Who is Abu Musab Zarqawi?

Your war questions answered

Faithful, careful readers of this column (wassup, Dad!) might remember that I wrote a column in March (atlanta.creativeloafing.com/ 2004-03-11/panic.html) answering that very question. I’m not trying to rip you off or anything. As much as I would enjoy re-submitting that old column and spending the rest of the afternoon catching up on my beauty sleep and binge drinking, I assure you that this is a whole new column, complete with new facts, new jokes, and even a new doctored photo! As U.S. Terrorist Enemy No. 1, Zarqawi has earned it.

“But wait,” demands a reader. “I thought that Osama bin Laden was U.S. Terrorist Enemy No. 1! What happened?”

Listen, buddy, if you’re gonna stay on top of this whole War on Terror thing, you’re gonna have to start paying closer attention. Osama bin Laden is so yesterday. He is to terrorism what those damned ponchos are to women’s fashion. Anybody who is anybody knows that Zarqawi is terrorism’s “it” boy.

No need to take my word for it. Just ask the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

Aha! I tricked you! Sucker! You can’t ask the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, because they’re 30 miles west of Baghdad gearing up for an assault on Fallujah. Fallujah is believed to be where Mr. Zarqawi is hiding. For weeks now, U.S. forces have been launching air strikes on what we believe are safe houses belonging to Zarqawi and his terrorist organization, al-Tawhid wa’al-Jihad (often referred to in the press as “Tawhid and Jihad”).

Zarqawi and his gang are thought to be (ir)responsible for countless bomb attacks in Iraq aimed at coalition forces, Iraqis in any way affiliated with the country’s new government (including the Iraqi army recruits who were victims of a recent mass execution), and Shi’ite Muslims (such as the more than 200 killed while observing the Muslim holiday Ashura in March).

What elevates Zarqawi to the No. 1 ranking, ahead of bin Laden and ahead of the vastly more numerous and deadly Saddam loyalists blowing stuff up in Iraq, are Zarqawi’s beheading movies. More widely viewed than just about any nonpornographic direct-to-video movies on earth, Zarqawi’s gruesome hostage murders have turned him into fundamentalist Islam’s top matinee idol. His videos are the pre-eminent icon of the insurgency, hence the importance of destroying him.

It’s too bad that the obvious importance and urgency of killing Zarqawi hasn’t translated into action. Although President George W. Bush likes to assure people that the “W” in his name stands for “Won’t let politics influence my decisions,” at least one senior member of the administration with intimate knowledge of Iraq War planning admits that the “W” actually stands for “Waiting until it’s politically advantageous.” According to said official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to the Los Angeles Times in early October, Dubya & Co. are delaying the start of the Fallujah offensive until after the U.S. election because of “political ramifications.” Might those “political ramifications” be that our last assault on Fallujah in April left 60 Marines and hundreds of Iraqi civilians dead?

If so, it wouldn’t be the first time that we held off on assaulting Zarqawi for mysterious reasons. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Pentagon drew up plans to attack Zarqawi when we knew he was hiding out in a remote village in Kurdish-dominated northeast Iraq in June 2002. At that point, we knew who he was and about his plans to attack Western and pro-Western targets. In fact, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell went on to cite Zarqawi and his camp as proof that Saddam harbored al-Qaeda terrorists (Zarqawi has subsequently offered his public allegiance to bin Laden). Our failure to attack Zarqawi at that point is a source of puzzlement among several intelligence and defense insiders, including Lisa Gordon-Hagerty. At the time, she was the National Security Council’s director for combating terrorism. Gordon-Hagerty recalls saying, after Zarqawi’s growing role in the post-invasion insurgency became clear, “Why didn’t we get that son of a bitch when we could?”

Perhaps, and this is just me talking now, it was because killing the only semi-strong link between Iraq and al-Qaeda before the war would have undermined the war’s already flimsy rationale. But hey, that’s just me talking.