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How Can We Understand Iraq?

Will the recent killing of terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq bring any change in the number of suicide bombings going on in that country? When it comes to the Iraq war, our press pretty much toes the official government line, so we need to look to the UK for answers to that question.

Who was al-Zarqawi, anyway? Patrick Cockburn writes in the Independent that he was, to a large extent, our creation?the creation of a government looking for a reason to invade Iraq. Before the invasion, he was a "little-known Jordanian petty criminal turned Islamic fundamentalist fanatic until he was denounced by the US in 2003 as an insurgent leader of great importance. This enabled him to recruit men and raise money to wage a cruel war, mostly against Iraqi civilians. In a macabre innovation, he staged beheadings of Western hostages such as Ken Bigley which were then uploaded to the internet to ensure maximum publicity."

His weapon of choice was a young man who could be convinced to become a suicide bomber. These youths usually came from outside of Iraq and their targets were not Western soldiers?they were mostly out-of-work Iraqis who were standing in line to interview for jobs as policemen.

According to Cockburn, the irony is that "among those most pleased by his elimination may be the other insurgent leaders." He quotes Iraqi journalist Ghassan al-Attiyah as saying, "He was an embarrassment to the resistance itself. They never liked him taking all the limelight and the Americans exaggerated his role."

A secular Sunni, he made the killing Shiites his demented goal, and he certainly killed more of them than the Coalition ever did. And he kept doing so right up until the end: last week he released an audio tape urging his fellow Sunnis to kill Shiites.

Cockburn writes, "Zarqawi owed his rise to the US in two ways. His name was unknown until he was denounced on 5 February 2003 by Colin Powell, who was the US Secretary of State, before the UN Security Council as the link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qa'ida. There turned out to be no evidence for this connection and Zarqawi did not at this time belong to al-Qa'ida. But Mr Powell's denunciation made him a symbol of resistance to the US across the Muslim world. It also fitted with Washington's political agenda that attacking Iraq was part of the war on terror.

"The invasion gave Zarqawi a further boost. Within months of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein the whole five-million-strong Sunni Arab community in Iraq appeared united in opposition to the occupation. Cheering crowds gathered every time a US soldier was shot or an American vehicle blown up. Armed resistance was popular and for the first time Sunni militants [and] religious fundamentalists demonstrating their faith by religious war or jihad had a bedrock of support in Iraq. Osama bin Laden and his fighters never had this degree of acceptance in Afghanistan and were forced to hire local tribesmen to take part in their propaganda videos?No sooner was Saddam captured than the US spokesmen began to mention Zarqawi's name in every sentence. 'If the weather is bad they will blame it on Zarqawi,' an Iraqi journalist once said to me.

"It emerged earlier this year that the US emphasis on Zarqawi as the prime leader of the Iraqi resistance was part of a carefully calculated propaganda program. A dubious letter from Zarqawi was conveniently discovered. One internal briefing document quoted by The Washington Post records Brigadier General Kimmitt, the chief US military spokesman at the time, as saying: 'The Zarqawi psy-op program is the most successful information campaign to date.' The US campaign was largely geared towards the American public and above all the American voter. It was geared to proving that the invasion of Iraq was a reasonable response to the 9/11 attacks. This meant it was necessary to show al-Qa'ida was strong in Iraq and play down the fact that this had only happened after the invasion?Zarqawi's war was devised to have the maximum political impact. There was the beheading of foreign captives shown on videos and broadcast via the internet. He was an enemy to America's liking. Though US military officials in Baghdad openly admitted that few insurgents were non-Iraqi, Zarqawi's Jordanian origins were useful in suggesting that the insurrection was orchestrated from outside Iraq."

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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