Zarqawi’s Death
How big is it?


Editor’s note: This morning Americans woke to the news from Iraq that terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had been killed in an air strike. Before they had their morning coffee, some experts reacted to the news for NRO.

Peter Brookes
The death of Zarqawi couldn’t come at a better time considering the violence we’ve seen in Iraq in recent days.  While we must remain sober about the future, Zarqawi’s demise certainly is a shot in the arm of the new Maliki government, in fighting the insurgency in Iraq and the broader war on terror. 

But, perhaps, most intriguing is the (early) reporting that Zarqawi’s end came from tips given by associates.  This sort of “actionable intelligence” is critical in prosecuting an insurgency and, perhaps, most importantly shows significant discord in al Qaeda’s ranks. 

This means that every al Qaeda, every Sunni, every foreign jihadist insurgent leader will be looking over his shoulder in the days to come instead of concentrating on planning and executing attacks, wondering if there is a traitor in his midst and his downfall is just around the corner.   

Peter Brookes is senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He is author of A Devil’s Triangle: Terrorism, WMD and Rogue States.

Frank J. Gaffney
When the history of the global conflict of our time–I call it “the War for the Free World”–is written it seems likely that June 7, 2006, will be seen as an important moment, perhaps even a tipping point, in that war’s Iraqi front. With newfound understatement, President Bush called it “a good day.”

Yesterday’s significance will derive, of course, first and foremost from the signal military accomplishment of finally eliminating the most prominent and ruthless terrorist in Iraq: al Qaeda’s franchise-holder there, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. No less consequential than the decapitation–at least for the moment–of that particular cell is the way in which it was accomplished.

Early reports indicate, first, that Iraqi citizens ratted out al-Zarqawi, providing the critical intelligence needed to mount a surgical strike that took out the al Qaeda leader and seven of his lieutenants. Second, the Iraqi government proved capable of handling this perishable information securely (i.e., without the leaks that might have allowed al-Zarqawi once again to elude capture. Then, there was the smooth hand-off of the intelligence to American forces prepared and authorized to act on it quickly and decisively.

Likely of even more lasting consequence was yesterday’s other good news: the success of the new Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, in naming and securing parliamentary approval of his last three key cabinet posts: for interior minister, Shiite Jawad Bolani; for minister of defense, a Sunni who has been the country’s ground forces commander, Gen. Abdel Qader Jassim; and for minister of state for national security, a Shiite, Shirwan al-Waili.

Much remains to be done of course. But the combination of a greatly heartening battlefield success, fresh evidence of the indispensable support of the Iraqi people and the maturing of a permanent, representative and accountable government made June 7 a very good day, indeed, for Iraq and the Free World.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is an NRO contributor and president of the Center for Security Policy.

Victor Davis Hanson
Zarqawi’s death is very important at this juncture, for symbolic in addition to operational reasons. Although al Qaeda in Iraq was decentralized, the loss of its prime strategist there will insidiously have long-term repercussions. And in the short-term it adds to the sense of momentum following Prime Minister Maliki’s selection of the remaining key three cabinet posts, in addition to tranquilizing, if only for a few days, the media’s obsession with Haditha. The Americans were wise to lower expectations, give center stage credit to the Iraqis, and note that Saddam’s capture likewise did not end the insurgency.  Yet in a region where honor and sway are everything, the demise of this mass murderer only adds to the prestige of the new government at a time when it was desperately needed.

— Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the author, most recently, of A War Like No Other. How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.

Clifford D. May
It’s very good news. It’s not “mission accomplished” but it is substantial progress.

No, this won’t persuade every suicide bomber to leave Iraq, go home to Peshawar, and open a health spa. But when you eliminate the top general, it makes a difference. When a major corporation loses its CEO its stock goes down.


It’s especially important because, whatever you may think about Iraq, the fact remains that we are in a war with al Qaeda. That means we must fight al Qaeda wherever we find it.


We find it–in its most lethal form–in Iraq. Zarqawi was the Commander of al Qaeda in Iraq. Leaving Iraq while al Qaeda was powerful there would have been a significant defeat for the U.S.–no matter the spin or “exit strategy.” Crippling al-Qaeda in Iraq makes it much more possible that sooner rather than later we will be able to leave it to Iraqis to defend themselves.

Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.

Mackubin Thomas Owens

I believe this is a major coup. Zarqawi was the public face of the non-Iraqi side of the insurgency. There have been indications for some time that divisions had arisen between the Iraqi Sunni and former Baathists on the one hand and Zarqawi and his non-Iraqi followers on the other. Indeed, it very well may have been an Iraqi insurgent who tipped off the coalition as to Zarqawi’s location.


What does Zarqawi’s killing mean for the future? I’m sure things could go on without him, but perhaps not as efficiently. More importantly, those Iraqi Sunni who wish to enter the political process may now take out the rest of the foreigners. It is significant that the long-delayed appointments to important ministries coincided with the announcement of his death.


I have been guardedly optimistic about the outcome in Iraq for sometime, although I must confess to some doubts lately because of my concern that the coalition had abandoned a fruitful strategic approach, but this is good news. But we can’t just sit back and wait. Now is the time to exploit success and put maximum pressure on the insurgents.   

Mackubin Thomas Owens is an associate dean of academics and a professor of national-security affairs at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. He is writing a history of U.S. civil-military relations.

Michael Radu
Zarqawi was a strange character–a thug without a constituency. He was never “part of” al Qaeda, just used it as a cover. His own clan in Jordan was after him; his ideological mentor, Al Maqdissi, criticized him, as did Al Zawahiri. Iraqi Sunni groups hated him–to say nothing about the Shias.

What is amazing is that he lasted so long, which suggests the depth of Islamist hatred for…everything.

On the other hand, it was good intelligence that led to his death, and that is good news for the U.S.

Zarqawi had the best and most extensive recruiting and fund raising infrastructure in Europe–good news for them, especially with the World Soccer Cup coming.

Domestically, Bush has a specific thing to point to as counter-terrorism success.

All this said, in Iraq things will change because the conflict will become clearer–the outside clutter provided by foreign jihadists will diminish.

People like Zarqawi are not essential–but neither can they be replaced easily. In moral terms, world jihadists, from Toronto to Paris to Bakuba, have suffered a major, if temporary, blow–hence expect al Qaeda to try something big to show that they are still alive and kicking.

Michael Radu is senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Center on Terrorism and Counter-terrorism.



Nimrod Raphaeli
The killing of al-Zarqawi by an air strike on Wednesday evening, Baghdad time, is a tremendous blow to terrorism in Iraq, in particular, and everywhere else, in general.


Shortly after the liberation of Iraq in April 2003, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi emerged as the leading terrorist in the country. While there are a number of terrorist orgnizations operating in Iraq, apart from various insurgency groups led by Saddam’s loyalists or by those who believe in Sunni supremacy, al-Zarqawi’s organization combines terrorist activities with an ardent anti-Shia zeal determined, by word and deed, to provoke a sectarian war between the Iraqi two largest branches of Islam — the Shia and the Sunnis.


Al-Zarqawi — birth name, Ahmad Fadhil Nazzal al-Khlayla — was born in 1966 in the Jordanian city of Zarqa, 15 miles northeast of the Jordanian capital Amman, hence the name Zarqawi. He is known to be married to at least two wives, one Jordanian and one Iraqi, with a total of six children.


Al-Zarqawi’s experience with terrorism goes back to the time he became a member, then Amir, or leader, of the clandestine organization known as “jama’at al-tawheed” (monotheism society) established in the early Nineties in Zarqa. He was to polish his terrorism skills, like many people of his ilk, in Afghanistan in 1999. But unlike many of the Islamists who went to Afghanistan and swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden, al-Zarqawi chose to operate his own terrorist training camp in Herat.


After the fall of the Taliban regime, al-Zarqawi entered Iraq through Iran. He established an organization called “al-tawheed wal jihad” (monotheism and holy war). This organization first came to the attention of the world when the U.S. citizen Nicholas Berg was beheaded in April 2004, allegedly by al-Zarqawi himself, and the event was videotaped and posted on Islamist websites. It was the beheadings that earned him the detestable title of “the Sheikh of the slaughterers.”


It is almost certain that 2004 was not a good year for al-Zarqawi, given his appeal to the Islamic nation for help  In a speech on September 11, al-Zarwawi used expressions such as “a call for help from the depths,” making references to the Islamic nation being “in a state of apathy or slumber.” In his words: “My dear nation…Don’t you hear the serpents hissing as they wind their way in the darkness of your apathy in order to assassinate your dawn?”


Like all Islamists who advocate an Islamic state, run in accordance with the rules of the Sharia or Islamic law, Zarqawi detested democracy. As Iraqis went to vote in January 2005, Zarqawi warned the voters: “Oh enemies of Islam! Prepare yourselves…wear as much armor as you can. We have men who love death as you love life.”


As al Qaeda was weakened after its expulsion from Afghanistan, al-Zarqawi was gaining power and influence in Iraq and elsewhere. It was not surprising that bin Laden designated Zarwawi as the Amir of the newly established “tandhim qa’idat al-jihad fi bilad al-rifidain” (The Organization of al Qaeda for Jihad in the Land of the Two Rivers). The association with bin Laden gained al-Zarqawi greater legitimacy, a global reach, and a flow of funding from wealthy Saudis.


This unity between bin Laden and al-Zarwqawi proved to be an imperfect union, designed in hell and destroyed perhaps by a hellfire missile or a smart bomb.


It is too early to judge the implication of al-Zarwawi’s death for the terrorist movement in Iraq and elsewhere. However, the immediate blow to morale will necessarily be palpable.


–Nimrod Raphaeli is a senior analyst at the Middle East Media Research Institute. 



James S. Robbins

Zarqawi’s death is significant for several reasons. First, it is a measurable sign of progress. Zarqawi had established himself as the primary leader of al Qaeda and to a lesser extent all the foreign born insurgents in Iraq. Secondly, someone like Zarqawi, with decades of experience in the craft of terrorism, will not be easily replaced. I’m sure the critical line will be that it does not matter, that others will easily slip into that leadership role, but terror networks rely to a great deal on personal networks, and it will be difficult for the bad guys to rebuild from the loss of such a critical node in their associational scheme. Third, it sends shocks through the system as others in the network attempt to figure out how it was done – who betrayed him, why they did it, are there more traitors around, who is next? Finally, it is a great symbolic victory. Zarqawi had established himself as the icon of the resistance, someone to rally around, a boon to recruitment and inspiration. Yes, they can still use him that way even as a martyr, but the “martyrdom effect” is overrated. I’ll take a dead martyr over a live psychopath any day.

James S. Robbins is senior fellow in national-security affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council and an NRO contributor.

Bilal Wahab
This is the only good news Iraqis and their friends have heard in months. Zarqawi has been the most destabilizing element in Iraq, killing Iraqi and foreign civilians, inciting sectarian violence, and harming the war-ridden infrastructure. Iraqis have had no option but to cling to a thinning ray of hope. In the absence of a functioning government, militias started to control parts of Iraq and even Baghdad, while Iraqi politicians, cornered in the green zone, were vying for nominal power. However, the cooperation between Americans and Iraqis resulting in Zarqawi’s death is big for all. Due to incidents like Haditha and the fear of getting involved in a potential sectarian war, the Americans have become increasingly inept and unwilling to take any significant action. Iraqi politicians, on the other hand, almost lost the country while busy with never-ending meetings to form the new cabinet. Saddam Hussein has been growing more eloquent, transforming his trial into political propaganda. Iraqis were losing hope and confidence in their country and its new politicians. Believers in a New Iraq have had fewer and fewer success stories to share. Today, they do. Although it won’t end the violence, Zarqawi’s death, coupled with appointing key security ministers in the new Iraqi government, is a huge source of momentum. We should capitalize on it.

Bilal Wahab is an Iraqi recipient of a 2005 Fulbright grant. He is studying politics and good governance at American University.


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