US and rebels hype Zarqawi’s role in Iraq, say experts
By Michel Moutot
Bush’s administration has found a new ‘bad guy’ that it can sell to its own public opinion as well as abroad as the embodiment of the terrorist threat
WITH ulterior motives, both the United States and Iraqi insurgents find it expedient to exaggerate the role of Islamic extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq, according to various analysts.
Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born fugitive with a 25-million-dollar US price on his head, is being blamed for more attacks that a single man, even at the head of an effective network, can reasonably be expected to claim. In 38-year-old Zarqawi, who is seen as a frontman for Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network in Iraq, US President George W Bush’s administration has found a new “bad guy” that it can sell to its own public opinion as well as abroad as the embodiment of the terrorist threat in Iraq.
Iraq’s nationalist insurgents, who include many members of the ousted Saddam Hussein regime, for their part find it convenient to pin on a foreigner attacks which might prove unpopular. “The Americans are trying to attribute most of the (Iraqi) resistance’s actions to him (Zarqawi), to create something like Bin Laden,” a knowledgeable Iraqi source said in Beirut.
“On the other hand, certain sectors of the resistance themselves, in order to continue and stay anonymous also attribute some of their actions to Zarqawi,” the source who spoke on condition of anonymity said. “So I think he is inflated by both sides. He is serving the purpose of both sides.” “How could Zarqawi do all these things? It’s grossly exaggerated by both sides,” the source said. “I met somebody who knows what’s going on: he estimated Zarqawi’s followers to (be) no more than 200 people.”
In a country where some regions are wracked by chaos and escalating violence, US troops and Iraqi government forces conveniently used the name Zarqawi to explain away a shadowy and multi-faceted insurgency.
Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter believes that the spectacular spates of attacks blamed on Zarqawi are in fact the work of Saddam Hussein’s former intelligence apparatus.
“One cannot help but wonder if al-Zarqawi was used as a lure to trap the Americans into taking this action,” Ritter, a former US marine officer, wrote. “On the surface, the al-Zarqawi organisation seems too good to be true. A single Jordanian male is suddenly running an organisation that operates in sophisticated cells throughout Iraq.” “No one man could logically accomplish this. But there is an organisation that can - the Mukhabarat (intelligence service) of Saddam Hussein,” he added. He sees the Zarqawi phenomenon as a “myth” and a “fictional target” part of a “Mukhabarat disinformation effort” and believes Saddam’s intelligence chiefs had long prepared for the 2003 US-led invasion of their country.
And French-based Iraqi historian Hassan al-Zaidi said it was highly unlikely that a foreigner could establish himself as a resistance leader in Iraq, a country where clans and tribes play such a dominant role.
“Iraqis tend to look down on Jordanians, a bit like the French do with Belgians,” he added. “They would not accept to be led by a Jordanian.”
But Daniel Benjamin, a US analyst with the Center for International Strategic Studies in Washington, warned against falling for “conspiracy theories” which are popular in the Middle East. “Our intelligence people believe that to a significant extent Zarqawi is a real phenomenon, and he’s the real deal. As it’s always the case, and specially in the Middle East, there’s a desire to embrace conspiracy theories,” he said.
“He (Zarqawi) appears to be a real terrorist who has carried out a significant number of major terrorist attacks,” Benjamin said, while conceding that “it would not be surprising to find out that he has not done them all.” “But however you cut it, he has proven himself to be a capable actor and a genuine threat,” he added. afp