Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Newsflash - Zarqawi was a US "asset" (Riverbend & Al-Ahram)

The ever-perceptive Ami Isseroff, in a recent post on MidEastWeb, quoted from an article in the major Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram analyzing the death of the Jordanian-born Islamist terrorist and mass murderer Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. This article, by someone named Galal Nassar, is entitled "Abu Musab sacrificed" and concludes as follows.
Zarqawi was the fig leaf that covered US crimes in Iraq. Now that the Americans had to sacrifice that leaf, one wonders if they'll be looking around for someone to fill his shoes.
The 'analysis' in this article is more interesting and (grimly) amusing in the original than it would be in summary, so I have reproduced this piece below. It strikes me is that one of the themes running though Galal Nassar's discussion, which is captured in the passage just quoted, is illuminating because it is simultaneously quite bizarre and not at all unusual. Zarqawi's primary role, Nassar asserts, was to serve as "a major propaganda asset" for the US. Therefore, the main reason the Americans hadn't killed him before now is that they weren't trying to. On the contrary, "The Americans have created that ogre of a man to justify their imperial policies." The real question, therefore, is "why would the Americans give up such a valuable asset and at this time?" (A nicely ambiguous formulation, since "asset" is espionage-talk for a covert agent.) The answer requires an adequate conspiracy theory, which you can read in Nassar's article below.

This is by no means the perspective of an isolated crank. It is typical. Over the past several years I have noticed that in comments on Zarqawi by a lot of Sunni Muslim Arabs inside and outside Iraq--and not only by them--one often encounters the suggestion, or quasi-conspiratorial insinuation, or outright conspiratorial fantasy that Zarqawi was somehow a creation of the Americans. Either he didn't really exist, and US propaganda just made him up; or perhaps he did exist, but he was insignificant, and the US was exaggerating his significance for its own nefarious purposes, mostly to justify keeping US troops in Iraq (the idea that the US government wants to keep large numbers of US troops in Iraq is, of course, delusional ... but is widely believed by Sunni Arabs in Iraq and elsewhere, and by assorted idiots in the US & Europe); or Zarqawi was really an agent or unwitting pawn of the US, which decided to "sacrifice" or eliminate him now for some underhanded reason. (One reads a lot of fevered speculation about the allegedly convenient "timing" of Zarqawi's death, and not just in this article by Nassar.)

Galal Nassar expresses these themes in an almost straightforward paranoid-conspiratorial form, but not quite. Most of the time, his formulations can be read as merely suggesting that Zarqawi was convenient for the Americans, without precisely being a US agent or a US creation--though sometimes Nassar flirts with more ambiguous insinuations.

=> In a slightly more genteel form, one can see some of the same themes in the comments on Zarqawi's death by "Riverbend," a secularized Sunni Arab woman who blogs from Baghdad (Baghdad Burning), and who tends to be the favorite English-language Iraqi blogger for westerners who have opposed the Iraq war and the current US presence in Iraq. Actually, I agree that Riverbend's commentary is often intelligent and illuminating, if one takes it with an appropriate grain of salt. But, like all of us, she speaks from a particular point of view and has her own agendas. Most English-language Iraqi bloggers supported the overthrow of Saddam Hussein & his regime, hate both the so-called "insurgency" (which Nassar describes as "a noble and honorable movement") and the Shiite extremist followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, and greeted Zarqawi's death with unequivocal delight. Here is what Riverbend said.

So 'Zarqawi' is finally dead. It was an interesting piece of news that greeted us yesterday morning (or was it the day before? I've lost track of time…). I didn't bother with the pictures and film they showed of him because I, personally, have been saturated with images of broken, bleeding bodies.
The reactions have been different. There's a general consensus amongst family and friends that he won't be missed, whoever he is. There is also doubt- who was he really? Did he even exist? Was he truly the huge terror the Americans made him out to be? When did he actually die? People swear he was dead back in 2003… The timing is extremely suspicious: just when people were getting really fed up with the useless Iraqi government, Zarqawi is killed and Maliki is hailed the victorious leader of the occupied world! (And no- Iraqis aren't celebrating in the streets- worries over electricity, water, death squads, tests, corpses and extremists in high places prevail right now.) [....] "A new day for Iraqis" is the current theme of the Iraqi puppet government and the Americans. [....]
[This "puppet government," by the way, was elected by Iraqis in a national election in which a solid majority of eligible voters participated, despite disorder, ongoing crisis, and genuine risks of getting killed for voting. At the time, however, "Riverbend" reported that none of her friends and neighbors took the election very seriously. This perception says more about ethnic & sectarian divisions in Iraq than about anything else, I think. --JW]
How do I feel? To hell with Zarqawi (or Zayrkawi as Bush calls him). He was an American creation- he came along with them- they don't need him anymore, apparently. His influence was greatly exaggerated but he was the justification for every single family they killed through military strikes and troops. It was WMD at first, then it was Saddam, then it was Zarqawi. Who will it be now? Who will be the new excuse for killing and detaining Iraqis? Or is it that an excuse is no longer needed- they have freedom to do what they want. The slaughter in Haditha months ago proved that. "They don't need him anymore," our elderly neighbor waved the news away like he was shooing flies, "They have fifty Zarqawis in government."

--Jeff Weintraub

P.S. Admittedly, the kind of perspective represented by Riverbend and Nassar is a lot less appalling than that of people who actually mourned Zarqawi. Incidentally, with regard to the fantasy that Zarqawi and the other foreign jihadi terrorists in Iraq have had no connection to the supposedly more genuine and less murderous "Iraqi national resistance" (as Nassar calls them), see here and here and here.
Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
15-21 June 2006 (Issue #799)

Abu Musab sacrificed
It's not so much America killing an enemy as trading one of its key cards of propaganda for political gain in an elections year, writes
Galal Nassar

The death of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi in a US raid on a village near Baquba in northern Iraq should have been a reason to celebrate, but it wasn't. The reason is that Zarqawi should have been killed by the Iraqi national resistance and not by the US occupation forces. The latter have created the myth of Zarqawi. The Americans have created that ogre of a man to justify their imperial policies. Zarqawi deserves a US medal for services rendered, and in a way, his killing was a fitting homage to his criminal past.

The timing of Zarqawi's assassination was chosen carefully to maximise US gain, to make Washington look good in its global campaign against terror. Until the moment Zarqawi was killed, the US had been running from one disaster to another. Its record was a continuous catalogue of failure. After a period of inaction, the Taliban began to inflict substantial losses on Afghan and international forces. In Mogadishu, the forces of the Islamic Courts defeated pro-US factions. In Iraq, civil war was just around the corner.

With the death of Zarqawi, Washington has lost a major propaganda asset. The man's brutal tactics gave the Americans a unique opportunity to sully the image of national resistance in Iraq and elsewhere. Zarqawi beheaded hostages, assassinated civilians, and killed Shia Iraqis, bringing disgrace upon the resistance, fomenting sectarian strife, and diverting attention from the crimes of the occupation forces.

So why would the Americans give up such a valuable asset and at this time? The answer is twofold. On the one hand, sectarian strife in the country has already achieved its objectives. The Sunnis have made important concessions and the Shias have become more pliant to US demands. On the other hand, President Bush needed a victory to shore up his declining popularity and avert Republican defeat in congressional elections in November. You may have noticed lately the fascination of US media with Zarqawi. The media played and replayed that tape in which Zarqawi holds a machine-gun and fires, Rambo-style, into the distance. Zarqawi was being portrayed as the face of Iraqi resistance. His killing gave the administration the big victory it needed.

Within hours of Zarqawi's death, President Bush was on television, speaking in the arrogant tones he used in the early days of the invasion. He described the killing as a major achievement, commending the performance of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. In death as in life, Zarqawi helped the US cause.

The Americans would be wrong to assume that the death of Zarqawi means the end of resistance in Iraq. Resistance is bigger than one man or one group. Perhaps time will prove that the fall of Zarqawi will be a boost to the national resistance, for it would rid it of the mindless mayhem that terrorist has brought into the picture. Perhaps now the world will see the Iraqi resistance for what it is: a noble and honourable movement that aspires to free the country from occupation. Zarqawi was the fig leaf that covered US crimes in Iraq. Now that the Americans had to sacrifice that leaf, one wonders if they'll be looking around for someone to fill his shoes.