- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2006

According to U.S. intelligence sources the Pentagon’s “Task Force 145” tracked the most wanted man in Iraq for a long time, but it was thanks to human intelligence, or HUMINT — more specifically to the work of a Jordanian special forces team operating inside Iraq — that helped nab a man who later led the American and Iraqi special forces to capture Abu Musab Zarqawi.

Earlier reports spoke of very limited Jordanian cooperation in helping track down the Jordanian-born terrorist. However, a Jordanian intelligence source told United Press International that Jordanian Special Forces had been operating inside Iraq for some time. “We had to learn to play the game,” the source told UPI.

In Washington, Jordanian Ambassador Karim Kawar told UPI, “Jordan and the United States have long cooperated in fighting terrorism.”

And as in all epic manhunts, despite the fancy electronic spy gadgetry, the multibillion-dollar satellites in space able to photograph the face of a person back on Earth, in the final analysis it all comes back to the work of a single informant able to provide that critical piece of information needed to crack the case. The informant usually has his own motive — be it revenge, monetary rewards, or for reasons only he knows, and with which he will have to live with the nightmare of having sold a man’s life for just 30 pieces of silver — or the modern equivalent.

In Zarqawi’s case, the U.S. had the Iraqi informant nabbed by the Jordanians, who agreed several months ago to finger Zarqawi’s spiritual adviser to the U.S.-led counterterrorism force. At this point, the United States made use of its TECHINT, or technical intelligence. They identified and were able to monitor the cell phone of the terrorist leader’s imam. Predator planes were brought in to track the spiritual adviser to the safe house where he met Zarqawi. Special teams of Task Force 145 and units of the Iraqi army were also called in to surround the house where the most notorious man in Iraq was hiding out, to ensure he could not escape.

At this point the United States called in an air strike on the house. Two 500-pound bombs were laser-guided to their targets, killing most of the people inside. According to some reports, Zarqawi survived the initial attack. He was picked up and placed on a stretcher by Iraqi troops and died shortly after from his wounds, but not before he was able to utter a few words to his captors as he lay in a stretcher.

Many in the know say it took two months to field the black special forces team that was to target Zarqawi’s Baqouba safe house, much as targeting is done in Afghanistan.

At least six serving U.S. intelligence sources confirmed to UPI that Zarqawi’s death was authentic. But many officials are still showing extreme caution, though U.S. and Iraqi authorities have confirmed the death on the basis of his physical appearance, scars on the body and comparison of fingerprints.

Until last April, no one quite knew what Zarqawi looked like. Not the United States, nor the Iraqis — not even the Israelis. There were no reliable pictures of him available. Like most guerrilla leaders who spend time in the shadows, Zarqawi never liked to be photographed. He was very security-conscious. But then surprisingly, on April 26, 2006, a Web site associated with al Qaeda disseminated a video-recorded message showing his face. Presuming the picture in this video was really that of Zarqawi and that the fingerprints used for comparison really belonged to him, the confirmation of his death should be treated as authentic.

Still, many say it’s too early to determine whether he was really killed by the Americans in an air strike as claimed or by the Iraqi resistance fighters, who had reportedly developed differences with him, and his body thrown away to be subsequently recovered by the American and Iraqi forces. The latter is being investigated as a possibility because since last year, there were indications the al Qaeda leadership in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region and Iraqi resistance fighters were unhappy over some of the methods adopted by Zarqawi. His virulently anti-Shi’ite diatribe calling for an intersectarian jihad had made even Ayman al-Zawahri, the No. 2 to bin Laden in al Qaeda, very uncomfortable. He had expressed his misgivings in a letter to Zarqawi.

The Iraqi resistance fighters were, according to some, unhappy over Zarqawi’s expanding the Iraqi jihad to foreign territories, such as Jordan. Others disputed his desires to give the jihad a pan-Islamic dimension.

Although some were quick to label Zarqawi the “Arab Che,” Zarqawi lacked the charisma, the dogma and the leadership qualities of Che Guevara. And his anti-Shi’ite vendetta seemed to have caused more bad than good for his cause.

As for the immediate future, intelligence sources told UPI we would probably see in Iraq a denouement similar to what we have been seeing in Saudi Arabia, where every time a leader considered important is killed by the security forces, another person takes up the leadership and keeps the jihad going. The more leaders killed by the Saudi security forces, the more the new leaders who have come up and rallied the cadres and motivated them to keep the jihad going.

Meanwhile bin Laden and Zawahri must be worried about their own security. If they were killed, would their movement survive? And now that Zarqawi is out of the way, the U.S. will certainly renew efforts to find and kill the two top al Qaeda chiefs.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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