Mark Alexander / June 9, 2006

Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi: Rest in pieces

As all know well by now, al-Qa'ida’s man in Iraq, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, and seven of his closest friends, had a bad hair day Wednesday, courtesy of 1,000 pounds of precision-guided American ordnance. Zarqawi had been responsible for hundreds of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings across Iraq since 2004, perfecting the use of television and the Internet as tools for the conveyance of terror. It is a propos, then, that his demise was broadcast on television and the Internet for all to see.

His demise is significant for two basic reasons: Strategic security and, regrettably, politics.

Politically, in the run-up to November, any good news from Iraq is bad news for Democrats. In fact, any good news about anything is bad news for the Demos; they are, after all, the party of disenfranchised victim constituencies.

The Patriot has, over the past months, detailed the Democrats’ strategy for the elections: In addition to painting Republicans as the “party of corruption,” the Left has attempted to hijack national-security issues, traditionally the GOP’s bread and butter. By talking tough on terrorism and portraying the Republican handling of the war in Iraq as foolhardy and incompetent, Democrats hope to win over enough independents to defeat the GOP in tight races and reclaim majorities in Congress.

The most recent Democrat efforts in this vein have proven largely successful. First, there was the Dubai Ports imbroglio, in which Demos put forth a litany of bogus reasons why an ally in the war on terrorism constituted a threat to our nation’s port security. Then there was the seemingly endless march of Clintonista generals decrying the Bush-Rumsfeld war-fighting strategy. To put it bluntly, the Left has endangered American troops in the field and American citizens at home by politicizing issues of vital national security.

The reaction from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid to Zarqawi’s termination was typical of the Left’s unenthusiastic response: “Zarqawi – God knows it’s a hard thing for me to say about any human being, but – he got what he deserved.” This must be particularly hard to say, we suppose, when it is an Operation Iraqi Freedom success story.

More disturbing still was the Demo-memo reaction from Michael Berg, father of businessman Nick Berg, one of at least two Americans believed to have been beheaded by Zarqawi personally. After first dismissing Zarqawi’s death as a ploy of the Bush administration, he later declared, “I don’t think Zarqawi is himself responsible for the killings of hundreds of thousands [sic] of people in Iraq. George Bush is. George Bush is the one that invaded this country. George Bush is the one that destabilized it so that Zarqawi could get in, so that Zarqawi had to meet the American invaders.”

Berg, the product of the Left’s well-cultivated anti-war, Bush-hating camp, has taken the Cindy Sheehan model of politicizing a son’s tragic death to a whole new level. Not content to be an “anti-war activist,” Berg is running for Congress.

The political side of Zarqawi’s death notwithstanding, the strategic security side, by contrast, offers more assurances.

The good news is that this thuggish cutthroat’s death is more than a minor bump in the road for al-Qa'ida’s Jihadi front in Iraq. The death of Zarqawi and his high-level al-Qa'ida lieutenants, including his “spiritual advisor,” effectively decapitates al-Qa'ida’s insurgency operation – at least temporarily. Additionally, 20 other safe houses were raided and hordes of intelligence and suspected insurgents were captured. Given the breadth of these counterstrikes, it’s probable that al-Qa'ida has a significant number of defectors now providing intelligence on the insurgency. Al-Qa'ida’s circle of trust is shrinking.

As we know, however, al-Qa'ida is highly decentralized and insurgent cells operate in semi-autonomy, self-authorizing many of their own targets and tactics. These Islamists will see Zarqawi’s death not only as a glorious martyrdom, but – more strategically – as a mobilizing opportunity for more would-be Jihadis set on revenge. As al-Qa'ida’s website proclaimed, his death “will only increase our persistence in continuing holy war so that the word of god will be supreme.”

Beyond a slackening in the insurgency, Zarqawi’s death may also bring a new round of infighting within al-Qa'ida’s Iraqi infrastructure, with new fractures in the Jihadi movement as a result. Such divisions compromise the insurgency’s effectiveness and can make recruitment more difficult. At the same time, the erasure of Zarqawi serves as a shot in the arm to the new Iraqi government, whose citizens provided essential intelligence for the kill and whose armed forces played a high-profile role in the operation. The jubilation on the streets of Baghdad speaks for itself.

Perhaps even more encouraging than Zarqawi’s demise is the political reality that Iraqis are slowly but steadily taking responsibility for their country’s governance and security. After weeks of deadlock, Iraq’s parliament agreed Wednesday on nominees for the critical and, until now, vacant posts of defense minister, interior minister and national security advisor.

The selection was a real exercise in nation-building for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who gave the Defense Ministry to a Sunni, Interior to a Shi'ite, and the NSA spot to a Kurd. Confirmed by its Parliament, Iraq now has a complete government for the first time since parliamentary elections in December 2005. With these key posts now filled, and with Zarqawi’s carcass now at room temperature, the path has been paved for a reduction in sectarian violence and a greater degree of cooperation between Iraq’s Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish populations.

Of course, Iraq is only one front in “The Long War”, the global war against Islamist terrorism. Just this week, Iran’s president reaffirmed his terror-sponsoring regime’s refusal to forego its enrichment of weapons-grade uranium, Somalia’s al-Qa'ida-connected Jihadis overran U.S.-backed elements to take control of that country’s capital, Mogadishu, and 17 Jihadis were nabbed before executing a series of deadly attacks against targets in none other than Canada. It’s a long war. One battle at a time.

(A special note of thanks to all our uniformed Patriots and Allies in the region who made today’s essay possible!)

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