In Death, Zarqawi’s Influence Remains A Matter of Debate

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We continue our coverage of what Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s death will mean for Iraq. Arun Gupta, editor with the New York City Independent Media Center’s newspaper, The Indypendent, joins us with his analysis. [includes transcript]

To talk more about the impact Zarqawi’s death will have on the Iraqi resistance and the ongoing war in Iraq we are also joined by Arun Gupta, an editor and reporter at the New York newspaper The Indypendent.

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

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the impact of Zarqawi’s death and what it will do to the Iraqi resistance and the ongoing war in Iraq, we’re joined by Arun Gupta, an editor and reporter in New York for the newspaper the Indypendent. Welcome, Arun.

ARUN GUPTA: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response?

ARUN GUPTA: Well, I think it’s important to understand that Zarqawi’s death may not diminish the resistance as the Bush administration hopes. It may, in fact, just end up doing the exact opposite, stoking the resistance. By way of analogy, I would point to the capture of Saddam Hussein in December of 2003. There was a lot of cheering back then from the Bush administration and supporters of war saying that this was going to deal a mortal blow to the resistance. Now of course, almost two and a half years later after that, there’s a lot less bombast from the Bush administration. They’ve declared victory about 10 different times now in Iraq, from “mission accomplished,” to the elections, to the transfer of power, to the capture of Saddam Hussein. But when he was captured, you heard from a lot of Iraqis saying that this would actually increase the resistance to the occupation because those who oppose the occupation could no longer be painted as Saddam loyalists.

I think you may, in fact, see the same phenomena happen with the death of al-Zarqawi. He was someone who clearly did stoke sectarian war in Iraq. He did divide the nation. I think the sectarian — it’s too late to put the genie back in the bottle, of sectarian and civil war. But there are a lot of resistance groups who were opposed to his strategy of attacking Shiites and a Shiite monuments and places of significance, and they argued for more of a national religious struggle against the occupation. So I think you’ll see those groups strengthen. It’s also important to understand that there are all sorts of networks. There’s an insurgency of insurgencies within Iraq. There isn’t one single group. There are many major networks, of which Al Qaeda was one of them. And according to research done by the SITE Institute, what these networks would do is they would sponsor smaller groups. They would provide them with a certain amount of training, of funding of weapons. They would promote their activities, and then the sponsoring of network, like Al Qaeda or the Islamic Army, they would then put out the propaganda under their own name to make it appear that they had a broader reach.

All these small groups, of which there may be hundreds, are not going to go away. They’ll just find new sponsors. They’ll continue their activity. And what we really have in place now is a whole nexus of wars. That’s also very important to understand within Iraq, that there isn’t just the counterinsurgency war and essentially guerilla resistance. We also have various sectarian wars between Shia and Sunni, between Arab and Kurd. There’s also political struggles that are going on, open warfare, like what’s happening in Basra. You also have a dirty war going on which the U.S. deliberately stoked by organizing death squads in Iraq. You also have a tremendous amount of criminal activity, and none of this is going to go away.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, death squads?

ARUN GUPTA: The U.S. in the fall of 2003 set up different units, initially grouped under the special police commandos, which was a force of the Interior Ministry. And initially, they were drawn from Baathist ex-special forces under Saddam Hussein, and they were armed and trained to essentially go after the insurgents and to kill people. And there was — there’s been a lot of evidence that they’ve been killing Sunni Arabs indiscriminately throughout Iraq, and the U.S. armed them, they funded them, they trained them, and a lot of this is in U.S. government documents and Pentagon documents showing how they did this. And it was part of a deliberate strategy to try and break the back of the insurgency.

It’s called the Salvadorization of Iraq, referring to the use of death squads in El Salvador. It’s similar to the Phoenix Program that the U.S. used during the Vietnam War, to try and target those that it wasn’t able to go after. On the battlefield, the idea is that an indigenous security force is going to have better intelligence, but what happens is anyone who they capture is immediately guilty, and they’re indiscriminately killed. And this is one of the legacies that the U.S. has now left Iraq with. I think to a degree, the death squads have spun out of U.S. control, but the U.S. is still also funding them. That this is something — there’s a lot of argument, well, now that the Shiites are in control, now that they control the Interior Ministry, the Shiites are responsible for it. But again, if you go through the simple documentation, like these budget appropriations bills, who’s providing these police units with their funding? Who’s providing them with their weapons? Who’s providing with their transportation, their communication, their bases? It’s the U.S. government who’s paying for it all.

So the U.S. knows that this is going on, but they’re using it as a tool because they think it’s an effective way to suppress the insurgency. And to a degree, you can see in some areas where the resistance has been suppressed, but all that happens is they move on to a new area. The rate of U.S. deaths has really not diminished at all over the last three years, and that’s despite the fact that the Pentagon has used virtually every weapon and tactic in its arsenal, has spent over $10 billion trying to create Iraqi security forces that are barely operational at best, and that has also resulted in the deaths of perhaps up to 200,000 Iraqi civilians and 2,700 foreign troops. And yet, about two U.S. soldiers continue to die every day, indicating that the resistance is still resilient.

AMY GOODMAN: Arun Gupta, you’ve also been writing about the killings in Haditha, in Ishaqi. Can you talk about your response?

ARUN GUPTA: Sure, I think it is important to understand that those are aberrations. And what’s really important to realize is that it obscures how the war itself is just an ongoing massacre. Most Iraqis are killed by bombings, coalition air strikes, at checkpoints, in accidents, during raids. There isn’t this deliberate campaign of U.S. troops going out and slaughtering Iraqi residents in their homes. By focusing on this, it plays a certain convenient role for the Pentagon. That they can say, well, these are the aberrations, just as in Abu Ghraib, this is just a few bad apples, rather than dealing with the fact that the whole war itself is just one great massacre.

Like I said, perhaps 200,000 Iraqi civilians have died. That comes from Les Roberts, who authored the Lancet study on increased mortality in Iraq in the fall of 2004. At that point, they came to a conclusion that 100,000 Iraqis had died, with about a 95% certainty, through a statistical sampling. This past February, before the outbreak of open civil war, he said 200,000 or more Iraqis civilians have died violent deaths. In the initial study, he said 80% had died from coalition air strikes. So we have 80,000 Iraqi civilians by this study’s estimates dying from coalition air strikes in the first 18 months in the war. So what you have is incidents like Haditha and a related one in a village north of Baghdad, Ishaqi, are the aberrations. You have — they are tragedies, they are war crimes. But we have to understand that the whole way the war is prosecuted is one ongoing war crime.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Arun Gupta, I want to thank you very much for being with us, editor of the Indypendent in New York.

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