May 23, 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
On Sept. 11, 2004, Zarqawi addressed the Muslim nation, again lamenting the fact that it was sleeping instead of supporting the jihad in Iraq. The once proud Muslims were now downtrodden. They fought back with neither the sword nor the pen. Jihad had been declared and the gates of heaven were open. If the men were not willing to fight then they should let their women take up arms and the men should take up cooking.
Perhaps realizing that his edicts alone weren’t sufficiently rallying supporters to his cause, Zarqawi next reached out to someone he had previously opposed and kept at a distance: Bin Laden. The two had operated independently in Afghanistan, and they certainly had not collaborated in Iraq, but Zarqawi apparently realized he could benefit from the prestige associated with the Al Qaeda brand in global jihadi circles. So in December 2004 Zarqawi swore an oath of allegiance to Bin Laden and renamed his organization Al Qaeda in Iraq. He also joined the Salafiya al Mujahedia, or Salafi Mujahedin, movement in Iraq. Bin Laden soon afterward announced that Zarqawi was the head of Al Qaeda’s operations in Iraq.
This partnership had obvious benefits for Bin Laden, and for his deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, as well. Hiding somewhere in the mountains of Pakistan, the Al Qaeda leadership was not engaged in the jihad—and certainly not in its most important front, Iraq, where most of the fighting against America was taking place. When Zarqawi took on the Al Qaeda brand name, he allowed Bin Ladin and Zawahiri’s defunct organization to gain new life, and he granted the previous generation of jihadis the prestige associated with the jihad in Iraq.
After Zarqawi renamed his organization Al Qaeda in Iraq, its ideology was elaborated by a man called Abu Maysara, which was probably the assumed identity of a longtime collaborator named Maysara al Ghareeb. Abu Maysara explained that their goals included: a renewal of “true” monotheism, purifying it from elements of polytheism; jihad for Allah’s sake; re-conquering Muslim lands from infidels and apostates so that Allah’s laws could be applied; the spread of Islam in lands where it does not yet exist; freeing Muslim prisoners; helping Muslims everywhere; and reestablishing the Islamic caliphate so that Muslims would be ruled by Muslims.
On Dec. 9, 2004, a Zarqawi-run committee issued a statement about the upcoming elections in Iraq. Addressing “all the parties participating in the elections,” it threatened Shias around the world for supporting the Crusader occupation of Iraq. It called Ayatollah Ali Sistani the greatest collaborator with the Crusaders. It condemned the apostate police, the national guardsmen and the army for attacking Falluja. It warned the rejectionist Shias and their political parties, the Kurdish peshmerha, the Christians and the hypocrites such as the Islamic party that the Tawhid movement would increase attacks on them. It was signed by Abu said al Islambuli.
In January 2005, while covering the Iraqi election campaign, I found leaflets warning Iraqis not to vote. Signed by the military wing of Ansar al Sunna, the leaflets read:
“There is no doubt that Allah created his creatures so that they worship him and not polytheism, and he helps all the people on the path to success, and it is God’s work that among his servants there are Muslims and non-Muslims and there is a continuing war between these two until judgment day. And now America, the leader of the modern infidels, has started to bare hatred against Islam and the Muslims. This war will not stop, even if the occupation ends, because it is not a matter of occupation but of creating an Islamic state. As we have announced before, this is our legal verdict about participation in the elections that will take place in Iraq. We warn you against this participation because the polling stations and the people that work in them are a target for the brave soldiers of Allah, so we advise everybody to keep away from any military target, whether it is the crusader American headquarters or their patrols or the Iraqi National Guard or the apostate police forces. Because of the continuation of the battle between us and the crusaders and to avoid harming people, we announce a curfew for three days.”
The leaflet was unique for having provided a theological worldview—and a Manichaean one at that.
Though Al Qaeda under Bin Laden and Zawahiri had not made Shias their targets and did not publicly condemn them, Zarqawi held that Shias were the most evil of mankind. It is possible that he learned his hatred of Shias in Pakistan, where Shias are regularly murdered in sectarian killings. Zarqawi compared Shias to snakes, scorpions and enemy spies. His hatred could be traced to the ideology of the 13th century cleric Ibn Taimiya, the father of Wahabism and Salafism. Shias were polytheists who worshipped at graves and shrines. Shias were to be avoided at all costs. They could not be married, they could not bear witness and animals they slaughtered could not be eaten. In this way Zarqawi defended operations that caused Muslims to die. Martyrdom operations, as he called suicide bombers, were sanctified because defending Islam was even more important than defending the lives of Muslims.
Dig last updated on Jun. 9, 2006