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Al-Zarqawi is Dead, What is Next?

Al-Zarqawi, the most-wanted terrorist in Iraq who waged a relentless campaign of beheadings and suicide bombings, was killed when U.S. warplanes dropped bombs on his hiding place in Baqouba, Iraq.
In response to his killing, President Bush stated that the elimination of Zarqawi is "a severe blow to al-Qaida" and that it was a significant victory. Al-Qaida in Iraq on the other hand confirmed al-Zarqawi's death and posted on their website: "The death of our leaders is life for us. It will only increase our persistence...."

So what will be the significance of Zarqawi's death? Will Zarqawi's death cause the insurgency to subside?

The answer to these questions lies in understanding who Zarqawi represents. Of the Iraqi resistance or insurgency, Zarqawi represents a small number of no more than a few hundred people who are often referred to as "jihadist." These people are motivated by an austere, violent and disciplined ideology that is NOT shared by the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi resistance or insurgency. Nevertheless, to operate in Iraq, Zarqawi and his followers needed the protection of the larger Iraqi insurgency who represent approximately seven million Sunni Arabs. The interesting note here is that the overwhelming numbers of Sunni Arabs in Iraq also reject the fanatical ideology of people like Zarqawi and would turn against people like Zarqawi and his followers in an instant if it suited their purpose. In fact, news reports indicate that many of the tips about Zarqawi's whereabouts came from Iraqis who were associated with Zarqawi but probably did not share his fanatical ideaolgy. Thus, the ultimate question is why are the Sunni Muslim Arabs giving sanctuary to "Jihadists" like Zarqawi when most of the Sunni Arabs DON'T share his ideology? The answer to this question is also the solution for Iraq's problems and the roadmap to ending the violence in Iraq.

The Sunni Arabs represent approximately 20% percent of Iraq's population. While many of them did not support Saddam Hussein the toppling of Saddam Hussein affected them in a negative way. Among their grievances is the issue of Debathification. This is a process by which the new Iraqi government targeted those who were members of the former ruling Baath party. This process disproportionately affected Sunni Arabs who either lost their jobs or were not allowed to seek government jobs because of their past membership in the Baath party. Those who were members of the Baath party argue their membership was out of necessity and it is not fair to target them.

A second grievance of the Sunni Arabs is that they want Iraq to remain united and intact. Since the toppling of Saddam Hussein, Iraq has ventured into a lose federation that brings enormous fear to the Sunni Arabs. Iraq is roughly divided into three jurisdictions. The Kurds who live in the oil rich north, the Shias who live in the oil rich South and the Sunnis who live in the center which has no oil. The Sunni Arabs want an equitable distribution of resources so that they do not become impoverished while the others prosper.

Another of many concerns the Sunni Arabs have with post Saddam Iraq is that Kurdish areas are behaving like a separate country. The new government of Iraq has almost no control over the Kurdish areas. Iraqi ministries don't have offices in those areas and the Iraqi military does not venture in the Kurdish areas. The Sunni Arabs fear that Kurdish areas may break off from Iraq and divide the country.

To address their concerns the Sunni Arabs want to amend the new Iraqi constitution which they feel does not represent them. Thus, to answer the initial question, the death of Zarqawi is a great accomplishment and will probably be yet another nail in Al-Qaida coffin. However, the death of Zarqawi will have a marginal impact on the insurgency in Iraq. If the United States wants peace in Iraq then the concerns of the Sunni Arabs must be given serious consideration or the war in Iraq will only get bigger and the Sunni Arabs will continue to harbor criminals like Zarqawi and his deadly followers who are coming from all over the Muslim world to fight a "holy war."

Posted June 08, 2006 by Kamal Nawash