Iraq: The Implications of Al-Zarqawi's Death

3 MINS READJun 8, 2006 | 18:48 GMT

U.S. air assets bombed a location in central Iraq on June 7 and killed local jihadist leader and al Qaeda representative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. This event will resonate far and wide.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed June 7 by U.S. forces in Baqubah, Iraq. For some three years, al-Zarqawi has been the only person affiliated with al Qaeda who has demonstrated the ability to sustain operations in any theater. Other attacks have certainly happened, but their effectiveness has steadily bled away. The July 2005 London bombing not only inflicted a far lower level of devastation than either Spain's March 11 or the U.S. Sept. 11 attacks, but had no appreciable effect on policy.

Al-Zarqawi might not have been a global mastermind, bogged down as he was in the Iraqi theater, but his tactics were geared to a holistic strategy of discrediting U.S. forces and sparking conflict between Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites. It was an intellectually sound strategy and, of all the opposing forces that Washington faced in Iraq, al-Zarqawi is the one who most frustrated U.S. aims. In losing al-Zarqawi, al Qaeda has lost both its biggest headline-grabber and its most effective operative.

But the implications for al Qaeda are nothing compared to the implications for Iraq. Al-Zarqawi and the other jihadists have long been the most effective tool of Iraqi's Sunni community. Whenever negotiations among the Americans, the Shiites, the Kurds and the Iranians have threatened to reduce the collective Sunni position, the Sunnis have played the al-Zarqawi card and literally blown something or someone up. It is the only reliable card that they have had to play, and they have played it often and to great effect. The Sunnis have also known that if their position within the new Iraqi government is to be formalized and cemented, they would have to rein in al-Zarqawi and his jihadist allies. If they do not, there was no deal.

It strikes us as far more than a coincidence that within hours of the confirmation of al-Zarqawi's death, the Iraqi Parliament put the finishing touches on the new Iraqi government. Baghdad now sports an internationally acceptable, domestically chosen government that includes participation from all of the major sectarian groups.

Al-Zarqawi was attacked by two F-16s, each of which dropped a 500-pound bomb, not by a Hellfire missile launched from a Predator drone. Predators are dual intelligence-gathering/assassination tools. Pairs of F-16s are more likely to be used when there is pre-existing intelligence that results in a tasking. U.S. forces selected their weapon very carefully to be low on fragmentation or fire to maximize the chances of the quick recovery of an easily identifiable corpse. Al-Zarqawi was not found, he was sold out. A political deal was made, and the Sunnis have delivered on their end. The only question remaining is how many other jihadists have 500-pound bombs in their immediate future? The next steps are simple (compared to the chaos of the past two years).

First, with the Iraqi situation seemingly on its way to resolution, the stage is set for a rapprochement between the United States and Iran. This is likely far further along than anyone realizes. The key sticking point in the relationship for the United States is not the nuclear question, but the future of Iraq. Iran, simply put, does not want to be invaded by Iraq again. With a government in place and al-Zarqawi dead, logic dictates that the Americans and the Iranians have already had their meeting of the minds. The rest is punctuation. Second, international oil companies have been waiting for two things before investing in the Iraqi oil complex: a domestically chosen, internationally acceptable representative government, and an end to the insurgency. The first has happened; the second may finally be in sight.

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