His real name was Ahmed Fadel Nazal al-Khalayleh; Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the name the world knows, was just a nom de guerre. Born in Zarqa, Jordan — hence “Zarqawi,” meaning “man from Zarqa” — he’d reportedly already done a little time in prison when he traveled to Afghanistan in 1989 at the age of 23. The Soviets he’d come to fight were already leaving, but Osama bin Laden, the man who would later proclaim him “the prince of al Qaeda in Iraq,” was still there, and the man from Zarqa began working as a reporter for an Islamist newspaper, proceeding quickly to jihad; he was arrested in Jordan in 1992 for plotting to overthrow the monarchy. Upon his release seven years later, he promptly plotted to blow up a Radisson hotel in Amman frequented by American and Israeli tourists. When the plot was exposed, he fled to Pakistan, near the Afghan border, and in short order set up a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan. Reportedly, Osama bin Laden gave him $200,000 in 1999 to build a terrorist organization in Jordan.
Zarqawi returned to Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks, then moved to Iran to regroup with terrorist allies. He settled in northern Iraq in 2002, apparently with the tacit approval of Saddam Hussein. Zarqawi reportedly received medical care at a Baghdad hospital that served the Baathist elite, and according to Jordan’s King Abdullah, Saddam refused to help Jordan when he was asked to aid in Zarqawi’s extradition.
Since the U.S. invasion, Zarqawi has been responsible for thousands of killings in Iraq as the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. In a 2004 audiotape, bin Laden instructed his followers to “to listen to [Zarqawi] and obey him in his good deeds.”
Now Zarqawi is dead. Iraqi terrorism won’t stop, of course. Al Qaeda in Iraq is a group of cells that operate with some independence, not an army that holds still without commands from a general, and in any case Zarqawi will probably be replaced by the Egyptian Abu Hamza al-Masri. But terrorist morale, inside and outside of al Qaeda in Iraq, won’t be helped by the death of the world’s most visible terrorist spokesman. And the intelligence used to track down Zarqawi seems to have come from within his own organization. Every villain in Iraq will now be looking over his shoulder for a traitor in his midst. And indeed, the intel is flowing freely these days. In March of 2005, there were four hundred tips from Iraqis about terrorist activity. This March, there were over four thousand such tips.
JUST AFTER ANNOUNCING that Zarqawi had been “terminated,” Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made an equally important announcement: Three key security ministries in al-Maliki’s cabinet have, after a prolonged deadlock, finally been filled. The Iraqi parliament had not yet agreed on who to elect for Minister of Defense, Minister of the Interior, and Minister of State for National Security. Now that they have — they are Gen. Abdel Qader Jassim, Jawad Bolani, and Shirwan al-Waili, respectively, a Sunni and two Shiites (in that order) — the government can get on with the business of governing. The combination of the cabinet breakthrough and the Zarqawi capture is a boost to al-Maliki, who has new credibility in warning sectarian factions against violence.
“As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down”: Thus has President Bush repeatedly characterized the strategy for victory in Iraq. For the Iraqis, the job of standing up is now a bit easier.
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