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U.S., Iraqi Leaders Hail al-Zarqawi Death

June 8, 2006 at 6:20 PM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: Now, a terrorist and his legacy, and to correspondent Kwame Holman.

KWAME HOLMAN: The truck bomb was massive, destroying the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad and killing its top diplomat, along with 21 others. That attack in August 2003 marked the beginning of a full-throated insurgency in Iraq against the U.S. and coalition occupation.

At the time, few people knew the mastermind of the attack. But within a month, the name of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi became a very familiar one.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: Al-Zarqawi, an al-Qaida operative…

KWAME HOLMAN: Today, the death of the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq was heralded by Mr. Bush and his top officials as a victory in the war on terror.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Zarqawi was the operational commander of the terrorist movement in Iraq. He led a campaign of car bombings, assassinations and suicide attacks that has taken the lives of many American forces and thousands of innocent Iraqis.

Osama bin Laden called this Jordanian terrorist the prince of al-Qaida in Iraq; he called on the terrorists around the world to listen to him and obey him.

DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. Secretary of Defense: Over the last several years, no single person on this planet has had the blood of more innocent men, women and children on his hands than Zarqawi.

He personified the dark, sadistic and medieval vision of the future, of beheadings, suicide bombings, and indiscriminate killings, a behavior pattern that has been rejected by the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people, whether Sunni, Shias or Kurds, and certainly by the overwhelming majority of Muslims worldwide.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Jordanian militant has been blamed for numerous violent incidents since the U.N. attack. Their dramatic effect dominated much of the news coming out of Iraq and was considered a key element in the escalation of violence between Sunni and Shia Arabs, such as this attack last January on a police station in the Shiite city of Karbala.

At least 130 Iraqis were killed. The blast came just weeks after Iraq’s parliamentary election.

A Sunni Arab, Zarqawi often took aim at Iraqi Shiites.

ABU MUSAB AL-ZARQAWI, Former Leader of al-Qaida in Iraq (through translator): We declare an all-out war against the renegade Shiites all over Iraq, wherever they are. You started the aggression. Beware of our anger. We swear by God that we will never show mercy to you.

KWAME HOLMAN: That audio tape surfaced before an attack on one of the most revered mosques of Shiite Islam in Samarra in February. Although no one was killed in the blast, it sparked weeks of sectarian strife that would result in many Iraqi deaths.

Sometimes Zarqawi’s targeting was particularly gruesome. In 2004, insurgents detonated car bombs at a community celebration in Baghdad while U.S. soldiers handed out candy. Three dozen children were killed, many more wounded.

The international leadership of al-Qaida, to whom Zarqawi pledged allegiance in 2004, has at times disputed his tactics. A letter from Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaida’s number-two worldwide, said Muslim civilians should not be targeted in Iraq. The authenticity of the letter, posted on a U.S. intelligence Web site, was disputed by al-Qaida.

Two of Zarqawi’s highest-profile attacks took place in his home country of Jordan: the triple-suicide bombings against hotels in Amman last November that killed 60; and the 2002 assassination of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley.

Zarqawi also orchestrated the videotaped beheadings of several Western hostages, including British contractor Kenneth Bigley and American businessman Nicholas Berg. A masked Zarqawi purportedly decapitated Berg himself.

Zarqawi also posted videos online to expand his reach and recruit troops to join his cause. U.S. intelligence officials have said Zarqawi’s network now spans as many as 40 other countries.

In July of 2004, the U.S. more than doubled the bounty on his head to $25 million. U.S. forces were until now unable to apprehend him but had captured or killed nearly 100 of his deputies.

First impressions

Mohammed Hafez
University of Missouri-Kansas City
I suspect that the killing of Zarqawi, while it's important and certainly something to be celebrated, in and of itself will not end the insurgency and will not even necessarily end al-Qaida in Iraq.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, to assess Zarqawi, his impact, and where his death leaves the insurgency, we turn to Rend al-Rahim Francke, the former Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. under the first interim government. She's now executive director of the Iraq Foundation, which promotes democracy in Iraq.

Eric Davis, professor of political science at Rutgers University's Center for Middle Eastern Studies.

Mohammed Hafez, a visiting professor at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. He's completing a book about suicide bombers in Iraq.

And Bruce Hoffman, chief of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency at the Rand Corporation and a former adviser to the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq in 2004.

Welcome to you, all.

Ambassador Francke, beginning with you, how significant a development is this, to have Zarqawi gone from the scene?

REND AL-RAHIM FRANCKE, Former Iraqi Ambassador to U.S.: I understand that one doesn't want to blow this up out of proportion, but I think it is very significant.

Zarqawi embodied terrorism in Iraq. He was the emblem of terrorism, and his very name caused fear in the Iraqi public.

The other thing is that Zarqawi had established his credibility over the past three years from the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in August 2003. He has built up his reputation as a first-class operative, so his credibility was high.

He was charismatic; he attracted recruits; he attracted money; and he was a cornerstone of that component of the insurgency that is associated with the fanatical jihadist movement.

His removal removes a major pillar in the violence, the cycle of violence in Iraq. I think it's very important. It will not end the violence, but it is a strong blow.

MARGARET WARNER: Professor Hafez, how do you see it, a strong blow against the insurgency?

MOHAMMED HAFEZ, Visiting Professor, University of Missouri: Well, this is a case of deja vu all over again. These sort of euphoric claims were made after Saddam was captured, after his two sons were killed, and after the assault on Fallujah in November 2004, yet none of this really broke the back of the insurgency.

As a matter of fact, we've seen the insurgency grow and develop at its own pace. So I suspect that the killing of Zarqawi, while it's important and certainly something to be celebrated, in and of itself will not end the insurgency and will not even necessarily end al-Qaida in Iraq.

What Zarqawi has done is set up various brigades and networked with various other Iraqi brigades. He has put a lot of Iraqis in positions of leadership in his organization. And, by doing so, he's really tried to institutionalize it, if you will, within the Iraqi insurgency.

Leaving something to carry on

Eric Davis
Rutgers University
By having done away with Zarqawi, at least Iraqis now are going to feel a little more trust in their government, a little more trust in the democracy project, and more willing to sign on to that.

MARGARET WARNER: How do you see it, Professor Davis, in terms of how significant it is that he is now gone from the scene?

ERIC DAVIS, Professor, Rutgers University: Well, I agree with my colleagues that we shouldn't over-exaggerate Zarqawi's death. Nevertheless, I think there are four reasons that we should see this as a very positive development.

First, al-Zarqawi was the intellectual and tactical military mastermind of the insurgency. He was responsible for all sorts of innovative and effective techniques, such as televised beheadings, the use of the Internet, car bombings and many other things that we could cite. These skills have now been taken away from the insurgency.

Secondly, it enhances the credibility of the American military and the Iraqi army, as well. Let's remember that many Iraqis were saying, "It's been three years now since Saddam was overthrown. How is it possible that al-Zarqawi, a former prisoner, a person with little education, a person with very little resources, is still at large and able to flaunt the most powerful military machine in the world, namely the United States Army?"

He will no longer be issuing videotapes, Internet statements flaunting the inability of the United States to capture him.

Third, I think this is a very powerful psychological shot in the arm to the Iraqi (inaudible) majority. Most Iraqis are against sectarianism. They want peace and security, and they'd like to sign on to the democratic project that's being pursued by the Iraqi government and which, as we all know, is at the core of U.S. foreign policy in Iraq.

However, they know that there was looting after the fall of Saddam; they know that there's been a deteriorating economic and security situation; no electricity; we can go on and on.

And I think, by having done away with Zarqawi, at least Iraqis now are going to feel a little more trust in their government, a little more trust in the democracy project, and more willing to sign on to that.

MARGARET WARNER: Could I ask you to hold your fourth point, Professor? Let me ask you to hold your fourth point and let me go to Bruce Hoffman, and we'll get back to you.

Bruce Hoffman, how do you see this? Did he set up a network and put in place techniques that now will outlive him? Or do you think that, in an organization like this, leadership is actually key and that, without him, at least the part of the insurgency that he was running really will suffer a blow?

BRUCE HOFFMAN, Rand Corporation: I think, beyond any doubt, he was an enormously charismatic and inspirational figure to jihadis. I believe that he banked on the fact that in depth his message of violence, intolerance, hatred, terrorism would have as great a resonance as it has in life.

The reason I say that is Zarqawi was always the type of commander that led from the front. He wasn't off somewhere in a cave mouthing platitudes. He was a fighter, and he died with a gun in his hands, in essence.

We had so many close calls over the past few months in nearly getting him. He himself had to believe that at one time his luck would run out. And I believe, in that respect, he's put in place if not a named successor, at least a process of succession that will allow what he began to continue and also that his message -- he will emerge as a martyr, as an icon, inspiring imitations...

MARGARET WARNER: Which they called him today.

BRUCE HOFFMAN: Absolutely.

A legacy still hindering peace

Rend al-Rahim Francke
Former Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S.
There is no doubt that Zarqawi was responsible for the killing of Shia and for instigating the killing and the assassination of Shia, whether through suicide bombings or capturing people off buses and killing them.

MARGARET WARNER: Ms. Francke, the sectarianism in particular, he was always railing against Shiites. To what degree do you think he sparked, not just with the Samarra bombing, but with his whole M.O., this Sunni-versus-Shiite, Shiite-versus-Sunni violence that now seems to have engulfed at least parts of Iraq?

REND AL-RAHIM FRANCKE: He was not the cause of Sunni violence or Shiite-Sunni violence, but he tapped into a raw nerve and exploited that in a merciless way.

There is no doubt that Zarqawi was responsible for the killing of Shia and for instigating the killing and the assassination of Shia, whether through suicide bombings or capturing people off buses and killing them.

I believe that he was also responsible for the killing of many Sunnis, in order to foment violence. He was, we know -- he took responsibility for the killing of Sunni sheikhs from Anbar province. He believed that the tools justified the means, or the means justified the ends, rather, and the end was to foment Sunni-Shia warfare.

MARGARET WARNER: So, Professor Hafez, if the Sunni-Shia violence is, in fact, what's really roiling Iraq most painfully now, to what degree, one, do you agree that Zarqawi really helped trigger that or at least to tap into the raw nerve and get it going, and then do you think this will outlive him, or do you think there's a possibility of stopping that cycle without him constantly egging it on?

MOHAMMED HAFEZ: In many respects, I think Zarqawi died a happy man. The two strategies that he was pursuing will live on beyond him, precisely because of the effectiveness of his initial tactics.

The first strategy was fomenting sectarian civil war, and this has, without a doubt, has been going on. We've been finding heads in banana boxes. People are being taken off buses and shot, just simply for being Shia, and certainly we've seen the death squads that are taking place, arresting people at night and shooting them in the heads.

So that's one. The other thing that Zarqawi emphasized early on in the insurgency was that you need to target the Iraqi security forces, the police, the army, and what have you, largely because he saw them as being the basis for stability in Iraq and the basis for the new Iraqi regime.

Today, most insurgent groups -- not ones connected to Zarqawi -- have claimed responsibility and continue to claim responsibility for attacks on Iraqi security forces. So, in this respect, Zarqawi's strategy has been institutionalized within the insurgency.

MARGARET WARNER: So, in other words, you think it is really now -- has a total momentum and life of its own?

MOHAMMED HAFEZ: Absolutely.

And one more thing we need to keep in mind is: Zarqawi has really set up brigades that are intended for, for instance, targeting the Shia and the Badr Corps, so this is the Omar Brigades that he has set up. He's set up brigades for martyrdom operations, and there are Iraqi leaders for these things.

So, more than just the idea and the strategy, he's really set up the groups to be able to go out and continue this kind of violence. And I don't see these groups just simply backing up or packing their bags and deciding to leave. I think they will continue.

MARGARET WARNER: Professor Davis, you weigh in on this, please, and, by all means, give us your fourth point which I interrupted you on?

ERIC DAVIS: Well, my fourth point was simply to point out that I think it will be easier for some modern insurgent groups to engage in backchannel negotiations now that they don't have to be worried about being attacked from their extreme flank, namely by Zarqawi.

But I would also point out that, again, trying to look at some positive developments that have happened recently, which I think obviate to a certain extent the kind of emphasis that everyone that has been placing on Sunni-Shia sectarian differences.

There have been large tribal groupings in both Anbar province and in the so-called triangle of death south of Baghdad, both Shia and Sunni tribes, that have mobilized to try to put an end to al-Qaida and to a lot of the insurgent activities, because a lot of this insurgent activities has also become a front for criminal activity.

And this has certainly hampered the tribes. It has undermined their economic position. It has also undermined the ability of tribal leaders to try to develop local governmental organizations, because they've been accused by al--Zarqawi of participating in the apostate behavior of democracy, which the U.S. is trying to supposedly foster or foist on Iraq.

A strong blow to al-Qaida

Bruce Hoffman
The Rand Corporation
It's a blow, in terms of the enormous psychological and morale boost that it gives to the war on terrorism in tracking down and eliminating one of really the public enemy number one, or at least in that pantheon of enemies.

MARGARET WARNER: Bruce Hoffman, let me ask you about another point that both President Bush and Prime Minister Blair made today. They both called this a blow to al-Qaida, period, or al-Qaida worldwide. One, how significant a factor was he really in al-Qaida worldwide? And do you think his death represents a blow?

BRUCE HOFFMAN: I think it's a blow, in terms of the enormous psychological and morale boost that it gives to the war on terrorism in tracking down and eliminating one of really the public enemy number one, or at least in that pantheon of enemies.

But I think, actually, ironically probably the two other people that are the most delighted about this, next to President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki, are doubtlessly bin Laden and Zawahiri themselves, because Zarqawi was as much a tool for them, but also a rival and a competitor.

Now that he's eliminated, they can certainly bask in the sun and the glow of themselves of all the publicity, but also they can use Zarqawi as a martyr, as an icon to inspire further acts of martyrdom and violence.

MARGARET WARNER: But, now, he had aspirations throughout the region. He was responsible or believed to be responsible for that bombing in Jordan. To what degree -- I mean, did he have an operative network? And to what degree does this hobble that?

BRUCE HOFFMAN: Well, he certainly did have an operative network that stretched across the Middle East, North Africa and, indeed, Europe, as well. I think that's the big question.

I suspect that Zarqawi's organization in Iraq itself will continue to function, as everybody has said.

The real issue is whether this far-flung network of logistical supporters, of financiers of recruiters, will be able to remain coherent, whether with Zarqawi's death, the elimination of their figurehead, of their leader, their mentor, in essence, whether they will still be able to hold together and sustain and support Zarqawi's organization in Iraq. That I'm less -- I'm doubtful about that, actually.

MARGARET WARNER: And you mentioned that he was very effective in raising money, Ambassador Francke. Why, and how? And will that dry up, do you think?

REND AL-RAHIM FRANCKE: Well, we don't know whether it will dry up, but the important thing is that it has taken Zarqawi three years to build up his credibility as a mastermind and operational leader in Iraq. And the more you prove yourself, the more you attract recruits, the more you attract funds.

Now, he may have a process for succession, but we don't know who the successor it. It will take that successor time to establish himself inside Iraq and in the region, where the money's coming from, to establish himself to recruit from outside Iraq and within Iraq.

And so whoever it is that comes is going to need a period of time. The question is, in that period of time, we know that a lot of information has been gathered from the bombing site where Zarqawi was killed, and the American generals have called it a treasure trove of information.

In that time that it will take for this new leadership to establish itself, are we going to be able to exploit that information and to mine it, in order to undermine those networks that all the people are talking about now? Can we race against them, in order to stop them before they get an edge?

And that is going to be a big challenge, but it's also going to test the credibility of the coalition forces and the new Iraqi government. And that's going to be something to really watch over the next few weeks and months.

MARGARET WARNER: Professor Hafez, I know this is in the realm of speculation, but what are your thoughts on how quickly it would take his network, which I gather is now mostly Iraqi, actually, not foreign fighters anymore -- one, is that correct -- to resume its operations in a serious way, to reorganize?

MOHAMMED HAFEZ: Well, with regards to whether his organization is mainly Iraqi or foreign jihadis, the leadership of his organization has increasingly become Iraqi-fied, if you will.

But still, it relies tremendously on foreign jihadis, particularly with regards to the suicide bombers. Overwhelmingly, they come from outside of Iraq, and many of them come from Saudi Arabia.

But nonetheless, operationally, I think Zarqawi is more than just simply a network of individuals; it's really a network of brigades. And what we've seen with the Mujahedeen consultative council that was created earlier this year in January of this year, and al-Qaida was part of it, it consisted of various groups, and later on other groups have joined this.

And these are Iraqi groups that are not just individual terrorists that are operating a cell of one or two people, but really they run in brigades of maybe within a certain tribe or within a certain region, and they can range from a few individuals to tens of individuals.

So, in this respect, I think these individuals now are going to be looking for a person to pledge allegiance to, just as they have in the past pledged allegiance to Zarqawi.

And to the extent that a leader can step forward from inside the organization with credibility, to say that, "I will continue on with the legacy of Zarqawi," I think, in that respect, they might feel comfortable with going with that new individual.

And I suspect that new individual would come from one of the martyrs brigades, either the -- I believe Abu Abdul-Rahman al-Iraqi or it could be Abudu Dajana Al-Ansari (ph).

MARGARET WARNER: OK, we'll have to leave it there. Professors Hafez and Davis, Bruce Hoffman and Ambassador Francke, thank you.

REND AL-RAHIM FRANCKE: Thank you.