A Severe Blow To al-Qaeda

Posted: Jun 08, 2006 10:51 AM

By now you have probably seen or read President Bush's Rose Garden statement on the death of Abu Musab al Zarqawi.

I would only add these points to what the President said.

What happened in Iraq yesterday was not only a severe blow to al Qaeda and Islamic fascism, it was also an important moral moment. A man of almost incomprehensible cruelty and savagery has met his end; his days of orchestrating murders, beheadings, car bombings, and assassinations are over.

Abu Musab al Zarqawi has been called the world's most dangerous terrorist. Jordanian born, Zarqawi's early life was characterized by violence and brutality. He first became an outlaw -- and later, he became a militant. In the early 1990s, he joined a militant Islamic group, Bayaat al Imam ("Loyalty to the Imam"). He made his way to Afghanistan in 2000, where he opened a weapons camp connected to al Qaeda. He fought alongside the Taliban and al Qaeda against the U.S. in the aftermath of September 11th. And when the focus shifted to Iraq that is where Abu Musab al Zarqawi went. As President Bush pointed out this morning, Zarqawi has taken the lives of many American forces and thousands of innocent Iraqis, including more than 100 in a car bombing outside the Shiite shrine in Najaf. Osama bin Laden called this Jordanian terrorist "the prince of al Qaeda in Iraq." Zarqawi personally beheaded American hostages and other civilians in Iraq. He masterminded the destruction of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad. He was responsible for the assassination of an American diplomat in Jordan, the bombing of hotels in Amman, and more.

The death of Zarqawi also reminds us of the nature of our enemy. In reviewing his life and record, we see the unmitigated evil of al Qaeda. They have declared, time after time, their intentions -- written in white-hot hatred. Abu Musab al Zarqawi once declared, "Anyone who stands in the way of our struggle is our enemy and target of the swords." He said, "We will either achieve victory over the human race or we will pass to the eternal life." Zarqawi declared war on democracy itself; in his words, "We have declared a bitter war against the principle of democracy and all those who seek to enact it." And he called Americans "the most cowardly of God's creatures."

Abu Musab al Zarqawi and al Qaeda have shown, in their words and deeds, that they want to kill Americans and destroy any chance of secularism and pluralism in the Muslim world. They embrace a culture of death -- and they want to make us a part of it.

Those are the stakes of this struggle.

There are legitimate cautions to bear in mind. The death of Zarqawi will not end the difficulties in Iraq, or end the insurgency, or end sectarian violence. The acid test is what happens in the aftermath of Zarqawi's death. Nevertheless, what happened yesterday is an important achievement in this epic struggle. An organization like al Qaeda in Iraq cannot lose its leader and mastermind -- and seven associates -- and not suffer, either militarily or psychologically. Al Qaeda does not look like the "strong horse" (to use the words of Osama bin Laden) it once was.

The death of Abu Musab al Zarqawi also underscores the difficulty al Qaeda terrorists have been encountering in Iraq. Most of the media narrative about Iraq has been on the difficulties the United States faces. Those difficulties are real -- but they are far from the full story. What goes almost unnoticed is the enormous series of body blows our enemies have sustained. We have by now intercepted several key communications among terrorists in Iraq over the years -- and we keep learning about their despair at the progress of democracy and their unhappiness with the course of events.

The death of Mr. Zarqawi will add immeasurably to their troubles.

This is not the end of the struggle. It will go on. There will be good days and hard days. But what happened in a rural house in a small village north of Baghdad yesterday is a victory for America, for Iraq, and for the moral good. That is something worth recognizing, and even taking some sober satisfaction in.

Peter Wehner is deputy assistant to the President and director of the White House's Office of Strategic Initiatives.