a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Gotcha, you bastard. Repeat endlessly.

Posted by Thomas Nephew on June 9th, 2006

So Ahmad Fadhil Nazzal al-Khalaylah (a.k.a. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi) is dead. Will he be missed?

Not by me, certainly, nor by the vast majority of Shiites in Iraq, nor perhaps even by most Sunnis there, in their decent heart of hearts. The question is, will he be missed by his fellow jihadists, and the wider insurgency in Iraq? From what I’ve read about him and Iraq, my guesses are “yes, for a while,” and “no.”

Accounts like the one by Mary Ann Weaver in the Atlantic Monthly (prescient title: “The short, violent life of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi“) suggest he was a charismatic leader and a very successful recruiter of those admiring his brutal Salafist outlook. Also, his death wasn’t the only thing that happened yesterday — other people and evidence were reportedly captured in simultaneous raids. There may also have been an insider informant who pinpointed Zarqawi’s presence when the time came.

Together, that may mean that Zarqawi’s particular network is in for hard times. Fine; good riddance. But there are plenty more where they came from, and Bin Laden and Zawahiri — remember them? — are no slouches at mayhem, either.

Meanwhile, just about everyone agrees the foreign jihadists Zarqawi led are a relatively small part of the insurgency facing American troops and their Iraqi allies. More are home grown fighters with perhaps more straightforward nationalist or sectarian aims: kick the Americans out, wrestle for control of the country or region. As Ivo Daalder points out, “Much of the killing in Iraq today isn’t the result of Zarqawi’s men, but of Sunni and Shite militias engaged in a big fight for control of neighborhoods, towns, cities, and the resources they control.”

A different question — for Americans, at least — is whether Zarqawi would have become a household name if the U.S. hadn’t invaded Iraq. I don’t know for sure, of course, but I suspect not — he was an advocate of the “near war”, and was originally focused on the fall of the Jordanian monarchy. Without the stage of Iraq, he’d have been a minor figure in the larger scheme of things.

Our king and vice king are known to enjoy hunting and fishing, of a sort, in preserves stocked with fish and game (or lawyers). While I’m not saying Zarqawi was “stocked,” exactly, we certainly turned Iraq into a place where he would flourish, and we certainly managed to save him up for another one of our “most powerfully staged photo ops in the world” — recall that an opportunity to bomb him in a camp in northern Iraq before the war was passed up, in order to not undercut the case for war, such as it was.

Once upon a time, I would put up these “Gotcha” posts with more unalloyed satisfaction, and some day, if they ever get their hands on Bin Laden or put a bomb on Zawahiri’s pup tent, I’ll put up another one. I feel about Zarqawi’s demise, though, a little like how I’d feel about taking out some nasty garbage I left in the house too long: glad that’s done, sorry I helped make the mess in the first place.

OTHER REACTIONS: Pablo Shounin: “finally some good news”, Gary Farber (early news roundup), eRobin (“beginning of a very long and bloody road”), Natalie Davis (“He who lives by the sword… Every death is a diminishment, but the really sad news is that the “war” goes on”), Stygius (“May he roast in hell“), WorldWideWeber (“The hydra loses a head”) ; see also Steve Benen (“Carpetbagger”), John Robb (“Global Guerilla”): “Unfortunately, Zarqawi proved to be rather good at his role.”; Juliette Kayyem (“TPM Cafe”).
NOTES: Robb via James Wolcott, Weaver, Daalder, Kayyem via Josh Marshall.

UPDATE, 6/12: Will Bunch (“Attytood”) reminds his readers of an April 10 Thomas Ricks article in the Washington Post, “Military Plays Up Role of Zarqawi,” which discussed a coordinated military propaganda or PSYOPS campaign — aimed in part at Americans. Ricks: “Although Zarqawi and other foreign insurgents in Iraq have conducted deadly bombing attacks, they remain “a very small part of the actual numbers,” Col. Derek Harvey, who served as a military intelligence officer in Iraq and then was one of the top officers handling Iraq intelligence issues on the staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told an Army meeting at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., last summer.” In a transcript of the meeting, Harvey said, “Our own focus on Zarqawi has enlarged his caricature, if you will — made him more important than he really is, in some ways.

2 Responses to “Gotcha, you bastard. Repeat endlessly.”

  1. Peqanz Says:

  2. Thomas Nephew Says:

    The Onion’s been there, done that.

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