Zarqawi Killed in Baquba
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced Thursday morning that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had been killed, along with 7 aides, in a US airstrike. [Early press reports incorrecting reported the death came in a gun battle with US and Iraqi troops at Baqubah].
Zarqawi had been a significant leader of the Salafi Jihadi radical strain of Islamist volunteers in Iraq, and had succeeded in spreading his ideas to local Iraqis in places like Ramadi. He engaged in grandstanding when he renamed his group “al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia,” even though he had early been critical of al-Qaeda and had a long rivalry with it. For background, see the Zarqawi file.
There is no evidence of operational links between his Salafi Jihadis in Iraq and the real al-Qaeda; it was just a sort of branding that suited everyone, including the US. Official US spokesmen have all along over-estimated his importance. Leaders are significant and not always easily replaced. But Zarqawi has in my view has been less important than local Iraqi leaders and groups. I don’t expect the guerrilla war to subside any time soon.
Baqubah is dangerous not because of Zarqawi but because it is a mixed Sunni-Shiite and Kurdish area that had Baath military installations and arms depots, and enough Sunni Arabs from the old regime know about them to work them against rising Shiite and Kurdish dominance.
On the other hand, there have been persistent reports of a split between the main arm of the guerrilla resistance, the Sunni Arab Iraqis, and Zarqawi’s group.
Al-Hayat reports today [Ar.] that groups in Fallujah have launched attacks on Zarqawi followers there after the latter attacked the al-Husain Mosque in the Askari quarter two days ago, destroying the tomb of the founder of the mosque within it. (Salafis influenced by Saudi Wahhabism despise attendance at saints tombs, insisting on a Protestant-like elimination of all intermediaries between human beings and God. Many Islamists in Fallujah are actually Sufis, who value saints in the way rural Catholics do.) An attempt by the radical Salafis to destroy the mosque (on the grounds that it had been tainted with polytheism) was stopped by the “1920 Revolution Brigades,” a local ex-Baathist group. There was a running gun battle between the two.
Zarqawi’s group had also tried two days ago to attack a Fallujah police station, but they were repulsed by local tribal youth. The battle left two cars burned and 4 dead from the tribe of Al-Bu `Isa.