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The Myth of Zarqawi

Of Bedouin origins, Zarqawi was born and raised in a working class section of Zarqa, Jordan’s second-largest city. After a brief spell as a petty criminal, he went to Afghanistan but arrived too late to fight the Soviets. In Afghanistan, he embraced radical Salafism, a creed that calls for a total rejection of Western values and influence. Arrested in Jordan for his subversive ideas, he spent five years in prison. This experience transformed him into one of many jihadists, with a handful of followers. In 2000, in Kandahar, he met Osama bin Laden for the first time, but rejected the Saudi’s offer to become part of al-Qaeda. Zarqawi was not prepared to fight against the U.S.; instead, he wanted to wage his struggle against the Jordanian government. This became the purpose of the modest training camp that he ran in Herat, near the Iranian border, where he mainly trained recruits for suicide missions.

But it was on Feb. 5, 2003, when Colin Powell described him to the UN Security Council as the fictitious link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, that Zarqawi achieved global stardom. Since then, his myth has grown exponentially in both the West and the East. ~Loretta Napoleoni, Antiwar.com

Dr. Napoleoni’s article is a fine summary of the fraudulent creation of Zarqawi as the supposed pre-war al-Qaeda operative linking Hussein to international, anti-American terrorism. Debunking the mythology woven around Zarqawi, the allegedly one-legged terrorist who managed to be surprisingly mobile and elusive (it helped that the stories about his amputation were simply fictitious), is a vital first step in casting asunder the notion that Zarqawi’s present nominal adherence to al-Qaeda at the moment is anything other than recent, rank opportunism made possible by the war based in part on the original lie that Zarqawi represented the Iraq-terrorism link. As many antiwar writers, including myself, have argued, the stories told about Zarqawi by this administration have been based on the same sort of unreliable information and self-serving propaganda of Near Eastern political factions that the INC used to pull us into this war in the first place.

Incidentally, it hardly helps the warmongers’ case that Zarqawi was convicted of crimes in absentia on less evidence than their man, Chalabi, was after he had fled the country following his royal fleecing of Jordan’s banking system. This must be embarrassing for them, especially considering how vehemently they have objected to antiwar pundits’ using his conviction to reveal Chalabi for the hustler and con-man that he undoubtedly is.

Particularly interesting is Dr. Napoleoni’s discussion of more recent events:

Why was the man who in early 2000 was rejected by al-Qaeda [emphasis mine] so keen to get Osama bin Laden’s approval? The answer rests in the fact that contrary to what Powell had told the Security Council, Zarqawi was virtually unknown before the war. A working-class Bedouin from Zarqa leading a group of foreign fighters, he lacked the religious authority to rally the Iraqi Sunni population around him. He desperately needed legitimacy, and Osama bin Laden was the only one who could help him obtain it.

More tellingly, the lies about Zarqawi that helped make the war possible and raise him to prominence have helped pave the way for Zarqawi to become the international terrorist leader that the administration invented:

America’s obsession with his myth helped him obtain the endorsement he craved, by blaming him for every attack inside and outside Iraq, especially suicide missions and the resistance in Fallujah. In December 2004, bin Laden finally granted his support and named him “emir” of al-Qaeda in Iraq. That in turn has enabled the Jordanian to attract enough followers and resources to engage U.S. forces while keeping up the relentless succession of suicide bombings against Shi’ites that has brought Iraq to the brink of civil war.

On Nov. 9, 2005, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi fulfilled the prophecy expressed years earlier by the Jordanian authorities, the Kurdish secret service, and the U.S. government: he turned the myth into a chilling reality. From a small-town bully, to a small-fry jihadist, to the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, he fully exploited the legend woven around his person. While back in February 2003 he was an insignificant jihadist, today he is the undisputed most-wanted terror leader. Tragically, what we have created seems to be well beyond our ability to subdue.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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