Why Zarqawi’s Death May Strengthen the Iraqi Resistance

A.K Gupta Jun 10, 2006

By A.K. Gupta

The death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi should be of small comfort to the Bush administration. Having cried victory on many previous occasions—from “Mission Accomplished, the capture of Saddam Hussein, and the killing of his sons to the “transfer of power,” the razing of Fallujah and three elections—the White House struck a more cautious note upon discussing the death of the “Al Qaeda in Iraq” leader.

President Bush said his demise offered a chance to “turn the tide of the struggle” in Iraq.

While perhaps it’s less bombastic than declaring the insurgency is “in the last throes,” it’s more wishful thinking.

Bombing Zarqawi into oblivion will not end the resistance in Iraq. In fact, it may do the opposite.

Hussein’s capture in December 2003 removed an impediment to the growth of the resistance. As long as he was around, those fighting the U.S. occupation could be labeled “Saddam loyalists.” It allowed the resistance to cast itself as more of a national-religious struggle.

Similarly, Zarqawi was a polarizing figure, a non-Iraqi promoting sectarian warfare. While the sectarianism in Iraq has become too entrenched to undo easily, his death creates space for Sunni resistance groups that were opposed to attacking Shiites.

Not that everything is lost for Zarqawi’s followers. Now they have a new martyr to rally around.

Bush administration policies promoting sectarianism and death squads also ensure the fighting will continue. It has helped create a nexus of wars that is rending Iraq asunder. It’s not just the occupation and resistance any longer: there’s civil wars between Sunni and Shiite, Kurd and Arab, a dirty war, and distinct Sunni and Shiite religious wars in their own dominant regions that intersect with and stand apart from the counterinsurgency war.

Zarqawi’s death will do little to alter this equation. In terms of the armed Sunni resistance, there are scores of groups fighting the occupation. And while many may have been “sponsored” by Al Qaeda in Iraq, they will continue to attack U.S. soldiers, Zarqawi or not.

There may be a power struggle in Al Qaeda in Iraq, but it will likely diminish in stature as other large networks of resistance groups fill the vacuum, such as the Islamic Army in Iraq, the Islamic Front of the Iraqi Resistance and Jaish Ansar al-Sunnah in Iraq, as well as a host of smaller groups.

His death will again offer a chance for the Iraqi-based resistance to re-emphasize the struggle as one of national liberation (even if under a theocratic medievalism), rather than a global jihad.

The fact that in just weeks ago the Pentagon announced that it was sending more troops to Iraq (to the resistance hotbed of Ramadi) indicates that the war is long since lost. If the U.S. is increasing its presence after three years of increasingly destructive warfare, more than $10 billion spent on barely operational Iraqi security forces, perhaps 200,000 Iraq civilian deaths and 2,700 foreign troops, then why would one man’s death change anything?

Even though the mainstream media has lost interest in reporting it, U.S. deaths are averaging close to 60 a month this year, essentially the same rate as the last two years. In other words, despite the fact that the Pentagon has used almost every weapon and tactic in its arsenal, the resistance remains as resilient as ever.

Like the killing of Uday and Qusay Hussein three years ago, Zarqawi’s death will become one more forgotten way station on the road to Iraq’s destruction.

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