- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2006

The man who made Iraq tremble died Thursday, killed in a U.S. air strike, along with several of his followers. Abu Musab Zarqawi was his nom-de-guerre; a Jordanian by birth, his real name was Ahmed Fadel Nazzal al-Khalayila.

Zarqawi, a self-made terrorist, drifted from the prisons in the dusty Jordanian town of Zarka to al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan where he volunteered his services to Osama bin Laden’s network. Several sources say he quickly disagreed with bin Laden and moved on to establish himself as somewhat of a “nationless freelance terrorist,” as the Council on Foreign Relations referred to him.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq presented a golden opportunity to Zarqawi. He made his way to Iraq and established himself as the representative of al Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers. His claim to infamy — short-lived as it may have been — was enough to cause havoc and fear, and countless deaths.

Numerous attacks have been credited and/or connected to Zarqawi. Among them are the suicide killings in several hotels in Amman, Jordan on Nov. 9, 2005. Zarqawi has also been linked to the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings, and he has claimed responsibility for the April 24, 2004, suicide attack on the Iraqi port city of Basra.

It widely suspected he was also responsible for a number of attacks on Shi’ite worshippers and Shi’ite mosques in Iraq. Among the most gruesome of his accomplishments was the beheading of American Nicholas Berg, which was videotaped and widely publicized. Some intelligence analysts believe Zarqawi himself actually carried out the beheading.

Zarqawi looked beyond Iraq in his jihad, or holy war, against anything or anyone who stood in his way. Among them were Iraq’s Shi’ites, whom he considered nonbelievers who should be killed.

He established training camps in parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan that were beyond the reach of either the local authorities or the multinational coalition tracking down terrorists. According to a report from the Council on Foreign Relations, “He continued to churn out suicide bombers, often of Palestinian origin, and experts say Zarqawi is probably responsible for a significant number of attacks in Iraq and elsewhere, for which he has not claimed credit.”

But Zarqawi differed from bin Laden and al Qaeda’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri in trying to remain in the shadows, not wanting his face seen. And just as his face was mostly unknown, so too were hard facts about his life and his actual feats, much of which was turned into myth and legend. That suddenly changed on April 25, when he released a video of himself decrying the three-year “crusader campaign” in Iraq.

“Tactically, geographically, and to some extent philosophically, he has established a pattern of consistent inconsistency,” states a CFR report. The same report credits Zarqawi’s flexibility as “making him all the more fearsome — and all the more difficult to pin down,” despite a bounty of $25 million on his head — the same as on bin Laden’s.

Part of Zarqawi’s myth may be attributed to a speech given in 2003 by then Secretary of State Colin Powell to the U.N. Security Council in trying to justify the war in Iraq. Mr. Powell claimed Zarqawi was, personally, the link between Iraq’s Ba’athist regime and Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network. Mr. Powell added this proved Iraq harbored a terrorist network, and mandated pre-emptive military action against the country.

While the accusation was later proved wrong, it propelled Zarqawi into the spotlight of international terrorism. His initial contact with Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood took place in a Jordanian prison where Zarqawi was serving time on drug charges and sexual assault. During his stint in prison he turned to religion and extremism.

Zarqawi’s main point of contention with al Qaeda, according to multiple reports, was over bin Laden’s insistence on targeting the United States. Zarqawi wanted to focus the fight against Israel, Jews in general and Jordan.

While Zarqawi presented himself as al Qaeda’s man in Iraq, the nature of his relationship with Osama bin Laden’s outfit remains as shadowy as his face had been.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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