Why Zarqawi's death matters
Despite the chorus of "yes, buts..." on the left that, although Zarqawi was indeed a nasty man who deserved to die, his death will only serve as the inspiration for more terror and was therefore not such a great event, there is evidence cropping up that the positive repercussions of his demise (and the manner of it) could go far beyond the simple fact that he is no longer around to personally perpetrate graphic evil.
Claudia Rossett has laid out the possible/probable international ramifications of his death: the importance of a command leader being taken out of commission, the significance of the fact that it was cooperating Iraqis who were part of the reason he got caught, and the intelligence information that was gained and has resulted already in a plethora of arrests.
The whole event can have a cascading effect, both emotional and practical. Zarqawi traded on his image as not only an excessively brutal man but as one who cannily eluded capture, operating under the noses of the US and Iraqis. His myth of invincibility and power is shattered. But perhaps even more important is the fact that information gathered as a result of locating his whereabouts has led to what is perhaps the largest cleanup operation of terrorists ever:
In Iraq alone, some 16 or 17 terror cells were attacked at the same time as Zarqawi was killed. And the wave of arrests — just yesterday the Swiss reported they had broken up a cell planning to attack an El Al passenger plane — is like nothing I have seen before, bespeaking an encouraging degree of international cooperation. It goes hand in hand with the devastating campaign in Iraq against the terrorist leadership. Zarqawi is just the latest to fall; most of his top associates had been eliminated over the course of the past several months.
Even the Washington Post seems to agree that Zarqawi's death may indeed have dealt a major tactical as well as propaganda blow to Al Qaeda and to terror around the world:
It is unclear which of 39-year-old Zarqawi's lieutenants, or deputy emirs, will attempt to fill his role. But whoever succeeds him will be hard-pressed to achieve the same level of notoriety or to unite the foreign fighters in Iraq under a single command, analysts said.
Some European and Arab intelligence officials said they had seen signs before Zarqawi's death that the number of foreign fighters going to Iraq was already waning. For recruitment efforts, the importance of Zarqawi's death "cannot be overestimated," Germany's foreign intelligence chief, Ernst Uhrlau, told the Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel.
Of course, the killings in Iraq continue, as expected. But although they are still full of sound and fury and personal tragedy to these they directly effect, they may indeed signify less than they used to. New recruits to the jihadi cause seem to have few of the skills of the old ones, according to this AP report.
And this is no accident. The days of the training camps in Afghanistan are gone, many of that generation wiped out. It may be getting a great deal more difficult to recruit "quality" people, not to mention keeping them. High turnover is always a serious personnel problem.
Yes, we don't know what the future will bring. But the signs right now are good, and we should be heartened by the fruits of the incredible effort mounted by our military, worldwide intelligence, and the Iraqi people.
[ADDENDUM: Zarqawi's body may not be all that welcome in his country of origin, Jordan, since he enraged a few people there a while back.]