Dec 19, 2013
Nir Rosen is a fellow at the New America Foundation and a free-lance writer. His book on postwar Iraq, "In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq" was published by Free Press in May 2006.
His articles from Iraq and elsewhere are available on www.nirrosen.com....
The Many Faces of Abu Musab al Zarqawi
Shortly after his release under an amnesty in 1999, Zarqawi left for Pakistan, where he was arrested and temporarily held, before making it to Afghanistan with his key followers. (Zarqawi had been influenced by the Egyptian jihadist groups such as Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Group, which held that the leader of any jihadist group should be based outside of the country in order to avoid harassment by the security forces. Maqdasi also favored the move, but primarily because, unlike Zarqawi, he opposed conducting operations within Jordan—a disagreement that would prove momentous years later.)
In Afghanistan Zarqawi found both Al Qaeda and the Taliban insufficiently extreme for him. Zarqawi criticized Osama bin Ladin for not calling Arab governments infidels and attacking them. For Zarqawi, the near enemy was the priority, while for Bin Ladin the far enemy was the priority. Zarqawi was such a strict Salafi that he condemned the Taliban for lack of piety. He criticized them for not sufficiently imposing Sharia and for recognizing the United Nations, an infidel organization. As a result he condemned Al Qaeda for associating with the Taliban and established his own camp in the western Afghan city of Herat, near the border with Iran.
When the U.S. struck Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks, Zarqawi made his way through Iran to autonomous Kurdistan in northern Iraq. This is a point especially worth noting. The Bush administration claimed Zarqawi’s presence in Iraq was proof of an Al Qaeda connection, but in fact Zarqawi linked up with the terrorist group Ansar al Islam in a region of Iraq outside of Saddam Hussein’s reach.
When he arrived in northern Iraq in 2002, Zarqawi was still virtually unknown outside his native Jordan. But the mere fact of his physical presence in Iraq may have been enough to earn him his first bout of international notoriety: In his February 2003 speech to the United Nations, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell named Zarqawi as an associate of Bin Laden’s in Iraq—a report that infamously turned out to be false, but one that nevertheless had the effect of turning Zarqawi into an overnight jihadist celebrity.
He apparently laid low during the war’s major ground offensives, but as soon as Saddam was removed from power on April 9, 2003 and Bush declared America’s “mission accomplished,” Zarqawi
Although he claimed responsibility for several significant attacks, such as the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad’s Canal Hotel and the assassination of Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq leader Muhamad Bakir al Hakim, Zarqawi and his foreign fighters were a numerically insignificant proportion of the anti American fighters. It took further public relations efforts by the United States to transform Zarqawi into who he became.
Intent on denying that there was a popular Iraqi resistance to the American project in Iraq, the U.S. military appeared to blame nearly every attack on Zarqawi and his foreign fighters. And for a while it seemed every car accident in Baghdad was Zarqawi’s fault. The truth was that much of Iraq’s Sunni population, alienated by the Americans who removed them from power and targeted them en masse during raids, supported and participated in the anti-American resistance. Even many Shias claimed resistance. Muqtada al-Sadr, the most powerful and popular single individual leader in Iraq, led several “intifadas,” or uprisings, against the Americans in the spring and summer of 2004 (and his men still rest on their laurels, claiming they too took part in the Mukawama, or resistance).
But by blaming Zarqawi for everything, the Americans turned him into a myth—the man who was everywhere and nowhere at once. Aspiring jihadis throughout the Arab world ate it up and flocked to join his ranks—or at least send money. Zarqawi was the one defying the Americans, something their own weak leaders in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and elsewhere could not do, having sold out to Western interests long ago.
In October 2004, Iraqi intelligence claimed that Zarqawi’s group consisted of 1,000 to 1,500 fighters, foreign and Iraqi. Zarqawi’s inner circle was made up of his close friends, all of whom were non-Iraqi. Their plan, as evidenced by their statements and their tactics, was to turn Iraq into hell for all its residents, to prevent an elected government from taking power and to create a civil war between Sunnis and the hated Shias. Zarqawi’s group was responsible for many of the gruesome videotaped beheadings of foreigners and Iraqis accused of collaborating with the occupation. Their bombs, planted in civilian areas or carried by suicide agents, slaughtered masses of Shias as well.
In his various written and taped communiqués Zarqawi elaborated on his ideology. He condemned the people who “held the stick in the middle.” They were not fighting for their nation. They were waiting for the fight to end so they could join the victor. Godly people, he wrote, were carrying the flag of Islam high and raising their heads in humiliating times. Their brave feet remain steadfast in the hot desert sands, and when all doors were closed to them on Earth, many doors in heaven were opened. Their belief made them strong, he argued, and they thought not of defeat despite limitless oppression. Dog-like foreigners controlled their homelands, and the solution that people were searching for was jihad in the path of God. Belief in God could restore the caliphate, he insisted; it could open to the Muslims “the gates of Rome, the White House, the Kremlin and London.” God would help them fight the hypocrites, Crusaders and Jews. Zarqawi prayed to God to give his believers success on Earth, to help the mujahedin assemble, to protect them and give them victory over the infidels.
Zarqawi denounced Muslims who criticized the beheading of the young American Nicholas Berg. They were cowards who were not fighting the infidel and did not know how glorious it felt to fight jahiliya (pre-Islamic ignorance). Zarqawi lamented that the nation of Islam was being tortured in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, Indonesia and Chechnya and yet all it had done was weep and protest peacefully. These demonstrations had done nothing for Afghanistan, and now Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban, was hiding in the mountains. The Muslim nation did nothing to defend the chastity of the women of Sarajevo, Indonesia, Palestine and Iraq. Zarqawi swore to God that as long as he and his men had dignity and honor they would not sleep or spend time with their wives while these other Muslim women were under attack.
Dig last updated on Jun. 9, 2006
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