The corporate media is abuzz with news of the apparent success of US forces in killing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq last night. Zarqawi has been portrayed by the Bush Administration and mainstream media as Osama Bin Laden's right-hand man in Iraq since a few months before the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003. President Bush and his British poodle Tony Blair are trying to spin the killing of Zarqawi as a momentous defeat for the (Islamic) forces of terror, a big setback for the Iraqi resistance, or “insurgents” to use imperialist parlance. The death of Zarqawi also happily, though perhaps temporarily, takes some heat off the US in the wake of the recent Haditha massacre revelations. That Zarqawi's death represents a big blow -- or any kind of blow for that matter -- to the Iraqi “insurgency”, al Qaeda, international jihadists, etc. etc. is simply laughable.
As knowledgeable observers -- including some in US intelligence -- have pointed out, Zarqawi was a “failed fringe fanatic” who barely registered a blip on al Qaeda's radar before 2003, and who hardly knew one end of an AK-47 from the other. A Jordanian whose long-time goal was the overthrow of the Jordanian monarchy, and an anti-Soviet fighter in Afghanistan during the 1980s (perhaps he too was a welfare ward of the CIA?), the utterly ruthless Zarqawi was injured in Afghanistan in a US bombing raid in 2002, and sought refuge in Northern Iraq with the fundamentalist group Ansar al Islam. Zarqawi's presence in Iraq made him a very thin straw for the Bush Administration to clutch onto in claiming a link between Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden. Zarqawi's sudden transformation from a nobody to a leading international terror figure was primarily the result of Colin Powell's February 5, 2003 theater audition before the UN, where the “moderate face” of the Bush Administration presented bullshit evidence of Iraqi WMDs, and Zarqawi as the link between al Qaeda and Saddam. Following the US invasion of Iraq, the still insignificant Zarqawi, through Bush Administration/media propaganda, become public enemy #1 and the face of the Iraqi “insurgency”.
Never mind the fact that Zarqawi may have, at best, commanded a handful of supporters, and that the diverse Iraqi resistance regarded him with contempt if they even regarded him at all. Zarqawi was a convenient villain with which to propagandize the Iraqi population to acquiesce to the US occupation and to drive a wedge into the Iraqi resistance. But even more important, Zarqawi was a necessary villain for US domestic consumption.
The Bush Administration has desperately tried to portray the Iraqi resistance as being to a significant extent a tool of “foreign” jihadists like Zarqawi, rather than the inevitable and legitimate, overwhelmingly homegrown resistance to US occupation and brutality that it in fact is. As one US intelligence agent commented: “We were basically paying up to $US10,000 a time to opportunists, criminals and chancers who passed off fiction and supposition about Zarqawi as cast-iron fact, making him out as the linchpin of just about every attack in Iraq.” “Back home this stuff was gratefully received and formed the basis of policy decisions. We needed a villain, someone identifiable for the public to latch on to, and we got one.”
Indeed, as the Washington Post reported on April 11, 2006, based on military documents it obtained, the US military had conducted a “propaganda campaign to magnify the role” of Zarqawi in Iraq. “The documents explicitly list the ‘U.S. Home Audience’ as one of the targets of a broader propaganda campaign.” The Post went on to report that, “The effort has raised his profile in a way that some military intelligence officials believe may have overstated his importance and helped the Bush administration tie the war to the organization responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.” One military briefing from 2004 cited by the Post states: “Villainize Zarqawi/leverage xenophobia response.” The document listed three methods to be employed in this campaign: “Media operations,” “Special Ops (626)” (referring to Task Force 626, an elite US military unit assigned primarily to hunt down senior officials in Saddam Hussein's government) and “PSYOP”, the military term for propaganda work. Another briefing states that the “The Zarqawi PSYOP program is the most successful information campaign to date,” in the view of Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, now a senior planner on the Central Command staff directing operations in Iraq and the Middle East.
The Bush Administration’s celebratory ejaculations over the killing of Zarqawi may well elicit a brief respite from news of sliding public support for the war and his performance in office, and the widening Haditha massacre scandal -- if the corporate media’s well proven track record of bailing Bush from trouble with meaningless distractions meets little resistance. But the continuing folly of making Zarqawi out to be the major figure he never was -- and even worse, a martyr -- may ironically result in more losses to US forces (with all that entails for Iraqi civilians as a consequence) as some Iraqis, inspired by the slain “martyr”, attempt to avenge his death; while the Iraqi resistance steps up actions to prove, as if it wasn’t obvious enough, that Zarqawi was an insignificant player, and that it’s “The Occupation, Stupid” that motivates their actions.
Other Articles by Sunil K. Sharma
Yourself a Hand