In the Wake of Zarqawi
Patrice Claude Q&A (from Le Monde)
Have al-Qaeda and the Iraqi insurrection been weakened by the death of al-Zarqawi, the presumed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq?
That is very difficult to say. We have no information on most of the groups that existed and continue to exist around Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi. We do know that a few months ago he created the Council of Mujahedeen, a loose federation of a half-dozen Salafist armed groups. How would such a small association be disorganized by the death of al-Zarqawi? We just don't know. The man was never a brilliant tactician or strategist. It was his brutality and savageness that distinguished him. We do not know how his disappearance will affect the tactics of the armed groups.
What was the real weight of the presumed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq in the violence committed across the country?
We do not know how many men al-Zarqawi had under his command. However, we do know that 80 to 90 per cent of the suicide bombings were organized by his group. These are the most murderous attacks, which have stricken Iraqi civilians, particularly the Shi’ite majority. But the United States itself has been saying over the last two or three months that the number of suicide bombings was declining. But there are still a large number of attacks, for example, booby-trapped cars.
Al-Zarqawi’s strategy was successful. For the last two years, he gambled that the large-scale attacks on the Shi’ites in power would provoke a violent backlash against the Sunnis. And that’s what we’re seeing now with the civil war and the death squads, which are Shi’ite.
What will be the consequences for the US and the international forces in Iraq?
As to foreign forces, they are primarily threatened by the nationalists and the ex-Ba'athists (the party in power under Saddam Hussein). The death of al-Zarqawi will have no direct impact on the war against the multinational forces.
What is the reaction among the Iraqi people?
There should be a general sigh of relief, even from many Sunnis, especially because al-Zarqawi was a foreigner and a member of a big Jordanian tribe that stretches into Iraq. This prompted many Iraqis, whether pro- or anti-American, to say that al-Zarqawi had no business in Iraq and that in any case, he would never come to dominate the insurgency. Moreover, there has never been the slightest defense of al-Zarqawi’s modus operandi among Iraqi political leaders, even among the most radical of the Sunnis. His brutality and the
decapitations he performed were shocking to most Iraqis.
Does the death of al-Zarqawi represent a great victory for the United States?
George W. Bush and Tony Blair have declared that this is the case and have underscored that his organization has been weakened. This is correct but no one, not even the US President, has ventured to predict a decline in the violence. To the contrary, we may witness over the next few days a upsurge in attacks carried out by al-Zarqawi partisans, if only to show that whether Zarqawi is dead or alive, the violence will endure.
Interview conducted by Alexandre Piquard.