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al-Zarqawi: insurgent leader or terror mastermind?

A look at the many words and phrases used to describe the man who many have seen but who nobody really knows. Would the real al-Zarqawi please stand up?
The many, varied descriptions of the man who would be terror-king:

"a Jordanian identified by the United States as a lieutenant of Osama bin Laden" NYT 4/27/03

"the leader of a Jordanian Qaeda affiliate, and perhaps the world's most wanted terrorist after Osama bin-Laden" Newsweek 5/5/03

"a one-legged Jordanian militant with alleged ties to the former Saddam Hussein regime" Newsweek 6/2/03

"a Jordanian fugitive" Seattle Times 7/5/03

"a bin Laden ally" Seattle Times 9/4/03

"a more senior Qaeda [sic] operative" NYT 9/28/03

"al-Qaeda operative" Deborah Amos NPR/All Things Considered 10/6/03

"senior terrorist planner and close al-Qaeda associate" The Weekly Standard 11/24/03

"a Jordanian-born, al Qaeda-linked figure" Business Week 3/15/04

"Jordanian Islamic militant" AP 3/18/04

"a bin Laden confederate" NYT 3/22/04

"apparently, an independently operating terrorist" Daniel Schorr NPR/Weekend Edition 5/15/04

"Osama's disciple" William Safire/NYT 5/19/04

"arguably the most dangerous terrorist in the world today" Peter Bergen/NYT 6/26/04

"terror mastermind" AP 6/26/04

"al Qaeda linked Iraqi insurgent leader" Wall Street Journal 9/13/04

"long-time Jordanian terrorist" WSJ 9/17/04

"Al Qaeda associate" WSJ 9/29/04

the Iraqi insurgency's "putative leader" Christian Science Monitor 12/21/04--Note--"putative" means supposed, so this description differs from the others, not quite following the same line.

"Al Qaeda's leader in Iraq" NYT 1/5/05 NOTE--sometime around December '04 it was determined somehow that al-Zarqawi had joined or teamed up with al-Qaeda in a formal way, perhaps through some statement. This assumption became, and now is, truth, and is printable for the mainstream.

"Al Qaeda's point man in Iraq" NYT 1/6/05

"the Jordanian-born terrorist who's leading at least a big chunk of this insurgency" Wolf Blitzer CNN/Late Edition 1/23/05

"the Islamic militant who is the most wanted insurgent in Iraq" NYT 1/31/05

Reading through all this, it looks like the trailer to an exciting movie, and in a way, that's a good characterization. The point is just to see how far they can stretch it, almost like stretching a metaphor--to see how many ways the mainstream press can describe a person, or anything, about which so little is known--so little that many people surely consider al-Zarqawi a myth or construct of somesort. And then to stay on top of a story that much, usually the top story of the day, with no critical analysis, no historical background, no criticism whatsoever of the continuing occupation and the people who launched the invasion. They've latched onto this term, "Zarqawi" and unfortunately that's what the masses are given for information and insight.

A brief bio of al-Zarqawi from the Christian Science Monitor:

"Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's real name is Ahmad Fadil al-Khalaylah. He takes his no de guerre from the Jordanian town of Zarq, where Palestinian terrorist blew up three hijacked airliners in 1970 in a pioneering act of anti-Western violence.

Zarqawi first appeared on the radar screens of Western intelligence agencies in 1999, when Jordanian authorities tied him to an aborted plot to blow up a tourist hotel in Amman during millenium celebrations.

Zarqawi, the son of [a] wealthy Jordanian landowner, escapted to Afghanistan. There he ran an Al Qaeda training camp that specialized in chemical and biological agents, according to US intelligence.

Wounded in the leg during a bombing raid in the Afghan war in 2001, he ended up in Iraq, where doctors reportedly fitted him with a prosthetic limb.

US intelligence subsequently tracked him around the Middle East. Among known contacts is a meeting with Hizbullah leaders in south Lebanon in August 2002.

In October 2002, two gunmen assassinated US diplomat Lawrence Foley in Jordan. Caught, the gunmen fingered Zarqawi as the mastermind of the plot. For this, last month [April 2004] he was sentenced to death in absentia in Jordan."

here's a good article with more biographical material, and a reference to a Newsweek article which questions how many legs the terror superman really has:

For Iraqis there is a historical precedent for the al-Zarqawi phenomenon, and it occurred just as a young upstart named Saddam Hussein was consolidating his power throughout the land.

The early 1970's in Iraq was a time when the second Baath regime in that country was struggling to establish itself as the one and only ruling party, and Saddam was an internal security chief working behind the scenes to make this happen. There were many assasinations of former party chiefs, purges, and so on.

From the book 'Republic of Fear' by Samir al-Khalil, this describes a bizarre and extremely violent series of crimes that swept Baghdad in 1973:

"The regime was badly shaken by the Kzar episode. Moreover, that a 'peculiar psychology' had indeed surfaced in the new state security services became evident in the course of a bizarre series of crimes that occurred right after the purges mentioned in the Political Report. The crimes rattled the party almost as much as the coup. The Ba'th had taken great pride in the fact that the crime rate was down in Baghdad; Shurtat al-Najdah, the emergency police, was reputed to be able to arrive at any point in the city within minutes. But this confidence was visibly shaken by a succession of house robberies in which whole families were hacked to death. The perpetrator, nicknamed Abu al-Tubar, the hatchet man, ran a gang made up of old hands in the Kzar police service. It transpired at the trial that the gang's ability to elude capture derived from their knowledge and expert use of secret radio frequencies to mislead the police."

"Kzar" is Nadhim Kzar, the former internal security chief who was purged along with many other officers shortly before the events described above.

Also shortly before these violent crimes occurred in Baghdad, there were oil nationalization decrees.

The Baath Party propaganda machine at the time turned the violent crimes being committed in Baghdad into a broader plot by traitorous agents of foreign powers, who were allegedly seeking to undermine the Baath revolution. In a speech in September 1973, Saddam Hussein declared:

"All that we hear and read about, including those crimes which have taken place recently, are new devices to confront the Revolution and exhaust it psychologically. These are not sadistic crimes as some imagine; they are crimes committed by traitorous agents."

The Baath feared that imperialism was seeking to undermine their movement. And, of course, the recent move to nationalize Iraqi oil was tied up into the equation. But Saddam gave voice to a sentiment which has been echoed frequently by the Bush admin.--namely that crimes committed around the world aren't crimes, but terrorist acts, and thus, we must remain in a constant state of war to defy the terrorists.

add a comment on this article

Will the real zarqawi please...no pun intended..STAND UP 01.Feb.2005 15:33

Arghhhh, ahoy mateys

Zarqawi lets out a ferocious MEOW of resistance
Zarqawi lets out a ferocious MEOW of resistance

Melancholy Baby 01.Feb.2005 17:41


Just look at his mug.