Is he, or isn't he?
As I write this, speculation abounds as to whether or not Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is still alive. Iraqi and U.S. forces took a house in Mosul on Saturday, and some of the occupants blew themselves up to avoid capture. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari earlier today stated
:"In my view, I would say there must have been some key leaders of the insurgency, especially the fundamentalists -- al Qaeda type of people -- so I would not be surprised if he could be one of those who blew himself up." "We know that American and Iraqi forces ... surrounded a house where there was fierce resistance and when the American and Iraqi forces jointly tried to storm the building the occupants blew themselves up, they committed suicide," Zebari added. "They believe there must have been some key leaders from the terrorists, from the fundamentalists who committed suicide instead of handing themselves up."
Now I am not certain that I agree with that sentiment- a great many non-key members of al Qaeda have blown themselves up, and let us not forget how Saddam himself, a key leader if there ever was one, was dragged from a hole in the ground with no fight whatsoever. Reports
from within our government indicate scepticism that al-Zarqawi was in the house, although we may be closing in
on him. Of course allied forces will continue to check to see if he was killed in the raid, but-I have to ask, does it really matter if al-Zarqawi is dead? (Although, if he really is, I'll gladly eat 72 raisins
to mark his passing.)
Al-Zarqawi has recently become a bit of a pariah in the middle east, or at least in parts of it, after his group claimed responsibility for three bombings in Jordan (several good video clips embedded in that piece). One of these bombings targeted a wedding party- killing the fathers of both the bride and groom, and several other relatives and party guests. His killing of, or sponsorship of the killing of, non-Muslims was not enough to invoke the ire of the "religion of peace", but this time by striking close to home, he may have gone too far. Having crossed the line, he may be more valuable to al-Qaeda dead than alive.
One of the constant problems with the "war on terror" is the very nature of the enemy- amorphous, difficult to pinpoint or identify. While "men" such as Osama bin Laden and al-Zarqawi put a face to the enemy, it is the ideology, not these men, who we fight. It is the ability of such men to convince others to strap on explosive belts and decimate a wedding, or to fly airliners into skyscrapers that makes them dangerous, but it is the continuing supply of willing volunteers that ensures the battle will continue.
We have seen proof that volunteers exist from all walks of life and all parts of the world; and it is no secret that Terror, Inc. makes great use of the internet. Now MEMRI reports that
"Until December 13, 2005, supporters can sign an oath of loyalty to Osama bin Laden, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Mullah Muhammad Omar, and Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi online".
The oath reads, in part, as follows:
"I invite you to the first day of the month of the great swearing of an oath of loyalty to the commander of the Muslim armies, Sheikh Osama bin Laden, and to the commanders of the global jihad: Sheikh Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Emir of the Believers Mullah Muhammad Omar, and Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi, and to all the jihad fighters.
"Oh God, you need this oath of loyalty, the oath of death for Allah that will terrorize the infidels and earn the jihad fighters in particular, and the Muslims in general, reward in the world to come...
"Moreover, for this oath of loyalty to death it is not necessary for you to die now - but in the near future, the very near future, Allah willing, we must all join this blessed convoy, particularly since we have sworn an oath of loyalty.
"This [signing of this] oath of loyalty will continue for one month, and will be posted in all the forums so that the number of oath-takers will be [as] great [as possible], and so that Osama bin Laden will have an army in Afghanistan, an army in Iraq, and a massive army in the waiting list on the Internet pages.
"This is the Internet that Allah operates in the service of jihad and of the mujahedoun, and that has become [a tool in service of] your interest - such that half the mujahedoun's battle is waged on the pages of the Internet, which is the only outlet for passing announcements to the mujahedoun.
"Anyone who has already sworn an oath of loyalty is asked not to do so again, because at the end of the month there will be a count of all those who took the oath..."
"We swear loyalty to Sheikh Osama bin Laden, may Allah preserve him, and to the commanders of the global jihad, Sheikh Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Emir of the Believers Mullah Muhammad Omar, and Sheikh Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi, and all the Jihad fighters. [This is] an oath of death for Allah.
Al-Zarqawi was elevated to the unholy pantheon of al-Qaeda with the beheading of Nicholas Berg. His death, at his own hands to avoid capture, would only ensure his place there. We should not get overly excited if really is dead. The men and women who brought about his death, if indeed they have, deserve a "well done", but for the time being we can be sure that there is another scoundrel prepared, to take his place, and if there isn't you can bet that OBL is running his own version of The Apprentice to find the next one- only his unsuccessful contestants aren't fired, they are handed an explosive belt and sent out to wreak havoc. Web sites such as the above indicate there is no shortage of willing participants.
This is a war of attrition, plain and simple. There will be no Paris accords this time (just ask Paris), no dividing of a country at some arbitrary parallel. We- the non-Muslim (and incresingly non-jihadist version of Islam) will either win this war by stamping out all of the "al-Zarqawis" out there, or we will lose it and Islamofascism will win the day.
To answer my own question, then, it doesn't really matter if he is dead, because the ideology that spawned him is not, and those who chose to follow him will carry on. The death of one man, al-Zarqawi or even bin-Laden, will not end this epic struggle. It would, and should, boost morale for us and our allies, but the fight is far from over. So let us not focus entirely on al-Zarqawi. He is a small piece of a large problem, the face of the enemy, but not the hands that pull the trigger. We will not mourn his passing when that day comes, but neither will we celebrate to the point that we lose focus. Al-Qaeda and Islamofascism predate al-Zarqawi, and they will continue to be a threat once he is gone. Let us not elevate his importance any further by celebrating his death. Once less murdering thug plotting to kill innocent people is a good thing, but there is no need for us to reinforce his myth.
Save the celebrations for the day the war is over.