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Will Al-Zarqawi’s Death Fuel the Insurgency or Diminish It?

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U.S. and Iraqi officials have announced Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S.-Iraqi raid in Iraq on Wednesday. We speak with Robert Fisk, chief Middle East correspondent of the London Independent and Loretta Napoleoni, author of “Insurgent Iraq: Al Zarqawi and the New Generation.” [includes rush transcript]

U.S. and Iraqi officials have announced Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaida’s leader in Iraq, is dead. According to their account, Zarqawi was killed in a US-Iraqi raid near the town of Baquba on Wednesday. Another seven aides were also said to be killed in the attack. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said Zarqawi’s identity had been confirmed through fingerprints and facial identification. Zarqawi is said to have led attacks that killed scores of Iraqi civilians as well as U.S. troops. Zarqawi also claimed responsibility for several attacks outside Iraq, including the triple bombings that hit Jordan hotels last November. He was the most-wanted man in Iraq. The U.S. government had placed a $25 million dollar bounty on his head.

After the news of Zarqawi’s death, President Bush made a statement on the White House lawn.

  • President Bush, speaking June 8th in front of the White House.

In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke about the significance of the death of Zarqawi.

  • Tony Blair, British prime minister speaking in London.

Zarqawi’s role in Iraq has been the subject of much debate. Some analysts describe him as the leader of the insurgency in Iraq while others say his influence has been overblown. Some have questioned whether he even exists.

For more on the latest we are joined by two guests:

  • Robert Fisk, chief Middle East correspondent for the London Independent. He is author of several books, his latest is “The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East” He joins us on the line from Montreal.
  • Loretta Napoleoni, Italian economist and writer. She is the author of several books including “Insurgent Iraq: Al Zarqawi and the New Generation” and “Terror Incorporated: Tracing the Dollars Behind the Terror Networks.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to you, first, Robert Fisk in Montreal. Your response to this latest news about Zarqawi’s death?

ROBERT FISK: Well, we’ve heard so much myth about Zarqawi, I think it’s fairly clear he is dead. At least it’s true what we’re hearing. But what’s very interesting, listening to President Bush and Mr. Blair, is that they both say, well, the insurgency goes on and there’s many more deaths to come and things aren’t going to get that much better. It’s very good to have these little Hollywood moments, and one shouldn’t deny the fact that they exist; but if the insurgency is going to go on what does this really represent? You see, one of the big problems here is that we keep personalizing in this — there’s a French phrase: infantilisme, which means babyishness — in this babyish way. You know, our horror of the week, the man we hate, is, you know, Gamal Abdul Nasser, or Ayatollah Khomeini, or Osama Bin Laden, or whoever it may be. The fact of the matter is that I don’t think the personalities, per se, actually make a lot of difference anymore.

Someone said to me the other day in Beirut, where I live, you know, they said: Oh, well, you know, if they can just get Bin Laden it’s the end. And I don’t think it is, any more than it is with Zarqawi. You know, it’s a bit like someone invents the atom bomb, so you go around and you arrest all the nuclear scientists. It doesn’t matter. If the atom bomb exists, it’s there. That’s happened. And what’s happened now is that Al Qaeda exists. Whether you destroy or kill Zarqawi — who obviously was an extremely unpleasant person and a killer, and perhaps a sadistic killer — whether you kill Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda exists, the monster is with us. And there are other bigger issues we now have to address. And this constant beating of the breast by the Blairs and the Bushes of this world won’t make any difference to that. The only interesting thing which we didn’t use to hear so much of, is to hear these people proclaiming victory and then saying: But the insurgency goes on and there are many terrible things still to come. At least they’ve — they’re preparing us as well as themselves for the fact that this is not as significant a victory as they would claim.

AMY GOODMAN: Loretta Napoleoni, your response? Loretta?


AMY GOODMAN: Your response to the death of Zarqawi and also to Robert Fisk’s analysis of its significance?

LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Yes. Sorry, I lost you for a second. The line was not very good. Well, I think Robert is absolutely right. I mean, killing al-Zarqawi is not going to solve the problem. In fact, to be honest, I think killing al-Zarqawi is turning this individual into a super martyr. Because, let’s face it, it’s the first leader of Al Qaeda who’s actually died fighting, on the field, coalition forces. So tomorrow we’ll see the proliferation of the al-Zarqawi brigades. People who want to vindicate the death of the master.

Those who think that — what Robert said is very true about Al Qaeda. In fact, I wouldn’t talk so much about Al Qaeda, this so-called transnational organization which existed before 9/11. I would talk about Al Qaeda-ism, which is this new global anti-imperialist ideology , which has been embraced by the jihaddists, which has been created from the ashes of Al Qaeda, the transnational organization, through the fight in Iraq. In that, al-Zarqawi, a man we created out of nothing — because let’s not forget that al-Zarqawi was presented to the world as the link between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden on February 5, 2003, when in reality he wasn’t [audio lost] Al Qaeda. So I think, you know, this man has embodied the icon of Al Qaedaism, and in death he will be even more powerful than in life. So we have a very long way to win the — [audio lost]

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Fisk, I’m looking at a Washington Post piece from a while ago that talked about the Pentagon conducting a propaganda campaign to magnify the role of Zarqawi. Some military intelligence officials, believing the campaign may have exaggerated his importance, helped the Bush administration make the link between the Iraq war and the September 11th attacks reportedly used to build sentiment against non-U.S. foreigners in Iraq. One military briefing was entitled: 'Villainize Zarqawi, Leverage Xenophobia Response'. Another document lists, 'U.S. home audience' as a target audience for the campaign.

ROBERT FISK: Yeah, well, you see, this is a war, so you expect to go through this babyish-type nonsense. The fact is, that the Americans constantly said, you know, Zarqawi is the most evil, wicked, dangerous person in the history of the world, etc., in Iraq. And then they managed to produce the rough cuts of the famous video he made (or the infamous video) in which he couldn’t fire an AK-47 and needed help to unlock the new ammunition clip. Thus making him to be a fool. So either he’s a fool or he’s an evil and brilliant carrier-out of mass murder. You know, I can’t help but remember — because I’ve been reading recently about the Algerian war — the degree to which the French army kept announcing, between ’54 and ’62, that the killing or destruction or liquidation of FLN leaders meant that there was a severe blow to the terrorist campaign against the French in Algeria. And each time, the terrorist campaign, or the war of independence, or whatever you like to call it, just continued as it did before.

The fact of the matter is, that it is we, the public, who listen to all this nonsense, who are in a sense partly guilty of accepting and allowing people to turn these extremely unpleasant, vicious people into evil monsters of a kind that they don’t actually deserve to be because they are beneath that level. But, you know, this is nature of war I’m sorry to say. You only have to watch, for example, CNN this morning (as I had the misfortune to have to do here in Montreal) and then to remember as your — as, you know, our colleague rightly says from Italy, that this was supposed to be the link between Osama Bin Laden and — you know, and Saddam, which is complete nonsense. But no one remembers that story now. No one says: But hang on a minute! But hold on a minute! The odd thing is that, you know, we journalists continue to fail to do our job by not challenging the line, the narrative, that our authority sets down. We comment upon it, but we don’t challenge it. And that’s the problem with the whole Iraq war. The fact of the matter is, if you listen to Bush and Blair and those tapes again as your listeners undoubted will on the hour, what they’re saying is, this is a tremendous victory and everything will continue to be as bad as it was. That’s what this is about unfortunately.

AMY GOODMAN: Loretta Napoleoni, if you could just give us a thumbnail sketch of how Zarqawi rose to power in Iraq, starting in Jordan.

LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Well, for a start, al-Zarqawi met Osama Bin Laden in 2000 in Kandahar, and it was a meeting in which he refused to join Al Qaeda because he could not share Osama Bin Laden’s view of far-away enemy, i.e., the United States. He was very much focused on the existing Arab regimes, in particular Jordan. He managed to carve within the Taliban regime a very little niche —–a little camp in Herat, whereby, you know, he started to train future suicide bombers who would be active in Jordan [audio lost]. After the fall of the Taliban regime, he escaped in Iraqi Kurdistan, because he had some contacts there; and it was because of that, because of his presence there, that the Kurdish secret service alerted [audio lost] Al Qaeda man in Iraq had arrived. And, of course you know, that was false information. But the information was embraced by the United States because, in the moment in which they could not find proof of any weapons for mass destruction, the only chance they had to justify intervention in Iraq was to link Saddam Hussein with international terrorism, i.e. Al Qaeda.

So al-Zarqawi became that link, that fictitious link. And that was sufficient to transform a very small leader of an even smaller group of Jihadists into number two member of Al Qaeda in the world. That is really what made al-Zarqawi. From that moment, not only us in the West, but also people in the Muslim world believed that al-Zarqawi was the number two of Al Qaeda. So, people start flocking to join his insurgency. Money starts flowing towards that insurgency. So that was the beginning of the myth. And today we have not at all killed the myth. Unfortunately, because, you know, it’s very easy to create these myths. It’s very, very difficult to destroy them.

AMY GOODMAN: On that note, I want to thank you very much, Loretta Napoleoni, for joining us. Author of: Insurgent Iraq: al-Zarqawi and the New Generation as well as the book, Terror Incorporated, speaking to us from Italy. And Robert Fisk, author of: The Great War for Civilization, Middle-East correspondent for the London Independent joining us from an airport in Montreal. Have a good trip.

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