Slate's War Stories: Future of the Iraq Insurgency Experts believe that the death of al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in an air raid Wednesday is a serious blow to the insurgency in Iraq. Alex Chadwick talks to Daniel Byman, director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University and Slate contributor, about the effect that the Jordanian's death will have on the insurgency and the militant Islamist movement around the world.
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Slate's War Stories: Future of the Iraq Insurgency

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Slate's War Stories: Future of the Iraq Insurgency

Slate's War Stories: Future of the Iraq Insurgency

Slate's War Stories: Future of the Iraq Insurgency

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5461824/5461825" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Experts believe that the death of al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in an air raid Wednesday is a serious blow to the insurgency in Iraq. Alex Chadwick talks to Daniel Byman, director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University and Slate contributor, about the effect that the Jordanian's death will have on the insurgency and the militant Islamist movement around the world.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Daniel Byman is director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University. He's got an article posted on the online magazine Slate today asking will Zarqawi's death be a short-lived triumph? Daniel Byman, why short lived?

Mr. DANIEL BYMAN (Director of Security Studies Program, Georgetown University): Zarqawi was a leader but he was not a great leader. He's someone who divided the Iraqi insurgency. He alienated many of the Iraqi people and was someone who we may look back in hindsight and say that he was one of the least affective leaders that the anti-U.S. Forces have had.

CHADWICK: But symbolically, he seemed to be a very important figure. He's certainly the only name that we know among the insurgent leaders, that must count for - well, quite a lot I would think.

Mr. BYMAN: Killing Zarqawi matters. It's a signal to the Iraqi insurgency. It's a signal to al-Qaida that the United States is a formidable foe. It's a way of showing the American people that we are gaining some success in Iraq, and this is a very bad man whose death we should all celebrate. We just need to be cautious in assuming that this is a turning point in the struggle in Iraq.

CHADWICK: One important role that he's played is prompting the sectarian conflict that's developed so horrifically over the last, eight, nine, ten months. What is his role there? Why is this something that he's advocating?

Mr. BYMAN: Zarqawi wanted sectarian conflict in Iraq for two reasons. The first was genuine ideology. He believed that Shiite Muslims were apostates who as a result deserved death, and believed this in his heart. He also wanted to turn Iraq into chaos as a way of undermining the U.S. effort there and giving the jihadist movement a toehold that he believed would later allow it to expand throughout the rest of the Middle East.

CHADWICK: There are reports we're hearing that perhaps the U.S. was tipped off by one of Zarqawi's own people, that within the insurgency, they may have let out the information about where he is. Any credibility to that, do you think?

Mr. BYMAN: That is plausible. Only a few people tend to know where terrorists' leaders are at a given moment. So to locate one with sufficient detail to be able to do a military attack suggests that there was very precise intelligence, that one source could be someone close to him.

CHADWICK: Will you raise this caution about the long-term things that we're going to have to deal with, with the death of Zarqawi. But don't you look at this as really a pretty strong positive?

Mr. BYMAN: Absolutely. This is good news. This is someone who has committed a huge number of horrible atrocities and was finally brought to justice. The only thing we need to be careful about is even though this particular man is gone, it doesn't mean that the struggle has necessarily changed in the long term.

CHADWICK: He's an outsider. He's a Jordanian operating in Iraq, and I gather from what you write in Slate that there were people within the insurgency who thought indeed there should be an Iraqi who was the face of the insurgency.

Mr. BYMAN: Many people including many people in al-Qaida believe that the insurgency would be more effective if its most prominent face were an Iraqi. That Iraqi could unify people drawing not only on religion but also on nationalism. Zarqawi, because he was a foreigner, was suspected to a degree, just as any leader would be if they were not from the nation that they claim to represent.

CHADWICK: So are there Iraqi insurgent leaders ready to take his place? Do we know who those people are?

Mr. BYMAN: Who will take Zarqawi's place is an open question. First, although Zarqawi got tremendous publicity, it's not clear that he controlled most or even a large part of the Iraqi insurgents fighting on a day-to-day basis. With that in mind, you could have a number of leaders, many of whom are Iraqi, try to become the most prominent to compete for that position of leadership. Right now, it's not clear which one will emerge triumphant, and it's not clear if any of them will. They might continue to have low level struggles among themselves for the leadership even as they fight U.S. and Iraqi government forces.

CHADWICK: Daniel Byman is director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. You'll find his piece, Will Zarqawi's Death Be a Short-Lived Triumph?, up on Slate Magazine. Daniel, thank you.

Mr. BYMAN: Thank you.

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Zarqawi's Death May Weaken, Not End, Insurgency

The leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Zarqawi was No. 2 on America's most wanted list. He was killed Wednesday night during an air strike in Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad. Defense Dept. hide caption

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Defense Dept.

In early May, the Pentagon released video outtakes in which Zarqawi appeared unable to fire a machine gun properly. The video was discovered during U.S. military raids of purported al-Qaida safe houses southwest of Baghdad. Defense Dept. hide caption

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Defense Dept.

Just how much of an impact Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death will have on the ongoing insurgency in Iraq remains unclear. But everyone agrees that the insurgency is not going away.

President Bush, speaking in the Rose Garden this morning, said, "Zarqawi's death is a severe blow to al-Qaida. It is a significant victory in the global war on terror."

But the president quickly cautioned that there are tough days still ahead in Iraq. The sentiment was echoed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"There will be fierce attempts," Blair said, "with the formation of the government, with the death of al-Zarqawi, to fight back."

A Multifaceted Insurgency

The insurgency is not a single-headed beast, but rather a loose affiliation of many different groups that rarely act in a coordinated way.

Zarqawi was certainly seen as the leader of the foreign fighters in Iraq. The U.S. military says that al-Qaida in Iraq has been responsible for the vast majority of spectacular attacks on civilians in Iraq. That includes the bombing of a significant Shi'ite mosque in Samarra in February that set off the current round of sectarian violence that plagues the country.

The far larger insurgency, however, is not foreign, but is made up of Iraqis.

Sunni Arabs, some of whom were members of the former regime under Saddam Hussein, see their struggle as a resistance to a foreign occupation. That insurgency is much more fractured than al-Qaida, with no unifying leader.

There have been signs of tension between Iraqis and foreign fighters, with one viewing their cause as a nationalistic struggle, the other as a grand jihad against the West.

But Zarwqawi was certainly a charismatic leader and masterful propagandist, with frequent Web postings of his speeches and highly produced recruitment videos.

Retired Maj. General Robert Scales said Thursday that while the indigenous insurgency will continue for some time, it will be far less organized without Zarqawi.

"Once you get below Zarqawi's level, the degree of skill begins to fall off precipitously," Scales said.

A Coup for U.S. Intelligence

Even so, Scales cautioned that an insurgency is defined not just by the person at the top, but by an entire network.

And that, says Scales, is one of the most important aspects of Zarqawi's death. It's not just that he and some of his top lieutenants are dead; it's that somebody -- probably somebody close the insurgency -- told someone where Zarqawi was.

The intelligence that will be gathered from computers and files on the scene could give great insight into how al-Qaida, and perhaps the indigenous insurgency, are organized and run.

But the insurgency is not going away after Zarqawi's demise. Neither is the escalating death toll, which usually claims about 1,200 people a month in Baghdad alone. When asked about that figure Thursday, Prime Minister Blair said, "This isn't going to change with the death of al-Zarqawi. We should not have any illusions about this."

And an Internet statement from Zarqawi's group said, "The death of our leaders is life for us. It will only increase our persistence in continuing holy war so that the word of God will be supreme."