Dec 21, 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
Zarqawi reserved special hatred for the Jordanian monarchy and security forces. He sought to de-legitimize the Hashemite kingdom and its claim to power based on its descent from the Prophet Mohammed. It was true, he said, that King Abdullah was a relative of the Prophet, but he was a descendant through Abu Lahab, the Prophet’s uncle who fought against him.
Zarqawi’s increasing radicalism in relation to Jordan culminated on Nov. 9, 2005, when he dispatched four Iraqi suicide bombers to Amman—three of whom succeeded in detonating their deadly vests in as many hotels, killing 60 and injuring 100. It was Zarqawi’s third successful attack in Jordan.
Dubbed by Jordanians “our 9/11,” almost all the victims were Jordanians. Zarqawi’s attack divided Jordanians: Many clung to the belief that it was the Israeli Mossad that was responsible; others believed there were indeed Israeli spies in the hotels Zarqawi had targeted.
But in truth, Zarqawi’s actions had for some time been proving too much even for the most radical to stomach—including his former mentor, Maqdasi. The ideologue of the jihadist movement had been re-arrested after his release from prison in 1999 and had spent most of the time since then behind bars. And although imprisoned, he continued his writings. In July 2004, his website contained an article that condemned Zarqawi’s favored tactics—like roadside bombs and firing mortars—because they inadvertently killed Muslims. Jihadi hands had to be clean and free of innocent blood, Maqdasi wrote, adding that Muslims who worked for the infidels should not be killed unless they helped the infidels harm Muslims. He further warned Zarqawi not to attack churches because it would encourage infidels to fight Muslims.
In July of 2005 Maqdasi was again released from prison and was permitted by Jordanian authorities to give interviews to the press. Maqdasi said that although he still believed in the takfir (declaration that somebody is an infidel) against Shias, he disagreed with Zarqawi that all Shias were infidels, arguing instead that only ignorant Shias were infidels. Though Maqdasi condoned the killing of Muslims, he said that Zarqawi had gone too far.
Maqdasi himself did not get very far: Jordanian authorities re-arrested him in the middle of an interview he was giving to Al Jazeera.
In criticizing Zarqawi’s methods, Maqdasi had been trying to divert blame from the ideology itself, and to cast doubt upon Zarqawi’s ability to lead the jihad. He also maintained that operations in Jordan should be limited to proselytizing. “I chose to stay in the country to handle the proselytizing that we began and I hope to move it west across the river; there I have hopes and ambitions,” Maqdasi wrote in correspondence to Zarqawi posted on Maqdasi’s website.
It wasn’t only the followers of Maqdasi who opposed Zarqawi’s aims and tactics. He also had a rocky relationship with Iraq’s diverse resistance and insurgent groups. Iraqi Sunnis condemned his declaration of war on Shias, and feared the civil war he finally succeeded in provoking. His fighters often clashed with indigenous Iraqi fighters—who formed the majority of the anti-occupation resistance—because Zarqawi’s men established reigns of Taliban-like terror in villages they took over. Also, most of Iraq’s Sunnis wanted only to regain some political power in Iraq—unlike Zarqawi, who was fighting the entire world.
In the end, Iraq’s Sunnis wanted a stable Iraq, but under their control. Nor were they interested in Zarqawi’s puritan ideology. It was probably disgruntled Iraqi Sunnis who provided the tip that cost Zarqawi his life. Only this week, a couple of days before his death, Zarqawi’s fighters had clashed with fighters belonging to the 1920 Revolution Brigades, an Iraqi group affiliated with the Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq.
It was comical when the Americans released Zarqawi video outtakes that showed him for fumbling with a machine gun. Having inflated Zarqawi’s reputation for their own pro-war propaganda ends, the Americans were now trying to deflate it in order to downplay the strength of the resistance. But it was too late. Jihadis were not going to trust the Americans. Zarqawi had proved how good he was at killing Americans and Shias and evading capture. Whether he was proficient in using a particular machine gun was besides the point; he was very good with bombs, with knives, and certainly successful with his strategy.
Zarqawi’s death was the greatest advertisement for his cause. He had already succeeded in provoking the civil war, the final spark being the Feb. 22 bombing of the Shia Askari Shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad. Zarqawi sought martyrdom and direct entry to paradise by fighting the infidels in Iraq. And in the eyes of his supporters, he succeeded—proving to aspiring jihadis around the world that Iraq is the place to go to if you want to enter paradise as a martyr slain by the infidels.
The US ambassador to Iraq hailed Zarqawi’s death as a “good omen,” which sounds rather weak, if the best the U.S. can come up with in Iraq are omens. Perhaps they will say it’s another “turning point” or a “milestone”—because we haven’t had enough of those since the occupation began. Perhaps we have “turned the corner,” in Iraq, which, after the thousand corners claimed turned by the Americans, makes for an interesting geometrical structure. Perhaps this will “break the back of the insurgency”? No, it is not even a good omen, it is an ominous omen. It was pathetic to see the American empire expressing glee at the death of one man, the leader of a gang of criminals and thugs, an image of his head at peace, eyes closed, curly hair and beard, like John the Baptist’s severed head, displayed before the world, much as Saddam and his dead sons had been paraded before the world.
More will come to replace Zarqawi and avenge his death. Iraq’s Shias will be blamed for Zarqawi’s death, and Shias in the region—perhaps even in Saudi Arabia, or in Lebanon, where sectarian tensions are rising—will find themselves targets of violence. Expect a new group, calling itself the Zarqawi Brigades (or battalions, or army), to claim responsibility for some major attacks on Shia targets.
Far from putting an end to the Iraqi insurgency, Zarqawi’s death will most likely prolong it.
His articles from Iraq and elsewhere are available on www.nirrosen.com
Dig last updated on Jun. 9, 2006
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