I don't usually post about Iraq, because I don't really have anything to offer. But I could not help contrast the idea that the killing of Zarqawi is somehow significant with the following two pieces.
First, from the best blogger in the world at Baghdad Burning.
We heard the news about the dozens abducted from the Salhiya area in Baghdad. Salhiya is a busy area where many travel agencies have offices. It has been particularly busy since the war because people who want to leave to Jordan and Syria all make their reservations from one office or another in that area.
According to people working and living in the area, around 15 police cars pulled up to the area and uniformed men began pulling civilians off the streets and from cars, throwing bags over their heads and herding them into the cars. Anyone who tried to object was either beaten or pulled into a car. The total number of people taken away is estimated to be around 50.
This has been happening all over Iraq- mysterious men from the Ministry of Interior rounding up civilians and taking them away. It just hasn’t happened with this many people at once. The disturbing thing is that the Iraqi Ministry of Interior has denied that it had anything to do with this latest mass detention (which is the new trend with them- why get tangled up with human rights organizations about mass detentions, torture and assassinations- just deny it happened!). That isn’t a good sign- it means these people will probably be discovered dead in a matter of days. We pray they’ll be returned alive…
Another piece of particularly bad news came later during the day. Several students riding a bus to school were assassinated in Dora area. No one knows why- it isn’t clear. Were they Sunni? Were they Shia? Most likely they were a mix… Heading off for their end-of-year examination- having stayed up the night before to study in the heat. When they left their houses, they were probably only worried about whether they’d pass or fail- their parents sending them off with words of encouragement and prayer. Now they’ll never come home.
There’s an ethnic cleansing in progress and it’s impossible to deny. People are being killed according to their ID card. Extremists on both sides are making life impossible. Some of them work for ‘Zarqawi’, and the others work for the Iraqi Ministry of Interior. We hear about Shia being killed in the ‘Sunni triangle’ and corpses of Sunnis named ‘Omar’ (a Sunni name) arriving by the dozen at the Baghdad morgue. I never thought I’d actually miss the car bombs. At least a car bomb is indiscriminate. It doesn’t seek you out because you’re Sunni or Shia.
We still don’t have ministers in the key ministries- defense and interior. Iraq is falling apart and Maliki and his team are still bickering over who should get more power- who is more qualified to oppress Iraqis with the help of foreign occupiers? On top of all of this, rumor has it that the Iraqi parliament have a ‘vacation’ coming up during July and August. They’re so exhausted with the arguing, and struggling for power, they need to take a couple of months off to rest. They’ll leave their well-guarded homes behind for a couple of months, and spend some time abroad with their families (who can’t live in Iraq anymore- they’re too precious for that).
And second, from Juan Cole at Informed Comment:
Zarqawi had been a significant leader of the Salafi Jihadi radical strain of Islamist volunteers in Iraq, and had succeeded in spreading his ideas to local Iraqis in places like Ramadi. He engaged in grandstanding when he renamed his group "al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia," even though he had early been critical of al-Qaeda and had a long rivalry with it. For background, see the Zarqawi file.
There is no evidence of operational links between his Salafi Jihadis in Iraq and the real al-Qaeda; it was just a sort of branding that suited everyone, including the US. Official US spokesmen have all along over-estimated his importance. Leaders are significant and not always easily replaced. But Zarqawi has in my view has been less important than local Iraqi leaders and groups. I don't expect the guerrilla war to subside any time soon.
Baqubah is dangerous not because of Zarqawi but because it is a mixed Sunni-Shiite and Kurdish area that had Baath military installations and arms depots, and enough Sunni Arabs from the old regime know about them to work them against rising Shiite and Kurdish dominance.
On the other hand, there have been persistent reports of a split between the main arm of the guerrilla resistance, the Sunni Arab Iraqis, and Zarqawi's group.
Al-Hayat reports today [Ar.] that groups in Fallujah have launched attacks on Zarqawi followers there after the latter attacked the al-Husain Mosque in the Askari quarter two days ago, destroying the tomb of the founder of the mosque within it. (Salafis influenced by Saudi Wahhabism despise attendance at saints tombs, insisting on a Protestant-like elimination of all intermediaries between human beings and God. Many Islamists in Fallujah are actually Sufis, who value saints in the way rural Catholics do.) An attempt by the radical Salafis to destroy the mosque (on the grounds that it had been tainted with polytheism) was stopped by the "1920 Revolution Brigades," a local ex-Baathist group. There was a running gun battle between the two.
Zarqawi's group had also tried two days ago to attack a Fallujah police station, but they were repulsed by local tribal youth. The battle left two cars burned and 4 dead from the tribe of Al-Bu `Isa.
The contrast between the dregs we get on the news here and these kind of comments is astounding. Read the two of them, and it's clear that this event will have no effect whatsoever on the level of destruction in Iraq.
I've been reading these writers for a couple of years or so. Both have shown a steady progression towards disillusionment, anger, and despair over the state of Iraq. Watching Juan Cole go from moderate, academic observer to outright fury has been quite something.