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Killing the Prince of Al-Qaida By: Walid Phares
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, June 09, 2006

The first question some skeptics asked in the early hours of June 8, 2006 was: Is the elimination of chief terrorist Abu Mus’ab al Zarqawi in Iraq a victory?

Of course it is an enormous feat.


The man who personally executed and ordered the savage assassination of so many Iraqis, Arabs, Europeans, and Americans was a representative of pure evil, in the philosophical and sociological senses of the word; despite his religious trappings, he abided by no human or divine laws.


The taking of innocent hostages and their beheading in front of a camera, the footage of which was sent to al-Jazeera and posted on Salafi websites, is an act disconnected from humanity. In the 1940s, Hitlerian evil engaged in genocide, but its perpetrators did not air their diabolical acts in movie theatres. Zarqawi surpassed the Nazis qualitatively, but thankfully not quantitatively. Regardless of the geopolitical maze in Iraq and in the region at large, and regardless of the state of the terror war, the elimination of this Jihadi terrorist has put an end to an ongoing crime against humanity.


In addition to American, Western, Arab, Middle Eastern, and other families who had to mourn for victims of Zarqawi’s evil, Iraqis of all backgrounds suffered under this terrorist’s wrath for years. Not only did he attempt to obstruct the political process and to threaten all citizens who dared to move forward with democratic practices or modernity, but he forced many areas of the country, especially the Sunni triangle, to move backward into the Middle Ages.


Iraq and Zarqawi couldn’t co-exist: It was either the country or the terrorist and, at the end of the day, the terrorist was eliminated -- a lesson to all his diabolical followers.


Political disagreements aside, the Zarqawi phenomenon was barely human. Not only did most Iraqis shun his ideology, but even many of the jihadists themselves felt that he went too far.


Indeed, he produced the most mutant form of Salafi-Takfirism, one that transgressed all norms of human cohabitation. In historical references, he would have made the leaders he claimed to work for furious at his misrepresentations. Had Zarqawi lived at the times of the Crusades, as he thought he did, Salah al-dine himself would have thrown him in jail, if not have him beheaded. Even Islamic caliphs at the peak of their military power would have distanced themselves from this self-appointed mass murderer. In short, Zarqawi embodied evil at its worse -- outside the classical norms of warfare.


The Jordanian-born, Wahhabi-trained, Salafi-educated, and self-identified jihadist embodied an extreme characteristic: he conducted his bloodshed while claiming an inspiration from the divine. The day he was eliminated by the coalition, his brother-in-law and other supporters claimed the man was “on a mission from Allah.” And here lies the tragedy: tens of thousands of Jihadists around the world are trained by the maddrassas to believe they are pieces of a vast canvas. The making of terrorists is engineered trough a submission to destiny. Once the “students” are brainwashed into the new “aqida” (doctrine), the universe that envelops them sucks them in forever. And inside this constellation of mirages, the Jihadis leap into a world of their own. Some of them develop their Jihadi “talents” to inhuman extremes: Mohammed Atta and the 18 perpetrators of 9/11 and the Madrid and London suicide bombers.


But while the other Salafi and Wahabi “talents” kept some ideological humility despite their barbarism, Zarqawi crossed all lines. At some point, as he saw himself challenging the “greater infidel power” on earth, he inhaled the ineluctable feeling of superiority.


In the chat rooms of al-Ansar, cyber-supporters claimed him as “the emir who cannot be defeated; the emir of death and destruction, who can defeat what no previous Muslim commander (sic) has subdued, below the Prophet.” These sentiments made Zarqawi a candidate for supreme leader of the Jihad armies in the Middle East. Self-absorbed by the isti’zaam (imposition of one’s grandeur), Zarqawi felt he was invincible. “The entire armies of the West and the apostate Arab countries can’t get him,” repeated voices on al-Jazeera. “He is the response to the War on Islam and the religion of Allah,” postulated other supporters.


Zarqawi obviously sunk in grandeur, and he slowly drifted from the modesty of underground leadership. His last video tipped the balance in his psychology of dominance: he was playing with “destiny” and attracting the praise of followers. It was one of his last -- and possibly greatest -- mistakes.                    


What did Zarqawi want to achieve? In reality, nothing very different from Salafi designs: defeat the coalition forces by the way of terrorism, crumble the Iraqi institutions with extreme violence, and establish an Emirate in the center of Iraq. Then move to Jordan and Syria’s hinterlands, where Sunnis are a majority, and push to the Lebanese coast where Sunni cities predominate.


With the Fertile Crescent falling to a Jihadi federation of emirates, his next campaign would have been launched southbound: the Arabian peninsula. The riches of the Kingdom and principalities of Arabia were enormous: The two first shrines of Islam, oil, and the purest Arab region.


But while the “Fertile Crescent” was the vital space of expansion of Zarqawi, Arabia was the future backyard of Osama bin Laden. Hence, the Emir of Iraq had views on the exclusive zone of interest of the supreme leader of the movement: Hence, many observers perceived so-called “tensions.” But in many respects the relations between Zarqawi and bin Laden were still under the obligations of the Baya’a -- declared in 2004 (declaration of affiliation) by Zarqawi in reverence to Osama.


My own modest projection was that Zarqawi was strengthening his position within al-Qaida, not to supplant the “Sultan” bin Laden, but to consolidate his own position, so that he would indisputably replace the “master” after his death. Zarqawi wanted to inherit bin Laden; he knew his own limits.


In this context, Abu Mas’ab took the Jihad to its extremes: sensational beheadings, barbaric killings, gruesome pictures, and a reputation of invincibility. Because if his sanguinary behavior, the Emir of the Rafidain (two rivers) was in fact the bin Laden to come. There was not one simple competitor to the man within the al-Qaida nebulous until his elimination by his enemies. If you read this equation well, you realize that the F16, and the defense-security alliance between the US, Iraq and Jordan, have taken out not only the current chief of al-Qaida in Iraq, but the future head of al-Qaida international.


Zarqawi’s fall, beyond the simple calculations in geopolitics, is symbolically qualitative: the myth of the invincible commander of Jihadism was shattered through this operation. Not that Jihadism has been defeated. On the contrary, there will be spasms in violence as a result. But one major assertion was broken, at least in the eyes of many in the region: that those who oppress and kill in the name of Allah are ultimately exposed as unspiritual not because they lost a battle or perished on the battlefield, but because they have explained history to their followers in a manner that suits their ambitions, both ideological and ultimately personal. They have attempted to convince their partisans that the divine is on their side.


In the 1930s, another ideologue claimed he was on a “mission.” And to prove it, he massacred millions of citizens. But at the end, in 1945, his destiny wasn’t what he planned for. Zarqawi is a reduced model of the Nazi mind. He implemented violence to prove to his followers that he could inflict any injustice on anyone of his choice because he was on a mission from Allah -- the creator.


But as countries across the world round up terrorists and disrupt their jihad, Zarqawi's demise is a clear indication that Iraq also will not accept the terrorists' vision of the future, but readies its government, its army, and its people to implement democracy and participate in a greater brotherhood of nations.    


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Professor Walid Phares is the author of Future Jihad. He is a Visiting Fellow with the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussels and a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington.

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