US-Made Man an "Enemy to America's Liking"
By Patrick Cockburn
The New Zealand Herald
Saturday 10 June 2006
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was a little-known Jordanian petty criminal before
he became the Islamic fundamentalist fanatic denounced by the United States
in 2003 as an insurgent leader of great importance.
His status enabled him to recruit men and raise money to wage a cruel
war, mostly against Iraqi civilians.
In one macabre innovation, he staged beheadings of Westerners -
including Ken Bigley and Eugene Armstrong - which were then put on the
Zarqawi's death in an airstrike by American F-16s on a house north of
Baghdad is important in Iraq because he was the most sectarian of the Sunni
resistance leaders, butchering Shiites as heretics as worthy of death as
His chosen instrument was the suicide bomber. The targets were almost
invariably young Shiite men desperate for work and queuing for jobs as
policemen or soldiers.
President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed news of
his death but, paradoxically, among those most pleased by his elimination
may be the other insurgent leaders. "He was an embarrassment to the
resistance," said Iraqi commentator Ghassan al-Attiyah. "They never liked
him taking all the limelight and the Americans exaggerated his role."
Zarqawi's rise was attributable to the US in two ways. His name was
unknown when he was denounced in 2003, by Secretary of State Colin Powell
before the UN Security Council as the link between Saddam Hussein and al
There was no evidence for this connection and Zarqawi did not at that
time belong to al Qaeda. But to Muslims, Powell's denunciation made Zarqawi
a symbol of resistance to the US. It also fitted Washington's political
agenda that attacking Iraq was part of the war on terror.
The invasion gave Zarqawi a further boost. Within months of the
overthrow of Hussein, Iraq's Sunni Arab community of five million appeared
united in opposition to the occupation. Armed resistance was popular and for
the first time Sunni militants known as the Salafi had a bedrock of support
The next critical moment in Zarqawi's career was the capture of Saddam
Hussein in December 2003. Previously, US military and civilian spokesmen
blamed everything on the former Iraqi leader.
No sooner was Saddam captured than the US spokesmen began to mention
Zarqawi's name in every sentence. It emerged this year that the US emphasis
on Zarqawi as the prime leader of the Iraqi resistance was part of a
carefully calculated propaganda programme.
A dubious letter from Zarqawi was conveniently discovered. One internal
briefing document quoted by the Washington Post records Brigadier General
Kimmitt, then-chief US military spokesman: "The Zarqawi psy-op programme is
the most successful information campaign to date."
The US campaign was largely geared towards the American public, aiming
to establish that the invasion of Iraq was a reasonable response to the
September 11 attacks.
This meant it was necessary to show that al Qaeda was strong in Iraq and
play down the fact that this had happened only after the invasion.
In an increasingly anti-American Arab world, hostility from the US made
it easy for Zarqawi to develop his own organisation and finance it.
The siege of Fallujah in April 2004 and the storming of the city by US
Marines in November led to al-Tawhid wal-Jihad - whose name was later
changed to al Qaeda's Organisation in Iraq - becoming a powerful force. The
suicide bombing campaign had already begun in November 2003 and from the
beginning was directed against Shiites as much as foreign troops or
Zarqawi's war was devised to have the maximum political impact. Actions
such as the beheading of foreign captives made him an enemy to America's
Although US military officials admitted that few insurgents were
non-Iraqi, Zarqawi's Jordanian origins were useful in suggesting that the
insurrection was orchestrated outside Iraq.
There were always going to be sectarian and ethnic differences between
Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds after Saddam's overthrow. But he also did much to
deepen sectarian hatred by killing Iraqi Shiites whenever he could.
This destabilised the Iraqi Government.
It also made his anti-Shiite fanaticism increasingly acceptable.
His death may lessen Shiite-Sunni sectarianism but it probably comes too
late. In the savage civil war taking place in Diyala, the province where he
was killed, Iraq's communities hunt each other down and those in the
minority are forced to flee, fight or die.