Don't Panic! March 11 2004

Your war questions answered

Who is Abu Musab Zarqawi?

I'm very frustrated.

I feel like the moment I managed to get my hands on the entire 2003 Topps International Bogeymen trading cards set and put them in their acid-free, archival sheaths, they went ahead and put out 2004.

The breakout star of this year's set, assuming you keep the card in mint condition, is Abu Musab Zarqawi. He's the man believed to be (ir)responsible for the March 2 bombing attacks in Baghdad and Karbala that killed nearly 200 people. The victims were Shi'ites, and the day of the bombing was significant. March 2 was Ashura, an important day for all Muslims, but particularly for Shi'ites. Ashura is the day that, in 680 A.D., the Prophet Muhammed's grandson, the Imam Hussein, was martyred in Karbala. Hussein's murder and the murders of his brother Hasan and his father, Ali, were part of the power struggle that divided Islam into Shi'a and Sunni sects. I wonder what their rookie cards are worth. Anyway, people who believed that Ali and his sons were the rightful leaders of all Muslims became Shi'ites.

Back to Zarqawi. Zarqawi is a Sunni. People with opinions about these sorts of things believe that he's trying to stir up violence between Shi'ites and Sunnis in Iraq in order to make life difficult for the United States. His feelings about Shi'ites are made pretty clear in a letter that was recently recovered by U.S. forces from a CD-ROM. The letter is supposedly a message written by Zarqawi to his terrorist friends in al-Qaeda. In it, Zarqawi lists four enemies. Enemy No. 4 is listed as "The Shi'a." He calls them weak and rabid.

In case you're curious, enemy No. 1 is "The Americans." He calls us "the most cowardly of God's creatures" and suggests that it'd be a good idea to capture Americans to exchange them for terrorist prisoners. Enemy No. 2 is "The Kurds." In keeping with the terrorist diatribe tradition of mixed and overwrought metaphors, Zarqawi describes Kurds as "a lump in the throat and a thorn whose time to be clipped has yet to come." If you say so, Abu. Enemy No. 3 is listed as "Soldiers, Police, and Agents." By agents, he wasn't referring to Scott Boras or Jerry Maguire. He means people who help the United States.

So how did Zarqawi get to be such a deadly nuisance? Well, it all started in 1966. Mod fashions were all the rage, Jacqueline Susann mined the quiet desperation of WASP-ish suburban women with Valley of the Dolls, and in a little village outside of Amman, Jordan, Abu Musab Zarqawi was born. In the '80s, Zarqawi packed his duffle bag and headed to Afghanistan for what was then the Muslim fundamentalist's equivalent of junior year abroad: fighting the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan.

He returned to Jordan in the 1990s and started his own gang called al Tawhid. Al Tawhid's most infamous act was the murder of an American official in Jordan in 2002. At the time, Zarqawi was recovering from the loss of a leg, courtesy of an American bomb in Afghanistan. When we invaded Afghanistan in 2001, Zarqawi went back to fight us.

The missing leg is where Iraq comes into all of this. Zarqawi got his prosthetic in Baghdad before hooking up with Ansar al-Islam, the terrorist group that operates in Kurdish Iraq. When Colin Powell gave his compelling PowerPoint presentation to the United Nations last year to justify attacking Iraq, Zarqawi was Powell's link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Powell's argument? Zarqawi fought in Afghanistan for Osama bin Laden's side. Now he's in Baghdad getting medical treatment. Therefore Iraq is in cahoots with al-Qaeda.

At this point, it's not really clear whether Zarqawi is an agent of al-Qaeda and the Iraqi people, or a rival who just happens to have a common enemy: us.

What's clear, though, if you believe that the Zarqawi letter is legit, is that the guy is responsible for 25-plus bombings, and is planning more. With that in mind, we recently raised the bounty on his head from $5 million to $10 million. That makes him worth more than Honus Wagner.


More By This Writer


Monday July 2, 2012 10:14 am EDT
Fourth of July has devolved into a mindless national block party. Here's what we should do about it. | more...


Wednesday September 7, 2011 04:30 am EDT
Ten years later, a TV terrorpalooza rings hollow | more...


Tuesday September 7, 2010 09:11 am EDT
In the last-ever 'Don't Panic' column, we talk foreign policy writing cliches. | more...


Thursday August 26, 2010 02:42 pm EDT
The Iraq war is over in the same way that daytime is over if you close your curtains. | more...


Tuesday August 24, 2010 12:04 am EDT
Maybe Google Translator should add a Slang-to-English option, too? | more...
Search for more by Andisheh Nouraee

[Admin link: Don't Panic! March 11 2004]

Spider for Don't Panic! March 11 2004