Zarqawi is dead, and good riddance to him.
But while the Bush Administration crows about getting Zarqawi’s scalp, forgive me if I’m skeptical that this somehow marks a decisive turn in Iraq’s civil war.
Iraqis, even many Iraqi insurgents, hated Zarqawi.
And who wouldn’t?
Here’s a guy who specialized in blowing up innocent Iraqis in Baghdad markets.
For fun, he planted bombs at Jordanian wedding receptions.
He was even too brutal for Al Qaeda. And that’s saying something. Osama’s right hand man scolded Zarqawi and told him to curb his appetite for innocent blood.
Amid Bush’s celebration, let’s recall a couple of other things.
First, the Bush Administration had Zarqawi located in northern Iraq prior to the war and the CIA wanted to take him out but Bush’s war planners overruled it, Jim Miklaszewski of NBC reported more than two years ago.
The Washington Monthly confirmed and elaborated on this story earlier this spring.
Before the war, Zarqawi was evidently more useful to Bush alive than dead, as the Administration saw in him the missing propaganda link between Osama and Saddam.
Second, more and more, the violence in Iraq has not primarily been Zarqawi’s, but homegrown sectarian strife, even according to U.S. military personnel.
“Our own focus on Zarqawi has enlarged his caricature, if you will—made him more important than he really is, in some ways. The long-term threat is not Zarqawi or religious extremists, but these former regime types and their friends,” said Col. Derek Harvey of U.S. military intelligence last summer, accord to an April 10 report by Thomas E. Ricks of The Washington Post entitled: “Military Plays Up Role of Zarqawi.”
That article begins: “The U.S. military is conducting a propaganda campaign to magnify the role of the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. . . .
The effort has raised his profile in a way that some military intelligence officials believe may have overstated his importance and helped the Bush Administration tie the war to the organization responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.”
There were other signs that Zarqawi was losing popularity even among Sunni insurgents.
“Earlier this year, a new central body called the Mujahideen Council was formed to try to unify parts of the insurgency, but Zarqawi's name was not mentioned,” the BBC reports. “If Zarqawi was being bypassed, that indicates perhaps that other elements were growing stronger and are therefore not going to be affected by his absence.”
While the BBC story says there's a chance Zarqawi's death may lessen the sectarian violence, which would be a blessing, there's also the possibility that it will have virtually no effect.
And third, the animosity towards the U.S. grows with each new revelation about U.S. atrocities.
That is not going to go away, even with Zarqawi off the scene. In fact, the insurgency may focus more of its attention now on the U.S. military, rather than on the attacks on civilians that were Zarqawi’s bloody calling card.
“We have tough days ahead of us,” Bush said, knowing that he’s invoked the promise of a turning point at least once or twice too often. “We can expect the terrorists and insurgents to carry on without him.”
Like the capture of Saddam, like the killing of his sons, the death of Zarqawi will not end the civil war in Iraq.