Al-Ahram Weekly Online   22 - 28 June 2006
Issue No. 800
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Amin Howeidi

The death of Zarqawi

The elimination under US fire of the head of Al-Qaeda in Iraq gives Amin Howeidi* pause to reflect on the motives and methods of two seemingly opposed forces

I don't know much about Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi to offer you additional insight into his life and death. But I would like to discuss the role he played in the current conflict. The man has lived and died in the midst of hardship and turmoil. Even his real name is not one that many remember. Ahmed Fadil Nazzal Al-Khalayla was a member of the Bani Hassan clan, one of Jordan's major tribes. Terror experts called him the joker, for he was a bit of a wild card. I prefer to call him the lame, for he had lost a foot while fighting in Afghanistan. Even in death, he remains controversial. Some see him as a criminal who left a trail of mayhem and destruction wherever he went. Others see him as a freedom fighter. These days, people differ a lot when it comes to making a distinction between terrorists and heroes. Often victims are depicted as culprits and vice versa.

Zarqawi died at 6.15am the morning of Wednesday 7 June in a house in Habhab, close to the town of Baquba. Two F-16s bombed the house, then Iraqi and US troops were sent in to comb the site. Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki announced the news at a press conference attended by George Casey, the commanding general of coalition forces in Iraq, and Zalmay Khalilzad, US ambassador to Baghdad. President Bush also held a news conference in Washington to tell the world that Zarqawi was no more. The US president said he was to discuss the future of US deployment in Iraq via videoconference with the Iraqi prime minister and the US ambassador to Baghdad.

I believe that the US president, as usual, was too hasty in assessing the outcome of Zarqawi's death. Desperate to boost his sagging popularity, President Bush portrayed the killing of Zarqawi as a turning point in the conflict. I find this somewhat hard to believe. With the US still embroiled on two fronts, Afghanistan and Iraq, perhaps it's too early to celebrate.

Zarqawi killed and beheaded, bombed and destroyed. All this is true. It is also true that the US administration has invaded Iraq, destroyed it, and tore it apart. It is a known fact that US soldiers committed massacres in Falluja and Haditha, used internationally banned white phosphorus, and tortured detainees in Guantanamo, Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The US has flown detainees to secret prisons in Europe. And Washington backs Israel, the world's foremost terrorist state.

What interests me is why Zarqawi acted this way, and why the US is engaged in such actions. What were their goals, and how much of what they have done can be called self-defence? And what about the use of disproportionate force by all sides? Let me start by recalling the manner in which Zarqawi met his end. F-16s dropped 500-pound bombs on a home before troops on the ground moved in on the scene, just to retrieve the body of Zarqawi and a handful of aides. No one can call this proportionate force, but Zarqawi had become such a catch that the Americans didn't care how much force was used.

Zarqawi's death, just as his life, tells us that what matters is not the method, but the outcome. Destruction can be wrought by planes and rockets same as by booby-trapped cars and suicide bombers. When a small fighting force engages a much bigger one, everyone is likely to use unconventional methods. This may explain why Zarqawi's outfit used disproportionate brutality all the way.

Small powers can hold off much bigger power if they had the determination to do so. Vietnam fought back the US. Egypt repulsed the tripartite aggression in 1956. Afghanistan sent the Soviets backing. Iraqi resistance hopes to do the same. Martyr or terrorist, Zarqawi is no more. But will his killing give the US a break? Only time can tell.

* The writer is former minister of defence and chief of General Intelligence.

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