"Zarqawi will be dead soon," two of his disgruntled Jordanian supporters told me in March. "He will be betrayed by his own men."
And that's likely what happened last week. Tipped off that Iraq's most wanted man was in a rural house, U.S. aircraft bombed it, killing some of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's top aides, a woman and a child. Who will collect the $25-million bounty offered by the U.S. remains to be seen.
Zarqawi, the poster boy of so-called Islamic terrorism, was born in Zarqa, a Jordanian of Palestinian refugee parents. He came closest to fitting the term "terrorist" of anyone since the late, unlamented mass killer, Abu Nidal.
Both were vicious mad dogs who revelled in mass violence and cruel executions. They quickly forgot political goals and devoted themselves to wanton, often aimless bloodshed.
Few will miss Zarqawi. But his assassination is not "a major victory against al-Qaida," as U.S. President George Bush claimed.
Contrary to erroneous reports in the western media, Zarqawi's so-called "al-Qaida in Iraq" was not truly part of Osama bin Laden's movement.
After the U.S. invaded Iraq, Zarqawi, who had been a member of an anti-Saddam militant group, set up his own small radical group. In a clever ploy to achieve instant notoriety, Zarqawi proclaimed it "al-Qaida in Iraq."
The real al-Qaida was most displeased by Zarqawi's brazen trademark infringement. This deception was enhanced by faked letters "intercepted" by U.S. forces claiming to show Zarqawi was acting under bin Laden's direct orders.
Along with his deputy, Dr. Ayman Zawahiri, bin Laden strongly opposed Zarqawi's bloody attacks on Muslim civilians, his decapitations of hostages as "un-Islamic."
Iraq's 20-odd resistance groups battling U.S.-British occupation also strongly denounced Zarqawi's murderous car and truck bombing rampages aimed at igniting a civil war between Sunnis, Shias and Kurds.
Numerous Iraqi resistance leaders and some Arab media even claimed Zarqawi and his henchmen were covert "agents provocateurs" working for the U.S. and Britain to stir up ethnic tensions as part of Britain's old "divide and rule" techniques.
This sounded far-fetched until the arrest in Basra of British SAS commandos armed with explosives and disguised as Arabs, leading many to believe Zarqawi's men were western double agents.
Assuming Zarqawi is well and truly dead, what now? First, he will be unmourned. Zarqawi was universally hated and feared.
Ironically, the only people who may miss him are the Bush administration's pro-war neocons, who claimed Zarqawi was part of al-Qaida, and thus justified the U.S. invasion of Iraq as a key part of the so-called "war on terrorism."
Zarqawi and his men spent most of their time killing Iraqi civilians. The majority of attacks on U.S. occupation forces in Iraq are conducted by former members of Saddam's military, Baath Party, and other small underground nationalist groups like Nasserites and anti-Saddam nationalists.
So Zarwaqi's death may mean fewer murderous attacks on civilians, but is unlikely to take the heat off U.S.-British occupation forces. In fact, his death might even promote better Sunni-Shia relations, allowing for the emergence of a more independent-minded Iraqi government that could increasingly reject Washington's near-total "guidance."
The first small but significant hints of such independence emerged last week as the new Baghdad government openly complained about the slaughter of Iraqi civilians by U.S. troops.
The Iraqi resistance is fragmented into more than a score of shadowy groups. No single leader has yet emerged. Now that Zarqawi appears gone, the U.S. will need to find another demonic figure with which to keep selling the war to Americans at home, 75% of whom still amazingly believe Saddam Hussein launched the 9/11 attacks.
Assassinating Zarqawi will give Bush a short-lived bump in the polls. But in the longer run, killing him was maybe not such a great idea. For the U.S., Zarqawi was far more useful alive. Iraqis, however, will be universally better off.
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