Originally Published 2005-05-26 12:11:15 Published on May 26, 2005
There has been speculation galore regarding Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of the Al Qaeda in Iraq, ever since the US Marines carried out a flushing-out operation to smoke out foreign terrorists allegedly operating from the Sunni stronghold of Qaim, which is located in a desert area where the Euphrates river crosses from Syria into Iraq.
The Key to Iraqi Peace: Zarqawi or Saddam?
There has been speculation galore regarding Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of the Al Qaeda in Iraq, ever since the US Marines carried out a flushing-out operation to smoke out foreign terrorists allegedly operating from the Sunni stronghold of Qaim, which is located in a desert area where the Euphrates river crosses from Syria into Iraq.

The operation, which was code-named Operation Matador, was carried out between May 8 and 15. It had two main objectives. First, to flush out the terrorists and resistance-fighters operating in the rest of Iraq from sanctuaries in Iraqi territory in the Qaim area. Second, to convey a message to Damascus about the possibility of a more vigorous US operational policy in the areas near the Syrian border if it provided sanctuaries and other assistance to the terrorists and resistance-fighters. The message was particularly meant to stress the dangers of hot pursuit by the US troops into Syrian territory.

The operation was essentially provoked by the escalation in the violent activities of the terrorists and the resistance fighters ever since the formation of the new Government headed by Ibrahim al-Jafari, a Shia reported to be close to Teheran, on April 28,2005. However, it was also triggered off by US suspicion that the GHQ of al-Zarqawi was located in this area. US officials projected the operation as a major success resulting in the deaths of hundreds of foreign terrorists though al-Zarqawi himself could not be found. But, other independent sources played down the American claims and asserted that while hundreds were killed, they were not all terrorists or resistance-fighters. According to them, many of them were innocent civilans who fell victims to the usual excessive use of force by the Marines.

Moreover, violence has continued unabated in different parts of central and nortrhern Iraq, particularly in Baghdad and other areas of the Sunni Triangle even after Operation Matador. Not only hundreds of Iraqis have died, many of them Shia and Kurd members of the security forces and governmental agencies associated with the post-election Government, but even Americans continue to die, but in smaller number. According to latest estimates, 60 American soldiers have so far died since May 1. This shows that Operation Matador has not had any major impact---at least till now---on the morale, motivation and determination of the terrorists and the resistance-fighters.

Interestingly, the Operation has given rise to a plethora of speculation regarding al-Zarqawi. Most of the speculation has been the outcome of five reports originating from different sources. The first report was given currency by llen Knickmeyer of the "Washington Post". Reporting from the Al Asad American air base in Iraq on May 5,2005,this journalist said:"The U.S. military is examining reports that insurgent leader Abu Musab Zarqawi was present last week at a hospital in Anbar province and the possibility that he may be ill or wounded, officials said Wednesday. U.S. officials gave no details as to why they believe Zarqawi may be sick or injured. But U.S. military authorities were quoted this month as saying that Zarqawi had left medical information about himself on a laptop computer that was seized Feb. 20 in his closest known call with American pursuers. When his car was pulled over at a checkpoint outside Ramadi, Zarqawi fled on foot, leaving behind the laptop, photos of himself and contacts, officials said. It was not clear whether suspicions about his health were linked to the seizure of the computer or grew directly out of Zarqawi's reported presence last week at a hospital in Ramadi, the capital of restive Anbar province. Zarqawi's group asserted in a written statement posted at two mosques, one of them in Ramadi, that the Jordanian-born militant was at the hospital last Thursday during a raid by U.S. forces but that the Americans missed him."

An inexplicable part of the report was why should the Zarqawi group reveal that he was present in the hospital and that a raiding American party missed him? Was it true or was it trying to mislead the Americans about the exact whereabouts of Zarqawi by giving the impression that he was in Ramadi whereas he was elsewhere,

The second report, which was dated May 11,2005, emanated from "Elaph", a popular Arab web site.It quoted one Colonel Fouad Hani Hassan, described as the Commander of the Fifth Division of the newly-raised Iraqi army, as saying that al-Zarqawi "is seriously injured, possibly dead". This report, which did not indicate how this Iraqi officer came to this conclusion, lacked credibility.

Mohamad Bazzi, a Beirut-based journalist, whose reports are carried by some online news websites, was the author of the third report. He reported on May 20,2005: "al-Zarqawi, was injured and almost captured during a recent U.S. offensive near the Iraqi-Syrian border, according to Iraqi security officials. al-Zarqawi was not badly wounded, and he managed to escape during the weeklong U.S. siege of the town of Qaim, said two senior security officials who spoke by phone from Iraq and asked not to be named. The officials said their information is based on interrogations of insurgents captured in the area."He was hiding out in Qaim or in the surrounding regions," one official said. "He was apparently surprised by the American operation." U.S. intelligence officials say they have heard reports about al-Zarqawi being injured, but they have been unable to confirm them. "We don't rule it out," said a U.S. official familiar with the CIA's reporting on the issue. "The guy is racing around and is in harm's way, so you can't rule out the possibility ... It's hard to corroborate when the guy is a ghost running around out there somewhere. We try to track him as best we can."

The fourth report came on May 25,2005, from John F. Burns and Terence Neilan of "The New York Times". They said: " An Internet site used by Al Qaeda in Iraq said Tuesday that its leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, had been wounded, and it asked for Muslims to pray for his recovery."Let everybody know that the injury of our leader is an honor, and causes us to surround our enemy tighter," the statement said, in a translation by the Search for International Terrorist Entities Institute (SITEI) in Washington. The institute monitors Islamic Web sites.The wording of the six-paragraph statement, issued by the "information section" of the group, Al Qaeda Organization in the Land of Two Rivers, sounded as if Zarqawi has been badly hurt, and that his supporters were probably being prepared for his death.There was no way to assess the veracity of the statement or to determine whether it might even be a ploy to dilute the pursuit of Zarqawi, the American military's "most wanted man" in Iraq with a $25 million bounty on his head."

Other newspapers and agencies also disseminated the version of the SITEI. Reuters quoted Lt.Col. Steve Boylan, a US spokesman in Baghdad, as saying that he could not assess the report's credibility. "We have no information on whether he's wounded or what the state of his health is," he said.. "He's still our No. 1 target to be captured or killed and until that happens, the hunt is still on."

The same day, the North-East Intelligence Network, an online terrorism analysis group of the US, put out a different interpretation of the statement, which was in Arabic, purported to have been issued by the "Information Section" of the Zarqawi group.

Its interpretation, which was titled "Zarqawi "Injured" Status Questionable At Best: Single Statement, One Analysis Does Not Make It Fact", said: "A message from the terrorist organization al Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers via spokesman/poster Abu Maysara al Iraqi,was posted yesterday about the alleged wounding of the most hideous of Islamic terrorists, Abu Mus'ab al Zarqawi. "The wording of the six-paragraph statement, issued by the "information section" of the group Al Qaeda Organization in the Land of Two Rivers, led by al Iraqi sounded as if Zarqawi has been badly hurt, and that his supporters were probably being prepared for his death." This analysis is attributed to the SITE Institute and was quickly parroted by major media - which begs the question - has anyone bothered to actually read and analyze the statement? Does anyone consider the references to Islamic history within these statements? This statement follows last week's extensive message from Zarqawi himself, which not only calls for an increase in attacks in Iraq, but legitimizes the killing of Muslim women and children in the advancement of jihad. He cites Quranic references to drive home the point that anyone not supportive of jihad are themselves "cannon fodder." The latest statement, however, drawing sympathy from Muslim supporters worldwide, could be a ruse designed, in part, to incite violence against U.S. forces in Iraq. Be careful of the information you receive, as it might be designed to deceive."

The Network also gave its own English translation of the Arabic statement, which is annexed. A careful reading of the translation shows ,firstly, there is no reference to Zarqawi by name. It merely talks of a 'Sheikh", which has been presumed to be a reference to Zarqawi. Why can't it be a reference to Osama bin Laden, who is also referred to by his followers as the Sheikh. The statement, according to this translation, does not say that the Sheikh is injured, so pray for him. It says should the Sheikh be injured, pray for him. Why should the "Information Section" put out a statement that all Muslims should pray if their Sheikh is injured? This is inexplicable unless the poster has no personal information on Zarqawi and had made his posting on the basis of the reports discussed above which speculate about the possibility of Zarqawi having been injured.

Where are we after reading and analysing all these reports and comments on them by various analysts. Nowhere. We are as much in a state of confusion as we have always been since the US-led coalition invaded and occupied Iraq. All that one knows for certain is:

That, more than two years after the occupation, the Arab Sunni resistance to the US-led occupation shows no signs of abating. That there has been an unending flow of volunteers---from Iraq as well as outside---for the resistance movement, with many of them volunteering themselves for suicide missions.

That Iraqis---many of them from deposed President Saddam Hussein's Baath Party and Armed Forces----- and Saudis, recruited by Al Qaeda, spearhead the resistance movement.

That the Iraqi resistance-fighters and the foreign terrorists have shown remarkable co-ordination, even if they have been operating separately.

That there is a common brain behind all the anti-American operations in Iraq. 15. The Americans project al-Zarqawi's as that common brain, but their evidence in this regard is far from conclusive. The Americans, with their penchant for demonisation and dramatisation, have made al-Zarqawi appear as the source of most of what what has been happening in Iraq just as they had made, post-9/11, bin Laden appear as the source of most of the anti-Western jihadi terrorism taking place in the Islamic world.

Even if one leaves aside the over-projection of al-Zarqawi by the US, certain conclusions are inescapable:

That, unlike bin Laden, who does not get involved in the micromanagement of the global jihadi operations of the Al Qaeda, the nuts and bolts involvement of al Zarqawi in the operations of the foreign terrorists of the Al Qaeda in Iraqi territory has been more intense and personal.

That, whereas the incapacitation or capture or death of bin Laden may not have any lasting impact on the activities of the Al Qaeda and the International Islamic Front (IIF) in the rest of the world, that of Zarqawi is likely to have a greater impact on the operations of the foreign terrorists in Iraq. But it is unlikely to have any significant impact on the operations of the Arab Sunni resistance-fighters.

That if Zarqawi is captured, incapacitated or killed, the problem could be a little more manageable for the Americans in Iraq, but blood will continue to flow unless and until they succeed in pacifying the Sunni Arabs. It is doubtful whether they would be able to do it without the co-operation of Saddam Hussein. 20.

De-demonising Saddam Hussein and his followers and making amends for the wrongs done to them in the past are as important as neutralising al-Zarqawi---if not more important-- if the Americans are to extricate themselves out of the present situation in Iraq. (26-5-05)


In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate If a wound has touched you, know that a corresponding wound has touched the others. Such days we give to men and men in turn; that Allah may know those who believe, and that He may take to Himself from your ranks Martyr-witnesses. And Allah loves not those that do wrong. Qu'ran Surah The Cow, verse 140

O Allah! Make our shots hit their targets and hold us firmly in place.

Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds. Final victory is on the side of the believers, and no aggression except on those who transgress all bounds. Peace and prayers to the Imam of the mujahideen, our prophet, Mohamed, and to his family and his companions.

Oh my Islamic nation , oh brothers of unity, pray for our Sheikh so that Allah will heal him should he be injured fighting in the name of Allah! May Allah heal you, our beloved mujahid. May Allah help you stand firm, both you and those who accompany you.

The messenger of Allah was wounded and one of his teeth was broken in the battle of Uhud. You have indeed in the messenger of Allah an excellent example for he who believes in Allah and the Day of Judgement, and who think of Allah.

Those near and far should be aware that any injury to our Sheikh will cause us to become more steadfast against the enemies of Allah, and will bring a huge increase in attacks against them. Our Sheikh has taught us that everything of value loses its value when the religion and the unity are at risk.

Our sheikh has taught the youth to follow the religion of Abraham, to forsake evil, and to put our faith and trust in Allah.

We say to you: if you are suffering from difficulties, the enemy will also suffer. But your reward is from Allah, and they do not have this. Allah knows all.

O Allah, ease the pain and replace the pain with healing, for there is no healing except through your will

God is the Greatest! God is the Greatest! God is the Greatest! Praise be to Allah, to his messenger, and to the mujahideen

Al Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers Tuesday, 16 Rabea Al Thani 1426 May 24, 2005

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-Mail: [email protected]

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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