In a crucial development, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, “Abu Musab al-Zarqawi”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/blog-mt/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=Zarqawi, has been killed in an airstrike north of Baqouba in Iraq, Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki is saying right now. Also, later today, Maliki says he will present his candidates for Defense and Interior ministers. These two stories are intricately related.
Details are very sketchy, obviously, as this is breaking now, but Maliki, U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and American commander Gen. George Casey said a reliable tip on Zarqawi’s location came in and allowed the U.S. to call in the bombers. The attack occurred last night at about 6 p.m., BBC says, and he may have been betrayed by someone in his inner circle. Zarqawi’s body was identified by facial recognition, Casey said.
[ADD 2:57:40 PM +0200 GMT: Intriguing detail: Jordanian intelligence was involved, apparently. No friend of AMZ they, seeing as they had a number of scores to settle with the guy. But considering Jordan’s ties with the Ba’athist insurgency, which mostly hated AMZ, this looks more and more like the Ba’athists saw the time had come to turn in AMZ to cement the political deal in Baghdad.]
If true, and this should be a very big conditional, This is a big, _big_ success for the Iraqis and the Americans. Zarqawi wasn’t the sole force behind the insurgency, but he was the driving personality behind the _jihad_ aspect of the Sunni fighting, which has much larger influence within the Iraqi insurgency than the size of its roster would suggest. It was his connections that brought in a lot of money from the Gulf, and with that cash and influence was able to bleed off some of the Ba’athists and Iraqi Islamists to his part of the insurgency.
*Also, this indicates that bringing the Sunnis into the government seems to has worked.* One of the gambles of bringing the Sunnis in was to see if they could start ramping down the violence through tips, turn-ins and general cooperation. That has always been the central question: Do the Sunnis in government have control over their factions in the insurgency? I’ve argued here that they don’t, but if today’s news is true, I may very well need to admit I was wrong on that. Gut feeling is that I was.
Casey said they got information on the safehouse where Zarqawi was hiding from local tips, so that indicates the Sunnis have started cooperating with Maliki’s government, which means this government may hold up after all. But it is important to realize that this will _not_ end the insurgency. It has numerous factions, not all who are loyal to Zarqawi (obviously, since someone tipped the Americans off.) And it won’t end the sectarian violence, because Shi’ite death squads are still operating out of the Interior ministry and other police forces and many Sunni insurgents are not foreign jihadis. They have their own fight with the mainly Shi’ite Maliki government, which they see as a tool of Iran. Remember how happy everyone was after Saddam was captured? And remember how it just kept getting worse and worse?
But it is also significant that Maliki says he will announce his new Defense, National Security and Interior minister later today. (He declined to give their names at the press conference on Zarqawai, saying that would wait until the parliamentary meeting in the afternoon.) This indicates to me that the Defense and Interior slots have been being held open as a carrot for Sunnis to start bringing their fighters to heel. Now that the Sunnis have delivered a big prize in Zarqawi’s alleged corpse, it’s time to reward them with a big post. Will they get both Interior and Defense? No. In fact, Reuters is already reporting that Interior will go to Shi’ite Jawaad al-Bolani, formerly of the Fadhilla Party, and Defense will go to Sunni Gen. Abdel Qader Jassim.
Al-Bolani is an interesting choice, because he is reportedly a former Army colonel under Saddam and has been affiliated with numerous factions in Shi’a politics, including Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress and Sheikh Karim Al-Mohammadawi, the “Prince of the Marshes,” a local Shi’ite boss in the south opposed to Iran, Chalabi and sometimes — but unreliably — allied with Moqtada al-Sadr. Mohammadawi is reliably in favor of Mohammadawi. Jassim, a Sunni, is currently the commander of the Iraqi ground forces and has worked closely with the Americans. He also was the general who advised Saddam to withdraw from Kuwait in 1991, further endearing him to Washington.
seem likely to be approved, or at least not opposed, will be supported by the Sunnis, as neither is closely tied to Iran. (The former Interior Minister, Bayan Jabr, was tied with the Badr Organization _neé_ Corps, which is still closely connected with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.)
[ADD 2:18:08 PM +0200 GMT: Going back through some old notes, I found a brief interview I did with al-Bolani in January 2005, before the first elections, when he was president of the Shi’a Political Council, a rival group to the United Iraqi Alliance. At the time, he said he didn’t think the constitution will be based on Islamic _shari’a_, even though Islamic parties are calling for this. “Democracy is a strange idea in Iraq, but democracy is a demand of everyone,” he said. “I can assure you there are many Islamic political movements that don’t want government like Iran’s. But this Islamic identity and the Islamic traditions cannot be removed from this country. â€¦ So I think the Iranian system will never happen in Iraq, and most Islamic movements agree wth me on that.” That will please the Sunnis and the Americans.]
So now we’ll have to wait and see what happens in the coming days and weeks. There will no doubt be a flare of violence thaht could last up to a week or so, but after that, If the level of violence starts to decrease, then that means the Sunnis are playing ball. Now it is time for the Shi’ites to curb their militias; that’s the deal. If that doesn’t happen, expect the Sunnis to let their fighters loose again.
[UPDATE 5:49:39 PM +0200 GMT: DefenseTech has “a good roundup”:http://www.defensetech.org/archives/002483.html of news on Zarqawi, including links to the “video of the bombing run”:http://www.mnf-iraq.com/zarqawi/video/Zaqarwi_Clip.wmv.]
[UPDATE 6:18:34 PM +0200 GMT: The story I did for TIME Magazine is “here”:http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1201993,00.html.]
[UPDATE 7:05:36 PM +0200 GMT: Right on schedule. Several suicide car bombs have gone off in Baghdad killing an unknown number of civilians.]