Headlines, Middle East & North Africa

IRAQ: Zarqawi Killing May Not End Violence

Aaron Glantz and Alaa Hassan

BAGHDAD, Jun 8 2006 (IPS) - Iraqis seem divided over the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

U.S. and Iraqi officials said he was killed along with seven allies in an air raid overnight in Baqouba, 50km northeast of Baghdad.

The United States had put a 25 million dollar bounty on al-Zarqawi, the same as on Osama bin Laden.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told reporters Thursday morning that Zarqawi had been “eliminated”, adding that “those who disrupt the course of life, like al-Zarqawi, will have a tragic end.”

Maliki’s comments were echoed by Fadil el-Sharra, spokesman for the Shia cleric Muqtada Sadr, who has led two armed rebellions against the Anglo-American occupation, and regularly calls for its demise.

“After this the terrorism will be reduced,” Sharra told IPS. “The terrorists now know what their future is, and their future is they will be killed just like Zarqawi.”

Sharra said now is the time for all Iraqis to rally behind the new government to help establish Iraq’s sovereignty. “The terrorism will end,” he predicted, “and we will have an Iraq without dictatorship, without problems and with stability.”

But not everyone shares this optimism. Though Zarqawi was almost universally reviled in Iraq, he was not a central figure in the insurgency, according to the spokesman for the Sunni clerics group, the Association of Muslim Scholars.

Mathona al-Dari, spokesman for the clerical group told IPS: “The issue is not the capture of Zarqawi. It’s not related to one person. It’s that the occupation wants to destroy anyone that’s resisting them – armed group and political groups alike. (This killing) is meant to hide the fact that the occupation is not meant to help Iraqi people.”

Al-Dari’s father, Hartih al-Dari, is imam of a mosque near Abu Ghraib prison that has been a centre of anti-American rhetoric. He once issued a fatwa against any Iraqi helping the U.S. or British military, and spoke of armed resistance as a religious duty..

The Association of Muslim Scholars has since tempered that rhetoric, participated in Iraqi elections and joined the new unity government, but Mothana al-Dari said he expects the fighting to continue despite his organisation’s change of position.

Al-Dari told IPS that the policies that are causing resentment and anger against Iraqis continue – including the incarceration of more than 15,000 Iraqis without trial at American prisons.

The Iraqi government announced this week it had reached an agreement with Washington to release about 2,500 prisoners, but al-Dari said that will not be enough to bring peace.

“Their project is to destroy the voices that are against the occupation, whether armed or unarmed,” al-Dari said.

Al-Dari also expressed concern that the only reason Iraqi prisoners are being released is because the U.S. military is planning to arrest more people – and they have run out of space. The U.S. military is keeping so many people at Abu Ghraib that prisoners have to be warehoused outside in tents on the grounds of the prison.

Indeed, the U.S. military is currently preparing for a massive assault on Ramadi, according to local indications. About 1,500 fresh troops have been brought to the area, which has already been surrounded by U.S. military checkpoints and snipers.

“We have tough days in Iraq that will try the patience of the American people,” U.S. President George Bush said Thursday, indicating that Zarqawi’s death will not bring a change in U.S. policy.

“I want to be hopeful, but the facts that I see show that Iraq has no future under the occupation,” al-Dari said. “And under the current political process there is an absence of the voice of the nation.”

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