Will Al Zarqawi's death change anything in Iraq?

He had no known history before the US gave him this halo. He did not stand out in the Afghan war in the 1980s like others who accompanied Osama Bin Laden

Gulf News

One of the most prominent events that took place in Iraq lately was the killing of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi.

The news of his death attracted interest in the Middle East because of the grave events of the past three years in Iraq and Al Zarqawi's role in them, which was blown out of proportion by the US media.

The US media gave the impression that people were seeing a leader who was like Osama Bin Laden in strength and the ability to evade capture while inflicting painful blows to his enemies.

We are also unaware of the reason behind the US army officer displaying the picture of a dead Al Zarqawi in a golden frame.

Apart from Al Zarqawi's death, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani announced that an agreement with some armed groups in Iraq might be eminent.

The US and Iraqi forces also intend to jointly sweep different areas around Baghdad and Ramadi, in the centre of Al Anbar province, in an operation similar to the one that was carried out in Fallujah two years ago.

All this suggests that Iraqi security forces are entering a new phase in putting an end to the devastating violence and lawlessness.

Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki intends to adopt a carrot and stick approach in dealing with the situation force with whoever is behind the bloodshed and conducting a dialogue with groups that refrain from accepting this situation.

Hence some optimists expect that Al Zarqawi's death will make Iraq stable more quickly.

The coming months will wipe out any speculations in this respect, as the situation in Iraq is extremely complex and the number of players is high all with different agendas.

In reality, the Iraqi security situation is as important in the White House as in Baghdad's Green Zone.

In an article published in Al Sharq Al Awsat newspaper on June 10, Thomas L. Friedman wrote that Al Zarqawi's death was a turning point for both Iraq and the US.

This might be an exaggeration, but looking deeper into US politics, we can get a sense of reality.

Al Zarqawi had no known history before the Americans gave him this halo in Iraq, he did not stand out in the Afghan war in the 1980s like others who accompanied Bin Laden and he was also not a distinguished idealogue.

Al Zarqawi was keen on linking himself with Bin Laden because of the latter's status in the fundamentalist world.

Not in harmony

And in all possibility, Bin Laden did not appoint Al Zarqawi outright to lead Al Qaida in the land of two rivers, but rather Al Zarqawi imposed himself in this position.

His activities and methods were not in total harmony with Bin Laden's and Al Zawahiri's tactics, both of whom concentrate on fighting people they call "crusaders", meaning non-Muslims.

Al Zarqawi's fall was expected, with the shrinking of his area of operation and as the sympathy of the western region's tribes decreased.

Hence, he moved out of his location that overlooked the desert, away from the Jordanian border, towards the eastern parts of Iraq.

He went to Diala, a place that is an ethnic mix of Arabs and Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis a place that cannot be considered an ideal location for a long duration of time.

And this is where he was killed, in a remote town not far from the Iranian border. Al Zarqawi's tactics and methods (of killing Iraqis) were no longer acceptable to other armed groups.

The explosion that took place in a Ramadi police station in the second half of 2005 was the last straw, as scores of Iraqis from Ramadi were killed.

Al Zarqawi's death was a first class success for the intelligence community, as the direct circle around Al Zarqawi was penetrated, and one of the persons close to him wanted to collect the bounty.

But if this is true, then why was the operation carried out in this way? And why did the Americans prefer killing him instead of arresting him?

Undoubtedly, such a high-prized individual would be invaluable if captured alive, considering the information he could provide about Al Qaida in Iraq and possibly elsewhere. This is a mystery that will remain unsolved.

Many groups benefited from Al Zarqawi's death, but the greatest beneficiary is the Iraqi government that sees in his death a strong blow to fundamentalists.

The other beneficiary is US President George W. Bush who is in dire need currently of a mega victory to regain the popular support he lost long ago, especially with the coming Congress elections in November.

It is a known fact that the Democrats are not considered to be as strong on security issues as the the Republicans. But they are better when it comes to the economy and public services, both of which interest voters.

Americans feel secure when Republicans are in power. Nevertheless, as Friedman mentions in his article, US polls have shown that more and more people now trust the Democrats on security issues.

The US president won the last presidential elections as a result of the security fears that followed 9/11.

So Al Zarqawi's death will be used to back this assumption and to emphasise that the US army is safer in Iraq today after Al Zarqawi. But what the US public opinion does not fully comprehend is that Al Zarqawi rarely killed Americans, preferring to kill Iraqis joining the police and army.

Dr Mohammad Akef Jamal is an Iraqi writer living in Dubai.