ATbar The Implications of Zarqawi's Death
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The Implications of Zarqawi's Death

21/06/2006 | by Karmon, Ely (Dr.)  
The leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musa'ab al-Zarqawi, was killed on the evening of June 7, 2006 in a U.S. air strike in Baquba, Iraq. Five others died in the air strike-Zarqawi's spiritual adviser, Sheikh Abd-Al-Rahman, one woman, one child and two other men.1

Citing Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, al-Jazeera reported "Al-Zarqawi is eliminated." U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who spoke with the prime minister during his announcement of Zarqawi's death, said: "The death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a huge success for Iraq and the international war on terror."

Intelligence leading up to the operation

It should be noted that U.S. and allied forces had come close to capturing Zarqawi several times since mid-2003. In late 2004 Major-General Hussein Kamal, the then Iraqi deputy interior minister, said Iraqi security forces caught Zarqawi near Falluja but released him because they did not realize who he was. U.S. forces believe they missed capturing Zarqawi in a raid on February 20, 2005, when troops closed in on his vehicle west of Baghdad and captured his driver and seized his computer. Finally in April 2006, Task Force 145 came close to capturing Zarqawi in Yusufiya, a town south of Baghdad, but detained only a handful of his operatives.2 

U.S. General George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said the air strike on Zarqawi was the result of intelligence reports provided to Iraqi security forces by residents in the area. Major General William Caldwell told a news conference that it took detailed planning before two F-16 fighter jets dropped two 500-pound (227 kg) bombs on the house where Zarqawi stayed. Caldwell said important information was found at the location that led to 17 simultaneous raids later that night in Baghdad and its outskirts that uncovered a "treasure trove" of information.3

In recent weeks, American intelligence had begun to use a remotely piloted aircraft to follow Sheik Abd al-Rahman, Zarqawi's "spiritual adviser," who they believed could lead them directly to Zarqawi. According to a Pentagon official, the Americans finally obtained an Iraqi informant inside al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia who provided the critical piece of intelligence about Rahman's meeting with Zarqawi. In an interview, a Jordanian official said the mission that killed Zarqawi was a joint operation conducted by the Americans and Jordanian intelligence and the inside source had been cultivated at least in part by Jordanian intelligence.4

Based in Balad, the secret task force 145 has launched a number of raids in recent weeks that military officials say have been particularly successful in capturing or killing crucial members of Zarqawi's network, as well as netting documents that provided the basis for more raids. On the basis of the information provided by the human source and sigint intelligence, American military decided to carry out a military operation. Commandos from Task Force 145 moved into Hibhib and surrounded the place where Zarqawi was hiding. The decision to bomb Zarqawi was made in large part because military officials feared he might escape again if American and Iraqi forces moved in on the ground.5 According to the Multi-National Force - Iraq Combined Press Information Center, "Iraqi police were first on the scene after the air strike, and elements of Multi-National Division - North, arrived shortly thereafter."6

The information leaked until now to the media, together with the successful results of the operations waged over the last few months, show that the U.S. and Coalition forces have achieved quite a deep penetration of al-Qaeda's network inside Iraq and arrested or killed a significant number of senior operatives, including Zarqawi and his inner circle.

The question being asked in political and military circles, as well as by the media and the public at large is how, or if, Zarqawi's death will influence the insurgency in Iraq and the terrorist activity of al-Qaeda in the Middle East.

The Iraqi arena

It is difficult to monitor and analyze the very numerous and disparate groups and organizations which proliferate in the Iraqi insurgency. Some divide them into two camps: the Salafi Jihadists and the Islamist-Nationalists. The majority of the insurgents in the field-well over 90%-belong to the Islamist-Nationalist camp, including native Iraqis, and are concentrated in the Sunni triangle of western, central and north-western Iraq. The nationalists are lead mainly by mid-ranking intelligence and military officers, mostly ex-members of the Baath party, but not always ideological Baathists.7

It should be understood that Zarqawi's organization Tandhim al-Qa'ida fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (al-Qaeda's Organization in Mesopotamia, or The Land of the Two Rivers) is only one of some 13 Islamist groups active in Iraq. The second in importance is probably Jaysh Ansar al-Sunna (Partisans of the Sunna Army).8 However, since the immediate aftermath of the war in Iraq, Zarqawi was considered to be the most dangerous leader of the most dangerous group connected with al-Qaeda.9

The successes of Zarqawi's group during the two and-a-half years of terrorist and guerrilla activity and the continuation of their painful strikes against the coalition forces-primarily against the officials and security forces of the new Iraqi government-has attracted more and more groups and volunteers to his ranks. Although for a long time he was considered the representative of al-Qaeda in Iraq, it was only in December of 2004 that his allegiance to bin Laden and al-Qaeda materialized.10

Several Islamist websites have broadcast taped messages of Zarqawi's deputy Abu Abdel Rahman al Iraqi, who announced in a statement the death of Abu Musab, signed by the Muhajideen Shura Council's Media Committee. Abdullah bin Rashid al-Baghdadi, the Shura Council's head, vowed to continue the fight: "Iraq is the front defense line for Islam and Muslims," he said and threatened "the slaves of the cross (coalition forces), the grandsons of Ibn al-Alqami (Shiites), and every infidel of the Sunnis" that the mujahideen will "sever their necks with swords."11

Other websites also featured articles deploring Abu Musab's death, saying, "Whereas al Zarqawi has died, in the umma there will be a thousand more Zarqawi." Muntasir al Zayat, an Islamist lawyer in Egypt, estimated that "a temporary confusion will reign across the organization. This is normal and to be expected. But, I believe al Qaeda will overcome this confusion quickly, given that a religious group with many independent cells will have taken into consideration the absence of its leader, or his death or imprisonment. New alternative leaders will be ready to take his place."12

At least five bombs, most them packed in vehicles, detonated following Zarqawi's death in and around Baghdad killing at least 40 people and injuring dozens. Ansar al-Sunna posted a video showing militants interrogating and then beheading three Iraqis accused of belonging to a Shiite "death squad" that killed Sunnis. The posting suggests an attempt to show that Zarqawi's death has not weakened their resolve. Ansar al-Sunna vowed to break attempts at political progress in Iraq: "To all Muslim everywhere, the battle is still going on and has reached its peak. Our next phase is to make the new plans [of the U.S. and Iraqi governments] fail, like the previous ones," said the statement, signed by the group's "emir," Abu Abdullah al-Hassan bin Mahmoud.13

One of Zarqawi's main objectives since the September 2003 assassination of Ayatollah al-Hakim was to attack the Shi'a of Iraq, provoke them to retaliate against the Sunnis and thus trigger a civil war. This strategy, reflecting the common Wahhabi doctrine, became obvious after U.S. authorities leaked a letter written by Zarqawi in January 2004. The Shi'a were described as "the most evil of mankind…the lurking snake, the crafty and malicious scorpion, the spying enemy, and the penetrating venom." Their crime was "patent polytheism, worshipping at graves, and circumambulating shrines."14

Zarqawi's position concerning the Shi'a contradicted that of bin Laden and al-Qaeda, who stressed the importance of the Sunnis and Shi'a presenting a united front against the Americans. Finally it was bin Laden who accepted the strategy of Zarqawi, recognizing the predominance of the leaders who continued the fight on the ground rather than that of the nominal leadership which was hiding somewhere in Pakistan.

Even in his last audio message, Zarqawi blasted Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, as the "leader of infidelity and atheism," accused Shiite groups and government forces of being responsible for numerous attacks on Sunnis and suggested that Shiites themselves were behind the February bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samara. He also criticized the militia of the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr for stopping the fight against American forces.15

However, support for al Zarqawi is far from unanimous. In a number of Islamist forums, posters criticized his violent streak and random killings. "Abu Musab exaggerated his significance and his vanity. His hands were sullied with the pure blood of the people of the Sunna. The main Sunni mujahideen groups are displeased with what he is and his groups [are] doings...Ahla al Sunna in Iraq dissociate themselves from him and exonerate themselves from him."16

Although sharing the common short-term objective of derailing the U.S.-sponsored political transition in Iraq the insurgency is indeed divided. The mostly foreign Salafi jihadists, led by Zarqawi, are striving to turn Iraq into a springboard for global Islamist struggle, while the indigenous Arab Sunni groups with an Islamist-nationalist orientation are fighting to achieve realistic domestic political goals. According to some observers, the Islamist-nationalist camp's tacit endorsement of Sunni participation in parliamentary elections in December indicates that it may be willing to end its rejection of the new Iraqi state in exchange for political concessions.17

Significantly, on June 8, defense and interior minister candidates put forward by Nuri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, were approved by parliament. Jawad al-Bulani, a Shia, was chosen to lead the interior ministry. Al-Bulani is a former air force engineer who left the armed forces in 1999. General Abd al-Qadir Jasim al-Ubaidi, a Sunni, was approved as defense minister. He served in the army under Saddam Hussein but was demoted when he opposed the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Agreement has also been reached for Shirwan al-Waili to become the new minister for national security.

The impact on the regional level

Since the "millennium plot" of 1999 in Jordan, Zarqawi was involved in terrorist activities in the Middle East, Western Europe, and Russia, and his connections stretched as far as Chechnya and the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia.18 In 1999, after his release from a Jordanian prison, al Zarqawi traveled to Afghanistan, where disagreements between him and bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al Zawahiri soon emerged. According to Saif al Adel, an al-Qaeda senior operative who brought Zarqawi to the Taliban stronghold in Kandahar, Zarqawi refused to pledge allegiance to bin Laden. After his talks with bin Laden, Zarqawi established a military training camp for his group Jund al Sham in Herat, in western Afghanistan, close to the Iranian border. His fighters came from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.19

The radical Sunni Islamist insurgents belonging to the Zarqawi group in Iraq believe they are fighting a region-wide war in Iraq to create a Sunni puritan state, a war that extends throughout the world and affects all Arab states and all of Islam. Since his designation by bin Laden as "emir" (leader) of al-Qaeda in Iraq in December 2004, Zarqawi had taken advantage of this legitimization by assuming the role of "emir" of al-Sham (the Levant), including Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine in the area of his responsibly. In this framework he acted accordingly to extend his influence in the region.

Jordan. Zarqawi was arrested in Jordan in 1994 for being part of an alleged plot to overthrow the King and his family, sentenced to 15 years in prison but served only about six. He was released in 1999 as part of a general amnesty. Jordan became one of the main targets of his organization. Zarqawi was sentenced in absentia to death for the 2002 murder of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley and for the December 2004 attack at the Karama-Trebil border crossing. One of his men, Muammar Jaghbir is on trial for the 2003 attack against the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad. 13 men are on trial in Jordan for plotting a chemical bomb attack in Amman in April 2004. The cell leader Zamia Jays admitted meeting with Zarqawi in preparation for the attack. Zarqawi was responsible for the November 9, 2005 bombing of three hotels in Amman that killed 63 people and the August 19, 2005 rocket attack in Aqaba against the U.S. Navy that also impacted Eilat, Israel. The hotel bombings targeting of a wedding reception, the country's worst-ever terrorist attacks, shocked many Jordanians and eroded support for Zarqawi and al-Qaeda within Jordan.20

Egypt. Egyptian courts announced that the Islamist group Tawhid wal Jihad was responsible for the Taba attack in October 2004, and the Sharm Al-Sheikh operation in July 2005. It should be recalled that Zarqawi's group was also called Tawhid wal Jihad before it pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden and changed its name to The al-Qa'ida Jihad Organization in Mesopotamia [the Land of the Two Rivers]. As Zarqawi appeared in the Arab world as the most feared and successful insurgent in Iraq and the region, he probably influenced the choice of the Egyptian jihadist group's name as Tawhid wal Jihad, and possibly had contacts with the Cairo group Al-Taefa Al-Mansoura for the recruitment of Egyptians to his ranks. However, Zarqawi did not mention Egypt in his last April video.21

The Palestinian arena. The al-Qaeda's Committee in Mesopotamia claimed responsibility for the rocket attack from southern Lebanon on northern Israel on the night of December 27, 2005. Four rockets hit the town of Kiryat Shmona, while another hit the Western Galilee town of Shlomi and four landed in open areas. According to its statement, after "careful planning and intelligence gathering, a group of al-Tawheed lions and Al-Qaida operatives put their faith in Allah and launched a new attack on the Jewish state… [with] ten Grad rockets from Muslim territory of Lebanon toward selected targets in the northern part of the Jewish state…This blessed attack was carried out by the mujahideen in the name of Mujahid Shaykh Usama Bin Laden, the commander of Al-Qaida... With the help of Allah, what is yet to come will be far worse."22

In a statement faxed to Reuters after Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. air strike north of Baghdad on Wednesday, Hamas said it mourned "brother-fighter Abu Musab…who was martyred at the hands of the savage crusade campaign which targets the Arab homeland, starting in Iraq."23 Hamas denied the statement but hailed him as a symbol of resistance to occupation. Sami Abu-Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said that Hamas "reiterates its supportive position to all liberation movements and foremost the Iraqi liberation movement, for which Zarqawi was one of the symbols in the face of the American occupation."24 Interestingly, it seems Hamas' website in Arabic, English and other languages did not mention at all Zarqawi's death.

The Israeli TV 2 Channel recently showed the last fashion among youngsters in the Gaza Strip: the use of a black head scarf "a la Zarqawi", who has even eclipsed bin Laden as the worshiped jihadi leader.

Lebanon. During the last year there seemed to be a possible change in al-Qaeda's and Zarqawi's strategy in relation to Iran and its proxy organization the Lebanese Hizballah.

On the background of Zarqawi's stated strategy to attack the Shiites in Iraq and provoke a civil war with the Sunnis, Ayman al-Zawahiri sent him the famous letter of July 2005 in which he acknowledged "the extent of danger to Islam of the Twelve'er school of Shiism" but confronted him "about the correctness of this conflict with the Shia at this time." Zawahiri warned Zarqawi that the attacks against the Shia in Iraq could compel "the Iranians to take counter measures…against more than one hundred [al-Qaeda] prisoners - many of whom are from the leadership who are wanted in their countries - [and are] in the custody of the Iranians." Actually, Zawahiri proposed, al-Qaeda "and the Iranians need to refrain from harming each other at this time in which the Americans are targeting" them.25

It is possible that the rocket attack from southern Lebanon on northern Israel in December 2005 was a first step in some kind of understanding between the two sides, al-Qaeda and Iran, which permitted the attack from a territory notably known to be under the rigorous control of Hizballah.

It took two weeks before Hizballah publicly denied its knowledge of the attack and cautioned against the use of territory considered under its responsibility: "There are some [operatives] in Lebanon," said Sheikh Naim Qassem, Hizballah's deputy secretary-general. "We don't know how many and we don't know their plans or if they intend to do [military] operations here…[and] it's important to caution everyone not to make Lebanon an arena for settling scores." He claimed it is indeed possible to act without Hizballah's knowledge and that the organization is still investigating the al-Qaeda claim.26

The Lebanese authorities arrested 13 al-Qaeda suspects in different parts of the country and charged them with "establishing a gang to carry out terrorist acts, forging official and private documents and possessing unlicensed arms." Among the thirteen al-Qaeda suspects were seven Syrians, three Lebanese, a Saudi Arabian, a Jordanian and a Palestinian. Beirut's Daily Star reported an alleged al-Qaeda statement that warned the Palestinians camps of Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon that they would face attacks from al-Qaeda if they did not conform to their ideology.27

Interestingly, in April 2006, nine men were charged with plotting to assassinate Hizballah's secretary-general Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. They were presented as "Salafists who saw in Sheik Nasrallah a good Shiite target to avenge the death of Sunnis in Iraq.'' Nasrallah himself declared that he would not blame Lebanon's Sunnis if the conspirators were shown to be motivated by Sunni militancy.28

It is of note that several days before his death, Zarqawi called for the disarmament of Lebanon's Hizballah, according to an audio message posted on the Internet. He accused Hizballah of serving as a "shield protecting the Zionist enemy [Israel] against the strikes of the mujahideen in Lebanon," in a reference to Sunni Arab militants loyal to the al-Qaeda network. In reaction, a Hizballah spokesman dismissed Zarqawi's call, accusing him of trying to "distort the image of the resistance and its leaders," through the media.29

Possibly, this volte-face of Zarqawi after the attempt to operate from southern Lebanon under the benevolent neutrality of Hizballah is a result of his intricate relationship with Iran.

According to a book published in mid-2005 by the Jordanian journalist Fuad Husayn, who spent time in prison with Zarqawi, Abu-Mus'ab thought that the U.S.-Israeli confrontation with Iran is inevitable and could succeed in destroying Iran's infrastructure. Accordingly, Iran is preparing to retaliate by using the powerful cards in its hands. The area of the war will expand, pro-U.S. Shi'a in Iraq and Afghanistan will suffer embarrassment and might reconsider their alliances, and this will provide al-Qaeda with a larger vital area from which to carry out its activities, including Lebanon.30

But a recent document published after Zarqawi's death describes a "bleak situation" of the Islamist insurgency in Iraq, which led Zarqawi to conceive a replacement strategy to provoke a "delegated war" the best of which would be "the one between the Americans and Iran, because it will have many benefits in favor of the Sunni and the resistance, such as: freeing the Sunni people in Iraq, who are (30 percent) of the population and under the Shi'a Rule; drowning the Americans in another war that will engage many of their forces; the possibility of acquiring new weapons from the Iranian side, either after the fall of Iran or during the battles; to entice Iran towards helping the resistance because of its need for its help; weakening the Shi'a supply line." The document ends with some operational proposals how to provoke this war.31

Activities in Europe. Authorities across Europe have identified dozens of young militant Muslim men who have either left Europe to fight in Iraq or have been stopped while planning to do so. American forces in Iraq have said at least three French nationals are among the dozens of foreign fighters they have captured there. German authorities, meanwhile, have arrested 18 suspected members of the radical group Ansar al-Islam and the Zarqawi network since December 2004. In April, Italian authorities uncovered a group of North Africans who had travelled to Syria to join Zarqawi's fighters in Iraq.32

According to intelligence experts in Jordan and in the West at the time of his death, Zarqawi was still trying to transform his organization from one focused on the Iraqi insurgency into a global operation capable of striking beyond Iraq. He sought to recruit volunteers to fight in Iraq, including suicide bombers, and at the same time recruited about 300 who went to Iraq for terrorist training and sent them back to their home countries to await orders to carry out strikes. U.S. counterterrorism officials believed the people trained and sent home to await orders was probably significantly lower than 300.33

Did Zarqawi replace bin Laden?

According to Salameh Nematt, the Washington bureau chief for the London daily Al-Hayat, Zarqawi was "on the edge of declaring total rebellion against bin Laden and Zawahiri," his followers grew exponentially and he was eclipsing the founders of al-Qaeda. On his part, Bin Laden in his latest communiqué in April even urged Muslims to wage jihad in Darfur, Sudan, rather than in Iraq.34

On April 25, after a silence of almost four months, Zarqawi issued a 34-minute video posted on the Internet. The video presented images of Zarqawi, much in the style of bin Laden during his stay in Afghanistan. U.S. intelligence experts said the tapes presented bin Laden and Zarqawi "emerging as rivals for pre-eminence within Al Qaeda…[a]lthough Mr. Zarqawi pledged loyalty to Mr. bin Laden in 2004 and referred to him in his most recent videotape as 'our prince,' there was little else in his fiery message to suggest he was operating under orders from Mr. bin Laden." Perhaps it was an effort by Zarqawi "to quell rumours that he had been marginalized and to portray himself as a leader of the global jihad." Other Iraqi and American military officials interpreted the video as showing that Zarqawi was weak, "because he felt the need to advertise with his muscles and guns."35

In this author's opinion, the video conveyed to Islamists a much stronger message. It presented Zarqawi as the real leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and in the region, as his allusion to the Palestinian issue implies ("While we are fighting in Iraq our eyes are always on Bayt al-Maqdis [Jerusalem]"). Bin Laden's name ("Our Amir and leader, Shaykh Osama") is mentioned only once, while Zarqawi is addressed several times as "noble Shaykh."36 It is true that much of it is an imitation of past bin Laden and Zawahiri videos. But Zarqawi appears in the "official" video like "Rambo," much stronger and well-built than the frail bin Laden, firing long standing bursts from a heavy American automatic rifle. In the video appears a picture of Bin Laden, while portions of an audio message by him aired July 2004 is played in the background. But he looks like a portrait of an old man, a far away virtual figure, not the leader in command.

Some think that the biggest beneficiary of Zarqawi's death may very well be al-Qaeda's older leadership. It may allow the organization to mend fences with Muslims and perhaps even with other terrorist groups that his "excesses" have alienated.37

What next?

U.S. military officials, although eager to present an optimistic picture of the fight against the insurgency in Iraq, are cautious in their evaluations: "Although the designated leader of al-Qaida in Iraq is now dead, the terrorist organization still poses a threat as its members will continue to try to terrorize the Iraqi people and destabilize their government as it moves toward stability and prosperity. Iraqi forces, supported by the Coalition, will continue to hunt terrorists that threaten the Iraqi people until terrorism is eradicated in Iraq."38

Meanwhile the thrust of the U.S. and coalition forces to take advantage of the intelligence acquired before and after the operation which killed Zarqawi continues. The U.S. and Iraqi militaries have killed a total of 104 insurgents and captured 759 "anti-Iraqi" elements in 452 raids carried out across the country since Zarqawi died on 7 June. The raids also led to the discovery of 28 significant arms caches. Of the raids, 255 were joint operations, while 143 were carried out by Iraqi forces alone.39

Independent analysts are also cautiously optimistic. They recognize that the death of Zarqawi "will not end the insurgency or bury al-Qaeda in Iraq." They acknowledge that "al-Qaeda in Iraq has limited resources and a finite pool of expertise," a fact which will necessarily impact on its effectiveness and degrade its operational security.40 As a result of the disruption of Zarqawi group's terrorist activity there will probably be a decline in the number and quality of attacks in the near future, and attacks against Shiites and civilians could diminish because of his close identification with sectarian violence and the need of the new leadership to look for support from other elements of the insurgency.41

In the short term, one of the crucial issues for al-Qaeda in Iraq will be the decision concerning the choice for the leadership, with a potential struggle between Iraqi and foreign elements. Other possibilities could be the decentralization among local lesser "emirs" or absorption of Zarqawi's diminished troops by other local organizations.42

Al-Qaeda named al-Zarqawi's successor as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir. In a statement posted on an Islamist website signed by al-Muhajir, al-Qaeda vowed to avenge the killing of Zarqawi. The U.S. military claimed the real name of the new leader was Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian who trained in Afghanistan and formed al-Qaeda's first cell in Baghdad.43

While many sites speculated about Abu Mohammed al Masri, who the U.S. army suggested would take over the helm of al Qaeda in Iraq, the bayaa, or ceremony to pledge allegiance to al Zarqawi's deputy, Abu Abdel Rahman al Iraqi, appeared to have already started.44 Strangely, Jordanian security sources quoted by the London al-Sharq al-Awsat, claimed earlier that Abu Ayyub al-Masri also died in the raid that killed Zarqawi. The same sources named Muhammad Saleh Hasan al-Aqidi as the most likely heir as emir of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. 45

According to Evan Kohlman, a well-known American analyst of the jihadist scene, Abu Ayyub al-Masri first surfaced in a CENTCOM most wanted list about a year and a half ago. When Al-Qaeda announced that Zarqawi's successor would actually be another unknown named Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, the Pentagon revised their earlier statement and Major General William Caldwell explained to a press conference, "We think that Abu Ayyub al-Masri is in fact, probably, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir. They are probably one and the same." Unfortunately, this conclusion has been called into serious doubt by sources and many in the jihadist community called upon the al-Qaeda-umbrella group the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC) to issue a new statement and clear up these "lies."46 


The killing of Zarqawi and his "spiritual adviser" Sheik Abd-Al-Rahman after a series of other successful intelligence operations by U.S. and coalition forces is indeed an important event in the fight against the insurgency in Iraq and more so against the al-Qaeda network, which seems disrupted for the time being on the regional Middle Eastern level.

The organization will need some time to find another leader of the stature of Zarqawi, who took three years to build his Iraqi and regional status.

In any case, the new leadership, under pressure from major Iraqi and non-Iraqi jihadi exponents, along with the influence of bin Laden and Zawahiri, will probably downplay the anti-Shi'a strategy devised and brutally implemented by Zarqawi.

Thus, the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi affords a rare opportunity for the Sunni militants to join the political process and avert a full-scale civil war. This would of course depend on the condition that the Iraqi government, for its part, contains the Shiite and Kurdish militias and death squads and proposes an acceptable compromise for the sharing of political power and national resources.

The regional and global al-Qaeda associates face a challenging situation. Zarqawi's death is the last in a series of similar blows: the erosion of the al-Qaeda Saudi organization after the killing by the Saudi security forces of numerous terrorists and the last three foremost leaders, Abdulaziz al-Moqrin in 2004, Salih al-'Awfi and the Moroccan Abdelkrim Mejjati in 2005 (Mejjati was also implicated in the planning of the bombings in Casablanca in 2003 and Madrid in 2004); Nabil Sahraoui, who took over the North African Salafist Group for Call and Combat in 2004 and announced that he was merging it with al-Qaeda was gunned down by Algerian troops that same year.

It is possible that in the near future the strategic guidance will return to the hiding leaders, mainly to Ayman al-Zawahiri who appeared 16 times in videos released since June 2005 compared with bin Laden's two or three appearances since December 2004. But this does not mean that they will be followed devotedly, as has been shown in the case of the Saudi and Iraqi al-Qaeda associates.

Possible directions for al-Qaeda could be to concentrate the main effort on two relatively new/old arenas: Egypt and Gaza: Egypt, because of its regional significance and the difficulty the security authorities seem to have in quelling the local groups in the Sinai and Cairo. Egypt is also an easy gate to penetrate the Palestinian Authority.

Gaza is already a focal target and the potential of a violent conflict between Fatah and the governing Hamas, a possible radicalization of some Hamas elements, or renewed Israeli ground intervention in the Strip on the background of the continuing bombings inside Israel could convince more Palestinians to join some al-Qaeda framework inside the Territories.

Finally, a forgotten continent, Africa, seems lately of great interest to al-Qaeda. An article published by Abu Azzam al-Ansari on the Internet magazine Sada al-Jihad (Echo of Jihad) provides an analysis of the advantages of Africa as a battlefield and greenhouse for global Jihad. It recalls the fact that the mujahideen already have "had a prominent role in North and East Africa" and evokes the recent declaration by Osama bin Laden of a war against the Crusaders that plan to open a front in Darfur/West Sudan. It claims that the political and military conditions in most of the African continent, the weakness of its governments, the internal fighting and corruption of the regimes, permit the mujahideen to move, plan, and organize themselves without "being seen." "This is a continent with a lot of potential, advantages, and exploiting this potential will benefit the Jihad" in the against the Crusaders.47

The coming months will decide the course that the al-Qaeda leaders of the older and younger generation. This is all the more true, against the background of a possible conflict between the international community and Iran regarding the issue of the latter's nuclearization.


1 For an updated evaluation of Zarqawi's activities until his death see my articles: Ely Karmon, "Al-Qa'ida and the War on Terror - After The War In Iraq," MERIA Journal, Vol. 10, No. 1, March 2006, at,  "Egypt as a New Front of al-Qaeda," May 5, 2006, at  and "Who bombed Northern Israel? Al-Qaida and Palestine" January 1, 2006 at

2 See Dexter Filkins, Mark Mazzetti And Richard A. Oppel Jr., "The Raid. Surveillance and Betrayal Ended Hunt," New York Times (NYT), June 9, 2006.

3 See Deutsche Presse-Agentur, June 8, 2006.

4 See Dexter Filkins, Mark Mazzetti And Richard A. Oppel Jr., The Raid. Surveillance and Betrayal Ended Hunt.

5 Ibid.

6 See Press Release, Multi-National Force - Iraq Combined Press Information Center, Baghdad, Iraq, Http://Www.Mnf-Iraq.Com,  June 8, 2006.

7 See Mahan Abedin, "Iraq's Divided Insurgents," Mideast Monitor, Vol. 1 No. 1, February 2006. See also Michael Eisenstadt and Jeffrey White, "Assessing Iraq's Sunni Arab Insurgency," Policy Focus, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, No. 50, December 2005.

8 See for instance "In Their Own Words: Reading The Iraqi Insurgency," International Crisis Group Middle East Report, no. 50, 15 February 2006.

9 For an in-depth analysis of his career see Nimrod Raphaeli, "The Sheikh of the Slaughterers: Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi and the Al-Qa'ida Connection," MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis Series, No. 231, July 1, 2005.

10 See Ely Karmon, Al-Qa'ida and the War on Terror - After The War In Iraq.

11 See "Iraqi Insurgents Vow to Continue Fighting," Asharq Al-Awsat, June 10, 2006.

12 See Mohammed Al Shafey, "Extremist Websites in Mourning," London Asharq Al-Awsat, June 10, 2006.

13 "Iraqi Insurgents Vow to Continue Fighting," Asharq Al-Awsat, June 10, 2006.

14 See Raphaeli, The Sheikh of the Slaughterers.

15 See "'Zarqawi tape' demands that Hizbullah lay down its arms. Head of Al-Qaeda in Iraq lashes out at 'infidel' Shiites," Beirut Daily Star, June 3, 2006

16 See Mohammed Al Shafey, Extremist Websites in Mourning.

17 See Mahan Abedin, Iraq's Divided Insurgents.

18 See Ulrich Schneckener, "Iraq and Terrorism: How Are 'Rogue States' and Terrorists Connected?," Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik Comments, March 2003 and also Kenneth Katzman, "Iraq: U.S. Regime Change Efforts, the Iraqi Opposition, and Post-War Iraq," Congressional Research Service Report, March 17, 2003.

19 See Mshari Al-Zaydi, "Zarqawi: The Ordinary Death of an Extraordinary Terrorist," Asharq Al-Awsat, June 10, 2006.

20 See "Country Reports on Terrorism Released by the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism

Chapter 5 -- Country Reports: Middle East and North Africa Overview," U.S. Department of States, April 28, 2006, at 

21 See Ely Karmon, Egypt as a New Front of al-Qaeda.

22 See the Communique at 

23 See Reuters, June 8, 2006.

24 See Reuters, June 10, 2006.

25 See "Letter from al-Zawahiri to al-Zarqawi," ODNI News Release, No. 2-05, October 11, 2005, at  The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released the letter dated July 9, 2005, obtained during counterterrorism operations in Iraq.

26 See Ilene R. Presher and Nicholas Blanford, "Al Qaeda takes aim at Israel," The Christian Science Monitor, January 13, 2006.

27 See Steve Schippert, "al-Qaeda Branching into Lebanon, Hezbollah Unimpressed," ThreatsWatch, January 14, 2006 at. 

28 See Hamza Hendawi, "Hezbollah Links Plot to Clashes in Iraq," Associated Press, April 15, 2006.

29 See "'Zarqawi tape' demands that Hizbullah lay down its arms. Head of Al-Qaeda in Iraq lashes out at 'infidel' Shiites," Daily Star, June 03, 2006.

30 See Fuad Husayn, The Second Generation of Al-Qa'ida (Part 13), a serialized book on Al Zarqawi and Al-Qa'ida published by the London al-Quds al-'Arabi, July 11, 2005..

31 "Text of a document discovered in terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's hideout. The document was provided in English by Iraqi National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie," The Associated Press, June 15, 2006.

32 See Michael Slackman and Scott Shane "Terrorists Trained by Zarqawi Went Abroad, Jordan Says," The New York Times, June 11, 2006

33 Ibid.

34 Cited from Lawrence Wright, "The Terrorist," New Yorker, Issue of June 19, 2006 posted June 12, 2006, at 

35 See David Johnston and Mark Mazzetti, "Hints of Disharmony in Qaeda Tapes," NYT, May 1, 2006.

36 See translation of Zarqawi's video at the U.S. Central Command website "What Extremists are Saying,'' at 

37 See Spencer Ackerman, "The Downside of Zarqawi's Death. Death Penalty," The New Republic OnLine, June 6, 2006.

38 Press Release, Multi-National Force - Iraq Combined Press Information Center, Baghdad, Iraq, Http://Www.Mnf-Iraq.Com, June 8, 2006.

39 See Patrick Quinn, "Captured papers show weakening insurgency," YahooNews, June 15, 2006.

40 See Bill Roggio, "The demise of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, courtesy of Task Force 145," at 

41 See Jeffrey White, "The Death of Zarqawi: Organizational and Operational Implications for the Insurgency," PolicyWatch, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, No. 1113, June 8, 2006.

42 Ibid.

43 Reuters, June 15, 2006.

44 See Mohammed Al Shafey, "Extremist Websites in Mourning," Asharq Al-Awsat, June 10, 2006.

45 See "Iraq: Al-Zarqawi Heir Also Killed, Jordanian Services Say," AKI, June 12, 2006.

46 See Evan Kohlmann, "Dissension in the Ranks over Al-Qaida's New Chief in Iraq," June 15, 2006, at 

47 See the text of Abu Azzam al-Ansari, "Al-Qaeda tattajih nahwa Ifrikya" (Al-Qaeda is moving to Africa), Sada al-Jihad, no. 7 (June 2006), pp. 27-30, as translated and analyzed by Reuven Paz and Moshe Terdman in "Africa: The Gold Mine of Al-Qaeda and Global Jihad," The Project For The Research Of Islamist Movements (PRISM) Occasional Papers, Vol. 4, No. 2, June 2006, at