Impact of Zarqawi's Death Ripples Through Mideast

The U.S. air raid that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and several associates prompted a variety of reactions in neighboring nations. Rami Khouri, editor at large of Beirut's Daily Star, discusses developments with Scott Simon.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

We turn now to Rami Khouri, editor-at-large of Beirut's Daily Star newspaper, who joins us from Beirut. Rami, thanks for being back with us.

Mr. RAMI KHOURI (Daily Star): My pleasure as always. Thank you.

SIMON: Help us gauge the effect of Mr. Zarqawi's death elsewhere in the region. What have you been hearing?

Mr. KHOURI: Well, there's a bit of debate going on about whether his death is going to significantly slow down the violence or just have a momentary lull or speed it up. I mean, there's good cases to be made for all three.

The assumption by most people who are knowledgeable about Iraq is that there will be some impact but not very significant. Because Zarqawi in the final analysis was a symptom and a symbol of the basic problem and not the cause of it.

SIMON: I gather you've been talking with senior Jordanian intelligence officers. Did they expand in any of that?

Mr. KHOURI: Well, yes, I was in Amman a few days ago and talked to people who were involved in the operation that actually helped to catch him and kill him. They see, you know, Zarqawi is made in Jordan. He became a radical in Jordanian jails and he came back and attacked Jordan. So it's very personal with the Jordanians.

And they feel that the threat posed by groups like his is one of the most significant ones in the region. But the other thing that the Jordanian intelligence people say, which I think is very significant, especially for Americans, is that their other problem is the policies being pursued in Palestine by the Israelis with American acquiescence. Because they see both Iraq further east and Palestine to their west being broken up and broken down into small entities with the violence and insecurity and ethnic tribalism and religious extremism.

So I think you have to look at the terror dimension but, more important, the underlying political policies by people in the region and abroad that bring these about.

REEVES: Let me ask about some other developments. The filling of these three cabinet posts finally and a new government beginning to take charge. And what I guess you call in your column today, the elusive Arab goal of sustainable security, stable statehood and satisfying citizenship.

Also, I must say, the willingness of the new Iraqi prime minister to criticize the U.S. government. How is that moving forward events or not?

Mr. KHOURI: Well, it's a very significant development. I mean, the political groundwork and the foundation in Iraq is what is - the consensus, politically, is what is going to finally bring about security and allow the Americans and British and other foreign forces to leave and let Iraq go back to being a normal country, defined as they wish to define it in a free way.

But there is a significant problem, which is the Iraqi government can never be legitimate while the foreign forces are there. And it looks like it's a puppet of the Americans. So there is a very delicate balance now being worked out.

And part of this is to - criticizing the Americans is something that is politically understandable because people get really angry in Iraq by things like the Haditha bombing, the killings and other daily acts that happen.

So this is a process that's evolving slowly. The critical dimension is to get a legitimate Iraqi government that brings together all the Iraqi people. And that has to transcend ethnicity and narrow religious and tribal identities. And this is something the Iraqis will have to work out.

SIMON: Rami Khouri, who's editor-at-large of the Daily Star newspaper in Beirut, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. KHOURI: Thanks for having me.

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