly political perspective, the insurgency is “leading them nowhere.”
Mr. Debat says he thinks the death of Zarqawi – combined with filling of the key cabinet posts – offers a very brief window of opportunity to turn the Iraqi political situation around, although it is likely to be an “uphill battle.” And the Iraqi government will need to make rapid progress not just on the political front but also on the reconstruction front. James Carafano stresses that security is key to political success and to date the greatest disappointment is the failure to create an effective Iraqi police force. Alexis Debat agrees and suggests that the military needs to take over a number of missions from the police force. And in fact, the Shi’a militias – led by virtual “warlords” – have been behind much of the sectarian violence in Iraq. On the other hand, Mr. Carafano notes that Zarqawi had a deliberate strategy of killing Shi’a and trying to enflame ethnic conflict, and so taking him “out of the equation has got to help.” He suggests that, if progress can be made on the political and security fronts, progress can also be made on the reconstruction front, which in turn will tamp the terror down and encourage investment.
Regarding the global war on terrorism, James Carafano says, Zarqawi will be seen either as a martyr or as a failure. So, it is key for the leaders in the Muslim world to present him as a “failed thug” and not as a martyr. Alexis Debat adds that it is too early to tell what impact Zarqawi’s death might have on the global al-Qaida network led by Osama bin Laden.
For full audio of the program Encounter click here.