Last week’s killing in Iraq of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an al-Qaida leader, must have come as good news for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who had formed a “national unity” government a little more than two weeks earlier. The death of the Jordanian-born insurgency leader will aid the government’s efforts to restore security in the violence-plagued country, but there is no guarantee that the violence will end anytime soon.
An air strike by the United States on a remote house in Baquba, 65 km north of Baghdad, killed al-Zarqawi and seven of his aides. He is blamed for scores of suicide bombings that have killed and injured hundreds in Iraq. He is also responsible for the gruesome, videotaped beheadings of foreign captives, including Mr. Shosei Koda, 24, from Nohgata, Fukuoka Prefecture, in October 2004. He also ordered suicide-bomber attacks on three Jordan hotels last December, killing dozens.
Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden appointed al-Zarqawi as his deputy in Iraq after the latter pledged his allegiance to him in October 2004. Al-Zarqawi is believed to have recruited hundreds of Sunni militants to take part in suicide missions. He is also believed to have formed a loose alliance with former agents of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Al-Zarqawi’s band of militants is suspected of having been involved in attacks on U.S. forces and people connected to the Iraqi government. He was also responsible for sectarian violence against Shiites, whom he regarded as heretics.
Bin Laden once referred to al-Zarqawi as the prince of al-Qaida in Iraq. But he apparently felt al-Zarqawi’s brutal methods were damaging the image of al-Qaida. Even many of those Iraqi Sunnis who harbor strong anti-U.S. and antigovernment feelings have come to oppose the cruel and indiscriminate terrorism by al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaida group.
Unfortunately, al-Zarqawi’s death does not warrant new optimism over the security situation in Iraq because his group is not the main factor behind the continuing violence there. U.S. President George W. Bush called al-Zarqawi’s death “a severe blow to al-Qaida” and a victory in the “war on terrorism.” But he also rightly said that the removal of the insurgency leader is “not going to end the war, and it’s certainly not going to end the violence.” For its part, al-Qaida in Iraq didn’t waste any time in announcing on the Internet that it would continue to carry out its bloody “holy war.”
Armed militant groups in Iraq hate both the U.S. occupation forces and the Iraqi government, which they regard as a U.S. puppet. They also have their own strongholds and engage in rivalries with each other. Their chains of command and factional relations are little known to outsiders, and the possibility cannot be ruled out that these small armed groups are proliferating. In this connection, it must be remembered that al-Zarqawi did not control an organization that had a clear-cut chain of command and a definitive political ideology and goal.
Violence in Iraq isn’t limited to armed groups with enmity toward the U.S. occupation. Ordinary Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis are also engulfed by sectarian violence, ethnic conflicts involving Kurds, and kidnappings by criminal gangs for ransom. There is no assurance that al-Zarqawi’s death will lead to a lessening of hostilities between groups of different faiths and ethnicities.
Violence in various forms is taking an increasing number of Iraqi lives. On the day that al-Zarqawi’s death was announced, two bombs blew up in Baghdad. Killing 15 people and injuring 36 others, the explosions underlined the fact that al-Zarqawi’s death will do little to lessen the waves of violence that are battering the country. In May alone about 1,400 bodies were delivered to Baghdad’s morgues, the largest monthly figure since the start of the Iraq war in March 2003.
Shortly after al-Zarqawi’s death was reported, the Iraqi Parliament approved the appointment of key Cabinet ministers whose jobs are key to the al-Malaki government’s efforts to make the country a safer place. Mr. Abdul Qadir Obeidi, a Sunni, was given the defense portfolio, Mr. Jawad Bulani, a Shiite was named interior minister, and another Shiite, Mr. Shirwan Waili, was named minister of national security.
After the completion of the national unity government, the Iraqi prime minister announced that he would use his four-year term to concentrate on national reconciliation, reconstruction and improving security. Concerning security, he said, “It is imperative that we re-establish a state monopoly on weapons by putting an end to militias.” The leaders of various Iraqi political groups must help him disband militias and integrate their members into the army and police.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.