Thursday, June 08, 2006

Shrub, al-Zarqawi, and the Legend of the Hydra

Shrub’s crowing over the killing of al-Zarqawi (another “Mission Accomplished”?) shows how deeply he still misunderstands the rifts in Iraq, not only among the Shia, Sunni and Kurds, but also among various factions of the Iraqi insurgency and the wider Islamic fundamentalist movement.

Bin Ladin and al-Zarqawi were never allies, and often rivals. Bin Ladin strongly condemned al-Zarqawi for killing Muslims. While al-Zarqawi claimed the use of the “Al Qaeda” brand in Iraq, he never submitted to Bin Ladin’s leadership or attained Bin Ladin’s stature in the Muslim world.

An early informed view of the impact of his death (Juan Cole, Ivo Daalder, Juliet Kayyem, among others) is that the US has cut off one of the hydra’s heads in Iraq. Another one will certainly grow in its place.

The Mandarin was particularly struck by this expression of that fundamental idea by Mary Anne Weaver in The Atlantic:

Before leaving Amman, I had asked the high-level Jordanian intelligence official with whom I met whether al-Zarqawi, in his view, was a potential challenger to Osama bin Laden.

“Not at all,” he replied. “Zarqawi had the ambition to become what he has, but whatever happens, even if he becomes the most popular figure in Iraq, he can never go against the symbolism that bin Laden represents. If Zarqawi is captured or killed tomorrow, the Iraqi insurgency will go on. There is no such thing as ‘Zarqawism.’ What Zarqawi is will die with him. Bin Laden, on the other hand, is an ideological thinker. He created the concept of al-Qaeda and all of its offshoots. He feels he’s achieved his goal.” He paused for a moment, then said, “Osama bin Laden is like Karl Marx. Both created an ideology. Marxism still flourished well after Marx’s death. And whether bin Laden is killed, or simply dies of natural causes, al-Qaedaism will survive him.”

Until they understand who our enemy is and why they fight us, the Mandarin is hard pressed to have much confidence in Shrub and his Generals.

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