On Point: The Trials and Tribulations of Zarqawi

by Austin Bay
October 19, 2004

Last Sunday, terrorist chieftain Abu Musad al-Zarqawi openly declared his allegiance to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. His website manifesto added that his "One God and Jihad" Islamist terror faction agreed with Al Qaeda's global strategy and recognized the need to unite against "the enemies of Islam." The online rant referred to bin Laden as "the sheik of holy warriors."

Zarqawi (nicknamed "Z-Man" by coalition troops in Iraq) craves TV time and newspaper headlines, and he got both by stating the obvious.

Zarqawi is Al Qaeda's man in Iraq, and -- despite blaring headlines -- this connection is very old news.

It isn't that Osama bin Laden (if he's still alive) directs Zarqawi's operations. He doesn't. There may be personal frictions between Zarqawi and senior Al Qaeda leaders; Zarqawi's and bin Laden's egos won't fit in the same room.

However, Al Qaeda works as a loose, "nodal network," where each associated faction operates with local and regional autonomy. Factions do cooperate strategically. Early last year, Kurdish militiamen snagged a compact disc containing Zarqawi's strategic assessment of his operations in Iraq. U.S. and coalition intelligence determined the CD was on its way to "Central Asia" (Pakistan or Afghanistan, most likely).

Zarqawi's intercepted message to his Al Qaeda comrades admitted that his terror band was "failing to enlist support" inside Iraq and was "unable to scare the Americans into leaving."

Zarqawi lamented "Iraq's lack of mountains in which to take refuge," which many commentators read as an echo of his experience in Afghanistan with Al Qaeda.

Zarqawi's document also suggested a strategic solution to his group's failure: launch attacks on Iraqi Shias and start a "sectarian war" that he suggested would "rally the Sunni Arabs" to his cause. This war against Shiites, Zarqawi thought, "must start soon -- at 'zero hour' -- before the Americans hand over sovereignty to the Iraqis."

Despite orchestrating scores of savage attacks, Zarqawi has failed to ignite that sectarian war. Early in the summer, suicide car bombers (presumably under Zarqawi's aegis) began attacking Iraqi police and National Guard soldiers as frequently as they targeted Shias and coalition troops. This suggested to some analysts that Islamic radical Zarqawi was cooperating with elements of the "secular Iraqi resistance" -- former members of Saddam's regime and holdouts in the Sunni Triangle. If that alliance existed, it was one of convenience, not long-term compatibility. That terror offensive, however, has failed to deter recruits. Iraqi security forces continue to grow in size and strength.

Zarqawi lacks political support and is increasingly desperate. His declaration of solidarity with Al Qaeda is both an emergency plea for Islamist reinforcements from Syria and Saudi Arabia, and the shrill cry of a true believer just rational enough to recognize he's caught in a political and military vise.

Since April 2004, the Sunni Triangle city of Falluja has been an outlaw town where Zarqawi's fanatics mixed with Saddmite insurgents and criminal gangs. Falluja has served as their safe haven and headquarters. Ironically, Falluja has showcased the poverty and violence produced by fascist thugs and theocrats.

Iraq's adept Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is performing a political judo act on Sunni holdouts, with Zarqawi as the fall guy.

Press sources report residents of Falluja and other cities have been providing highly reliable information about "foreign fighters," and coalition airstrikes and special operations attacks have killed scores of Zarqawi recruits.

U.S. Marines are once again encircling Falluja. The Iraqi government's message is: continue to hide Zarqawi, and your city will suffer more air strikes and -- at the appropriate time -- a ground assault. Coaxing Sunni militants into giving up Zarqawi exposes the split between the secular Sunnis and Zarqawi, publicly illustrating the fragmented character of the insurgency. Such a visible fissure could improve Prime Minister Allawi's chances of reaching a domestic political settlement in the Sunni Triangle, and advance his goal of further isolating the most violent insurgent factions.

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To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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