Week in Review: Zarqawi; Somalia; Terror in Toronto

Commentary on events in the week's news, including the death of al-Qaida figure Zarqawi; Iraqi politics; turmoil in Somalia; a terrorism plot foiled in Toronto; and the defeat of a gay marriage ban in Congress.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Defense Secretary DONALD RUMSFELD (United States): I think, arguably, over the last several years no single person on this planet has had the blood of more innocent men, women, and children on his hands than Zarqawi. He personified the dark, sadistic and medieval vision of the future, of beheadings, and suicide bombings, and indiscriminate killings.

SIMON: U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld speaking Thursday in Brussels. The Secretary was attending a meeting of NATO defense ministers when he learned of the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of the al-Qaida terror network in Iraq.

NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us.

Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And, as we sit here now, what do we know about the methods that were used by U.S. forces to track down and kill Abu Musab al-Zarqawi?

SCHORR: Well, there were several versions of how this happened. The most likely one is that American and Iraqi forces managed to identify a sheikh who supposedly was Zarqawi's spiritual advisor. And they followed him and managed to track him to a meeting with Zarqawi in a little house, some say it was just a hut, in a palm grove in a suburb of Baghdad. And with that information and drone aircraft and F-16 aircraft looking at the thing, they finally managed to get the exact spot. And for once they really hit their target.

SIMON: Now, there were reports on Friday that they were combing through some of the rubble there and gleaning information that was being used to conduct further raids. Which raises the question of what effect, ultimately, will Mr. Zarqawi's death have, or might likely, what effect might it have on the strength of the insurgency in Iraq.

SCHORR: You would expect that with him gone would have an affect of bringing down the level of violence. But I - we're being cautioned by the administration not to take that too lightly and too easily. It may very well be, in fact, that in order to show that there is still a jihad in progress, there might be even a spasm of violence for a while.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

SCHORR: I mean, one person cannot end this thing.

SIMON: Also on Thursday, Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, announced the three cabinet positions that had been the subject of bitter dispute: Defense, Interior, and Minister of National Security, had all been approved by parliament. What's the significance of finally filling these posts, in particular? And I think a lot of people would want to know, were the two events related?

SCHORR: Well, were they related? There was a moment of high drama, as Prime Minister Maliki announced on Thursday, at a press conference, Zarqawi had been killed. Then there was a burst of cheers from the press. And then he rushed off to parliament to announce he had completed his cabinet with Interior Minister and Defense Minister and the National Security Advisor. This was what you might call a good day for Mr. Maliki.

SIMON: What kind of impression do you think he's leaving in office over these past two weeks? He's been in the spotlight a lot.

SCHORR: A few days ago, people were saying he wouldn't last six months. No one is saying that anymore, not only because of what happened in completing his cabinet. But also there is this alleged killing of a couple of dozen people by Marines...

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

SCHORR: ...in Haditha. He has demanded of the United States that they investigate it. He's demanded action be taken on it. For a guy who rests entirely on the United States, it's pretty gutsy to talk back that way. But he does it, and I think that the Iraqis like it.

SIMON: I have to ask you about events in Somalia this week, where an Islamist militia took control of Mogadishu, the capital. Now, this is a country that's been without a functioning government for more than a decade. The U.S. had reportedly supported rival warlord militia against the Islamists. There are concerns this week that this could either represent a new day for al-Qaida in Somalia, or some sort of Islamist supremacist regime that would remind people of the Taliban.

SCHORR: Well, you know, Somalia, which is best-known to Americans for Black Hawk Down, the helicopter that was brought down there once.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

SCHORR: But Somalia has been described as the only country in the world with no government at all. Maybe that's an exaggeration, but apparently not much of an exaggeration. The United States may have made a mistake in getting into a situation where they were supporting some ousted warlords against Islamic forces. And that turned out to have not to be a very good idea.

So now the State Department is assembling what's called the Somalia Contact Group, with a lot of other countries, and try to figure out what, if anything, could be done about Somalia.

SIMON: And the reality of terrorism hit rather close to home last week. In and around Toronto, 17 men and boys were arrested. Authorities there say they were part of a terror cell that were going to bomb a number of places in southern Ontario, and in fact storm parliament and behead the prime minister of Canada, Mr. Harper.

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: What's the significance of these arrests? And in fact, let me get you to talk about if it has any impact on the immigration debate.

SCHORR: Oh, that's interesting. There were 17 people now who have been - two of them already in jail. They're in jail, incidentally, for smuggling arms from the United States into Canada.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

SCHORR: I don't know whether Canada wanted to do anything about their borders. But there you are. And now a little trouble is brewing because John Hostetler, who's the chairman of the House Committee on Immigration and Border Security, has denounced Canada as a breeding ground for terrorists. That didn't sit very well. And now there's been an announcement made by the Canadian government saying this guy is ignorant, he doesn't know what he's talking about and we resent it.

So one thing that's happened now is it has not improved U.S.-Canadian relations.

SIMON: Some congressional questions. What's often called the anti-gay marriage amendment, this would be a proposed constitutional amendment...

SCHORR: Yup.

SIMON: ...to certify that all marriages must be between one man and one woman, was defeated in Congress this week.

SCHORR: Well, you know, the Republicans didn't win on this debate. But they didn't have to win in order to tell their constituents that they tried. And apparently, people who look at this say, you know, they can't lose. If they introduce a kind of legislation or a constitutional amendment which their conservative base wants and they lose, they lose because the bad Democrats wouldn't let it go through.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

SCHORR: So they get the credit for having tried. And that, apparently, is good enough for them.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. There were primary elections held across the country this week. And particular national attention was focused in that San Diego-area congressional race to succeed Randy Duke Cunningham, a Republican congressman who's been convicted and is on his way to prison. What do you read of the significance in the results there to succeed Mr. Cunningham?

SCHORR: Well, the Democrats hoped and prayed that they would win this seat, and that would perhaps propel them one step further to what they hope will be winning over the House in the next election. They lost, but rather narrowly. So it was not really a very bad loss. But clearly losing isn't the same as winning.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. And Tom DeLay said goodbye to the House of Representatives on Friday.

SCHORR: Yes. And in typical fashion, he didn't apologize to anybody for anything, walked up with his head high, and his reputation as The Hammer still intact. And I don't know what he's going to do from here on out. But boy, he would be a very good lobbyist.

SIMON: Well, he's going to trial. We know that.

SCHORR: Yes. I forgot he may have to wait some time.

SIMON: Yeah. Dan, the World Cup has begun, the big match between England and Paraguay.

SCHORR: Yes. And this is what you call a kicker, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Yes, this is what you call a kicker, exactly. Well a lot of people - you know the Brazilian team. Firstly, can anyone beat Brazil?

Mr. SCHORR: I don't know. But I'm interested in the United States, which until about 1998, was about last. And now it's ranked number five. And who knows, there may be a chance for the U.S. At least keep your fingers crossed.

SIMON: (Singing) Ole, ole, ole, ole, ole.

Thanks very much, Dan.

Mr. SCHORR: My pleasure.

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