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Thursday, June 08, 2006 

So. Farewell then Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi.

Well, the seemingly unkillable has met his end. Despite numerous former reports about the terrorist leader being killed, losing limbs or generally not being in the land of the living, two 500lb bombs were dropped on a house where he was staying, killing him and 5 others in the process, although his body seems to be rather intact considering how badly the house itself has been destroyed.

Although there is no doubting that al-Zarqawi was in some ways a bogeyman for the coalition forces in Iraq, he certainly was involved in the planning of suicide bombings and of sectarian violence. No one should weep any tears for the loss of such a brutal, despicable man, and unlike the recent attack in Pakistan aimed at killing al-Qaida's second in command, it seems that by contrast such a strike can be justified, although whether the parading of his body is either wise or in good taste is questionable.

What should be examined now is just how much of the blame for the violence in Iraq can actually be blamed either on him or on his grouping. While his organisation was renamed al-Qaida in Iraq, mainly for the purpose of intimidating and frightening Westerners and Iraqis alike, it's unclear whether Zarqawi had any genuine links to real al-Qaida supporters or not. Zarqawi himself, according to Juan Cole, had originally been critical of al-Qaida, and had been if anything, a rival to that so-called organisation. Zarqawi's past is also eye-opening; he was apparently an out of control young man in Jordan, which would seemingly explain his tattoos. Like Sayyid Qutb, who many consider the starting block for what became the radical Islamist movement, he became fully radicalised in jail, (Qutb visited American society and found himself disgusted by it, which led to the beginnings of his own radicalism; he was hanging in Egypt in 1966) before going to Afghanistan where according to today's Guardian obituary he edited a magazine for demobilised mujaheddin in the aftermath of the CIA-backed and funded war against the Soviets, and met bin Laden.

Also of note is the supposed letter from al-Zawahiri, the aforementioned second in command of what remains of al-Qaida, which told al-Zarqawi in no uncertain terms what he was doing wrong. Zawahiri denounced the beheadings carried out, including that of Ken Bigley, whom it has constantly been rumoured was personally decapitated by Zarqawi. Zawahiri told him that he risked losing the support of those who opposed the occupation of Iraq in the Middle East. It's unknown whether Zarqawi responded to Zawahiri's criticisms.

What is known is that Washington was involved in a demonisation and propaganda campaign against Zarqawi, highly overstating his actual involvement in everyday attacks both on Iraqi civilians and coalition forces. Donald Rumsfeld continued that campaign even today, when he said that of Zarqawi: "arguably no other single person on the planet had more blood of innocent men women and children on his hands in recent years."

As a result, we have inevitably had various people reporting today that his death marks yet another turning point. We shall have to see, although it seems doubtful. The death of one man, especially one whose reputation had been massively inflated, does seem like a sort of victory, much like the capture of Saddam Hussein for a while had everyone thinking that the insurgency would fade away. It didn't. Zarqawi will soon no doubt be having his image sold in certain parts of the Middle East, maybe in the way that Che Guevara's image has become ubiquitous in the west. He might have his 77 virgins. We still have to pick up the pieces of a country which we have helped destroy.

Update: I'm going to paste the following from a post on Comment is Free by SimonRalli, who has more spare time than I do:
Let's check I have this right!

Lost a leg in 2002 (but US later changed their tune)

Killed in March 2004

Came back to life to personally behead Nick Berg (post-Abu Ghraib photo release)
(interesting as no one in that video appeared to be handicapped - Zarqawi had one leg amputated)

Killed again in Oct. 2004

Seriously injured or killed in May 2005

Zarqawi shot in chest/lung in May 2005

Killed and body in Falluja cemetery in June 2005

And now killed again in Nov. 2005

Baghdad imam says Zarqawi killed at beginning of US invasion

Backed up by this March 2004 article

Update 2: Corrected some erroneous details.

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