Wednesday, July 14, 2004

So I see from yesterday's paper that everything we know about Zarqawi is wrong:

...Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has described him as a Qaeda operative, but a senior American military official said recently that sources now indicated that Mr. Zarqawi was "a separate jihadist."...

Mr. Powell stands by his statement, a spokesman said this month, even though other parts of that speech have been discredited and Mr. Powell mistakenly identified Mr. Zarqawi as Palestinian. He actually is of the Beni Hassan tribe, with roots deep in the Jordanian desert.

Other American information about Mr. Zarqawi has also been incorrect. At first it was said that he had a leg amputated during a Baghdad hospital visit, but now, a senior United States military official said in an e-mail message, "we believe Zarqawi has both legs, and reporting of the missing limb was disinformation." ...

In February, American officials in Baghdad released a 6,700-word letter - outlining a terror strategy to drag Iraq into civil war - that they said had been found on a CD from Mr. Zarqawi to Al Qaeda's leadership. But people who know Mr. Zarqawi wonder if he was the author. They said the lengthy political analysis, the references to seventh-century kings and embroidered phrases like "crafty and malicious scorpion" do not sound like him.

"The man was basically illiterate," Mr. Abu Doma said, though he acknowledged that a learned acolyte could be helping him.

...On May 11, a video appeared, titled "Sheik Abu Musab Zarqawi Slaughters an American Infidel." It showed the beheading of Nicholas Berg, the young Pennsylvania businessman. American officials believe that Mr. Zarqawi may have been the killer.

Back in Amman, there are questions. The killer on the video cuts with his right hand. While Mr. Hami said he thought Mr. Zarqawi was right-handed, Mr. Rababa and Mr. Abu Doma, who shared the same room with him for several years, insisted that he used his right hand only for eating and shaking hands.

I don't know if we're dealing with incompetence, bad faith, disinformation from insurgents and terrorists, or a combination of one or more of these things. Surely it's politically important for the Bush administration to say that Zarqawi in Iraq = al-Qaeda (therefore Iraq war = war against the 9/11 terrorists). I'm not sure who benefits if it's believed erroneously that Zarqawi killed Nick Berg -- Zarqawi earns respect and fear in his world, I guess, and the Bushies get to draw a line from Berg's beheading to the Twin Towers. As for the letter, it's always seemed peculiar to me -- why did some passages seem to echo contemporaneous U.S. propaganda?

"There is no doubt that our field of movement is shrinking and the grip around the throat of the mujahidin has begun to tighten", the letter, which was found on a compact disc, states. "With the spread of the army and police, our future is becoming frightening".

Professor Juan Cole said he thought the letter was genuine (though written with a collaborator); Cole later posted the comments of Bernard Haykel, a Middle East scholar, who believes the letter is a forgery.

I assume Zarqawi's a really bad guy; I assume that much of the terrorism he's blamed for really is his doing. But have we ascribed more than we should to him because doing so implies that we're just one evildoer away from restoring stability to Iraq?

(Juan Cole links via Billmon.)

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