Friday, June 23, 2006

Whither Zarqawi?

Or was it "Wither, Zarqawi. Silently."?
by Niranjan Ramakrishnan

This is how the Washington post reported it:
In the hours leading up to the attack, "we had absolutely no doubts whatsoever that Zarqawi was in the house," (Maj. Gen.) Caldwell said, adding that the tips leading to the safe house had come from within Zarqawi's network. "It was 100 percent confirmation. We knew exactly who was there, we knew it was Zarqawi, and that was the deliberate target that we went to get."

And the New York Times:
Several weeks ago, someone inside the Zarqawi network turned the military's attention to the spiritual adviser, identified as Sheikh Abd al-Rahman, said Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the senior military spokesman in Iraq... last night was the first time that we have had definitive, unquestionable information" where Mr. Zarqawi was, the general said. "Therefore, the decision was made to strike."

Unasked and unanswered, as usual, is the key question: If an alleged lynch pin of Al Qaeda such as Zarqawi was in your net, what would you, an administration with a professed one-point agenda of fighting terrorism, do? Ensure his death? Or try your best to reel him in alive? Dropping two five hundred pound bombs on his abode practically guarantees the former, although Zarqawi, like Rasputin, seems to have survived even such a drastic effort, succumbing to his wounds subsequently. Would you not think it was worth almost any price to keep such a high-value target alive, so that he could talk?

Despite the 1000 pounds of ordnance expended on Zarqawi's villa, a great deal of information was yet recovered: a "treasure trove", to quote US officials. This was followed, they added, by dozens of other raids on other suspected Al Qaeda locations all across Iraq, leading also to a number of arrests and other veins of intelligence. But why could all this not have been done after securing the mother lode, the reputed center of the web of terrorism in all of Iraq, Zarqawi himself?
This question does not even appear to have been raised with any seriousness.

Zarqawi was an American original, so to speak. No one had heard of him prior to Colin Powell's awarding him top terrorist status during his United Nations presentation (sic) en route the quick march to the Iraq War. Whether this was just one more embellishment in Powell's wholesale foray into fiction that morning is more than academic. The fact that the Bush administration chose to assassinate him rather than capture and bring him to trial, only serves to increase curiosity about American connections with Zarqawi, adding to the pile of questions assembled by Congressman John Conyers and others to see whether there is a fit case for impeachment. Several writers have pointed out that if Zarqawi was in Iraq prior to 9-11 (thereby establishing an Al Qaeda-Iraq connection, as per the Bush administration's argument), he was in the Kurdish territories, whose government was favorable to the US and outside of Saddam Hussein's control. He became a monstrous feature of Iraq proper only following the Occupation.

What does this policy of "Dead-or-Alive-but-preferably-Dead" vis-a-vis Zarqawi say about the lagging pursuit of Osama Bin Laden, a 6-foot-4-inch figure who has managed to remain incognito now for close on five years?

Shouldn't every White House correspondent be seeking an answer to this question of why dead rather than alive? And while we're at it, should not senators and representatives raise this too, at every conceivable forum?

Niranjan Ramakrishnan lives on the West Coast. he can be reached at His blog is at