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Curtains for Zarqawi

Bloggers wonder what impact the death of al-Qaida’s top man in Iraq will have on global terrorism.

Curtains for Zarqawi: American warplanes bombed a safe house in the Iraqi town of Hibhib, killing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and seven of his aides. President Bush said the “most wanted terrorist in Iraq” was the mastermind behind numerous bombings, beheadings, assassinations, suicide missions, and a violent Sunni insurgency. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the “death of al-Zarqawi is a strike against al-Qaida in Iraq, and therefore a strike against al-Qaida everywhere.”

Iraqpundit, the blog of an Iraqi exile, describes some Iraqis’ jubilation at Zarqawi’s demise: “Iraqi women are ululating in the shy, face-covering manner of my country, and Iraqi men are boisterously firing celebratory shots in the air. … Iraq improved today, though true peace is obviously still far off. There are already reports of more deaths at the hands of terrorists who are now killing only for the sake of murder. Zarqawi’s death is another setback for a campaign that is only about death. The Zarqawi movement has failed to achieve any of its goals.” National-security blogger and author Austin Bay calls Zarqawi’s death “a major political victory for the Iraqis– not necessarily a military victory.” Violence will not stop, Bay contends, but the latest news is “a definite boost for the new Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The new Iraqi government is building a political process. Removing Zarqawi forwards that process. Maliki has also promised the Iraqi people he will improve the internal security situation. Maliki can use Zarqawi’s death to help heal sectarian (Sunni-Shia) rifts in Iraq.”

Ed Morrissey at Captain’s Quarters is confident that Zarqawi’s death will cripple al-Qaida in Iraq. “The elimination of Zarqawi and his henchmen will kneecap the foreign insurgency. Although the network will still exist, the loss of leadership and political connections will guarantee its rapid decline,” Morrissey contends. “What little command and control existed will disappear, and the funding channels that Zarqawi controlled with go with them. Cells will operate without any coordination at all, a problem already with the successes the Coalition and Iraq have achieved against the network.”  Morrissey’s long post includes lots of links on Zarqawi.

On the other side of the coin, Rick Moranat Right Wing Nut House thinks Zarqawi’s death won’t stop an organization as fractured and as determined as al-Qaida. “The amount of latitude given these cells to mount their own missions also means that outside a blow to their morale, there will be little decrease in AQI’s operations, a stated goal of which is fomenting a sectarian civil war,” he writes. “And Zarqawi’s death doesn’t affect the thousands of Sunni insurgents who show little sign that their attacks will abate.” Moran is not alone. “I’m not so sure this is a significant blow to Al Qaeda. … Al Qaeda is an ideology, not a military organization with a traditional command structure, and I suspect the actual impact on their day-to-day operations will be minimal,” writes Charles Johnson at the conservative blog Little Green Footballs. And liberal blog TPM Cafe’s Juliette Kayyem argues that while Zarqawi’s death may impact terror in Iraq, it will not likely affect attacks in the West. Kayyem points out that Western terror cells generally have been the domain of Osama Bin Laden, not Zarqawi.

John the “skeptic” at Blogenlust maintains that Zarqawi was blamed for more than his share of atrocities through an American propaganda campaign designed to shift blame for the deteriorating situation in Iraq. “[F]rom a political standpoint, it’s a lot easier to blame the problems facing Iraq and our military on an outside force, preferably an enemy, rather than something we should have done or something we’re unwilling/unable to do.” Middle East history professor Juan Cole agrees that Zarqawi’s reputation was inflated. “There is no evidence of operational links between his Salafi Jihadis in Iraq and the real al-Qaeda; it was just a sort of branding that suited everyone, including the US. Official US spokesmen have all along over-estimated his importance. Leaders are significant and not always easily replaced. But Zarqawi has in my view has been less important than local Iraqi leaders and groups. I don’t expect the guerrilla war to subside any time soon,” he writes.

C.S. Scott at group military blog Security Watchtower takes umbrage with those who downplay the importance of Zarqawi’s death, quoting terror pundit Rohan Gunaratna’s statement that his death “is the most significant victory in the fight against terrorism.” Scott writes: “Of course the violence will not end with this one killing, but it’s a complete failure to understand the role of Zarqawi in al Qaeda’s second generation, to believe this is just another terrorist killed.”

Slate weighs in on Zarqawi’s death. Pajamas Media compiles a lengthy list of posts on Zarqawi. Read more here.