Zarqawi`s Death Is Likely spur Insurgency

The death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi shouldn't bring a tear to anyone's eye, but it is primarily a short-lived public relations triumph for the Bush administration that may mask an actual victory for the Sunni insurgency.

Inside the Washington beltway, public relations is often more important than reality. Good policy is less important than posturing to appear that progress is being made solving important public problems. This sleight of hand avoids hard choices, wins elections, and keeps politicians in office. The approach has worked so well at home that U.S. administrations have taken it on the road to use in their military adventures abroad. Because many Americans are accustomed to nasty villains on TV and in the movies, U.S. administrations demonize authoritarian foreign leaders-for example, Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein were compared to Adolf Hitler by the Clinton and Bush administrations before the U.S. bombing began-or use their formidable public relations operations to enhance the reputation of mere mortals into poster boys for evil. In the latter case, the U.S. government's propaganda machine has made al Qaeda the most overrated organization in the world and its leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the controlling force behind worldwide terrorism - even though they act mainly as inspiration for the movement.

Similarly, in Iraq, the U.S. government needed a villain to personify the rather faceless Iraqi insurgency. The vicious and brutal Zarqawi fit the bill perfectly. The Bush administration demonized Zarqawi's foreign fighters as the instigators and dominant force of the much larger Sunni insurgency to demonstrate that foreigners were causing most of the problems in Iraq rather than Iraqis who wanted to oust the occupying superpower. After building up Zarqawi and the foreign fighters, the administration could now shore up sagging public support for the war at home by nailing the bad guy in classic Hollywood fashion.

Yet the administration's public relations coup is likely to be temporary and do a favor for the Iraqi insurgency and maybe even bin Laden and Zawahiri. Although Zarqawi was charismatic-to those fighters who were especially bloodthirsty - and drew foreign fighters into Iraq, his cruel tactics made even bin Laden and Zawahiri cringe. Zawahiri sent Zarqawi a letter asking him to turn down the volume a bit, but Zarqawi ignored him and remained ever maniacal in his indiscriminate slaughter. Since the al Qaeda leadership thought Zarqawi was giving the radical extremists movement bad publicity, perhaps even bin Laden and Zawahiri breathed a sigh of relief when Zarqawi bit the dust.

The larger Sunni insurgency certainly did. The Sunni nationalists, who make up about 90 percent of the insurgency, had long had enough of Zarqawi. His butchery and foreign origin (he was Jordanian) had made him extremely unpopular with most Sunni Iraqis. To be successful, it is critical for an insurgency to maintain the support of the population, which provides cover and sustenance. Zarqawi's activities were counterproductive to this end.

By killing Zarqawi, the U.S. government no longer has a well-known "evil doer" to rally lagging U.S. public support for the war and has made it more likely that the Iraqi guerrillas can retain Sunni popular support for their insurgency. And the killing doesn't even get rid of the foreign fighters in Iraq, who will continue to contribute to sectarian violence-now an even bigger problem for the U.S. occupation than the Sunni insurgency. The decentralized structure of the extremists organizations makes it tough to kill the beast by simply cutting off the head. 

Thus, Zarqawi's death has probably helped the larger Sunni insurgency, will do little to slow the escalating sectarian violence, and may even come as a relief to the al Qaeda leadership. As with the killing of Saddam Hussein's two sons, the cheering within the Bush administration probably will be short-lived.

Ivan Eland is the Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California and author of the book, Putting "Defense" Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World.

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Most Americans don't think of their government as an empire, but in fact the United States has been steadily expanding its control of overseas territories since the turn of the twentieth century. In The Empire Has No Clothes, Ivan Eland, a leading expert on U.S. defense policy and national security, examines American military interventions around the world from the Spanish-American War to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Buy It Today >>

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Older Comments:
Zarqawi's death seems to give Sunni insurgents more options than simply continuing to fight until there is total capitulation by the Shia majority. Granted that might not hold true for those insurgents with a fundamental objection to the average adult safely having any say in how they are governed. For better or worse it's historically the elite who wage war for ideological reasons. When the elite (in one country or another) are less accountable to the average adult there seems to be more war.

Dennis McNulty I'm sorry to disappoint you, but no matter how much we desire an ideology to succeed it will not, unless the majority wishes so. The Iraqis don't want American democracy in majority. Nor do they want a Talibanistic regime. The majority of the Iraqis see the US as an invader of their country. The majority is neither with US nor with the aleged al-Qaidah, but rather they are for a third alternative. An Iraqi Iraq without any outside influence, be that US or al-Qaidah. There is no quick solution to this crisis, if there was, US would have implemented it long time ago. What US planned on paper didn't dish out in the field. USA was so sure about their plan A, that they didn't even think of a plan B. God help us, now everything is a turn of the roullette. Let's not make it a Russian one, God willing.

To Dennis,
May be It is America who is terrorist, and you have not waken up to that reality? Please do not use America and Iraq in same sentence, because they are not the same and their purpose and direction is not the same, just because you occupiy it does not mean you will win. I remember I was in US and I see the grins on their faces glued to their sanatized war, when US forces entered Baghdad, I say where is your grin now, do you like it like that. I hope much worse for America in Iraq.

More nonsense from the hate Ameroica, George Bush left. People like this are totally invested in America and a free Iraq's defeat.


there is good points in this article, you forgot one thing: AlQaeda has new leader in Iraq called ABU NOTHING, he is more dangerous than hitler. could be hitler's father !!!!?

I wonder why some people are waiting for Bush to say it clear "it is a war against Islam" inorder they can get it :).

Free Doom :)

Americans are accustomed to nasty villains on TV and in the movies, U.S. administrations demonize authoritarian foreign leaders- I am an American and I feel comepletely in agreement with this statement