In the old days they’d brandish the head of the captured chieftain from the battlements. These days, given the effects on human bone and tissue of artillery and 500 pound bombs, there’s a cull from an old Most Wanted list and then, when the morticians have done their work, a photo of the cadaver’s visage, decently cleaned up.
When Saddam Hussein’s sons, Uday and Qusay, were located and killed in July of 2003 connoisseurs of the mortician’s arts were particularly impressed at the efforts taken to make them presentable for post mortem prime time.
At the White House press conference Thursday morning there was gloating of course, just as there was when Saddam’s sons were killed. It takes an effort now to recall that, like the late Zarqawi, Uday and Qusay too were credited with inspiring a large part of the resistance, and then, as now, guarded hopes were expressed in Washington that maybe some sort of a corner had been turned.
By the very location of his final address, a lonely house in the back country east of Baghdad, we can surmise that Zarqawi’s glory days as a guerilla commander were behind him. Leaders of largely urban insurgencies don’t bunker in easily surrounded rural retreats, in areas where locals are liable to turn them in, as happened with Zarqawi. On the other hand, terrorists on the run, with a dwindling band of followers, opt for whatever bolthole is available, however suicidal it may be.
In many ways Zarqawi was an American asset, discrediting the local nationalist resistance by dint of being a foreigner, from Jordan, a proclaimed follower of Osama bin Laden, a religious fanatic, given to sawing people’s heads off in front of a tv camera. It will be hard to find a symbol of the foe as nasty as he was.
I doubt if anyone following events in Iraq via sources other than White House or Pentagon handouts thinks for a minute that the elimination of Zarqawi will make any difference to the trend of events there. The handouts from Washington say that prime minister Maliki will be buttressed by this military success and that it is now more likely that he can supervise an improvement in the security of Iraqis. The word from the field is that Maliki’s fiat runs to a few square acres inside the green zone in Baghdad, and beyond that sectarian militias and various resistance groups holds sway.
The salient question is whether the Shi’a, for whom the elections at last brought political power, will conclude that the occupiers are determined to deny them their victory and that the Americans and the British have to go. When they make that decision it will be all over.
In a month Zarqawi’s name will be barely remembered outside his home village in Jordan. Talk of tides turning, of tunnels getting lighter, of skies clearing will be seen as the self0-deluding babble that it is.
The situation remains exactly as it was when Rep Jack Murtha, last October, called for immediate withdrawal, except that thousands more have died, and the massacre at Haditha has plunged America further into disrepute round the world, as Murtha forecast at the time. The Democrats rejected Murtha’s wise counsel then and they continue to do so. The march of folly and disaster continues, with no effective political resistance here in the Homeland to stay its mad course.