It didn't take long for the yackers and scribblers to start pooh-poohing the significance of the elimination of Zarqawi. The MSNBC/al-Reuters headline said it all: "Zarqawi more myth than Man." And of course, the hate-America crowd was hinting that the "timing" was peculiar (Bush needed a boost in the polls), as if killing Zarqawi was just a matter of giving the order, rather than a difficult operation made possible by the great performance of our Special Forces and the active cooperation of Sunni tribal leaders in the Anbar Province, plus the Jordanians, plus the various party leaders in Baghdad.
Whatever the explanation, the significance of this operation is enormous. It's not just about Iraq (it very much involves North America, for example), and it effectively explodes one of the most dangerous confusions about the nature of the terror network.
Zarqawi was a very important man in the terror network. I first noticed him some years ago, reading the German and Italian press. Several terrorist cells in those countries had been rounded up, and court documents showed that in both countries the network had been created from Tehran, by Zarqawi. Thus, years before we went into Iraq, Zarqawi was already a major player in international terrorism — and in recognition of his skills he was sent into Iraq as one of the organizers of the terror war against us and the Iraqi people.
Despite his intonations against the Shiites, and his manifest efforts to promote civil war in Iraq, Zarqawi was happy to work with the radical Shiite regime in Tehran, and they were happy to work with him. It is quite wrong to view him as a leader of one faction in a religious war; his promotion of religious conflict was simply a tactic designed to destabilize Iraq and drive out the Coalition. He and his Iranian backers/masters were desperate to promote all manner of internal Iraqi conflict: Kurds against Arabs, Turkamen against Kurds, anything that worked. It's "The Godfather" all over again: The terror masters put aside their differences, sat down around the table and made a war plan in which Sunni and Shia, Syrian and Saudi, Iranian and Iraqi cooperated against their common satanic enemy, the United States.
One other very important factoid emerged from the accounts of the attack on Zarqawi: we killed two women in the same house. We did it deliberately, because they were his key intelligence officers. From which two lessons should be drawn. First, women get something approaching parity in the jihadist terror organizations, despite endless citations from the holy Koran demanding their subservience. These were not suicide bombers, of which we have seen several exemplars in the past; these were important components of the terror headquarters. And second, when our soldiers enter terrorists' quarters and kill women in the ensuing firefight, remind yourself that it might have been entirely proper, since the women may have been terrorists themselves.
Zarqawi played on a global scale. Reports from Canada recount contacts between the 'home-grown' terrorists arrested by the Mounties and Zarqawi himself (See the Mississauga News, June 7: "The arrest of 17 suspects ... is said to be the latest stage in dismantling a terrorist network that's linked to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi..."). Those arrests seem linked to those carried out in Atlanta, Georgia, by the FBI, and to other arrests in Sarajevo, England, and Denmark. It will be surprising if we don't find Zarqawi's claw prints in several of those venues, as the Canadians have said. Remember, it was publicly announced a few months ago that Zarqawi was no longer the head of al Qaeda in Iraq, that henceforth the Iraqi Sunni "community" would run the terror war there, and that Zarqawi would devote his efforts to the international jihad. It seems he did just that — and failed.
We have probably just lived through the greatest global counterterrorist operation in history. 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.
The global operation seems to have been prompted by the discovery that the terror masters had ordered a worldwide assault, and so far the West has proven equal to the challenge. Let's hope we stay on top of it. The Zarqawi operation will surely encourage people with information on the terrorists to talk to their local spooks; they have seen the terrorists fall, and the informers rewarded. That sort of thing fuels a bandwagon.
These recent successes may even provoke some of our analysts to rethink one of the core doctrines about contemporary terrorism: that it consists of myriad independent cells, tied together ideologically but not operationally. Not so. Shortly after the liberation of Afghanistan, I wrote that al Qaeda had been effectively destroyed, and that we should stop talking about al Qaeda as if it were the most important component in the terror network. I argued that we should conceive of terrorism as a kind of galaxy, with numerous components — ranging from Hamas and Islamic Jihad to the rump of al Qaeda and, most importantly, Hezbollah — who worked together, organized a division of labor, and were held in their orbits and epicycles by the Iranian intelligence apparatus, from the official ministry to the specialized units in the Revolutionary Guards.
The intelligence community was savaged after 9/11 for its failure to connect the dots, and it would be truly embarrassing, and very dangerous, to leave the Iranian dot out there apart from the rest of the network we have uncovered and shattered. A week ago, Director of National Intelligence Negroponte gave a very interesting interview to the BBC in which he reiterated what everybody knows: "(the Iranians) are the principal state sponsor of terrorism in the world."
So how come we're not going after them?
And for those who think the recent "we'll-talk-if-you-stop-enrichment" gambit was some sort of master diplomatic stroke, consider this: It turns out that the Iranians have actually increased their enrichment program.
There is no escape from the necessity of bringing down the mullahcracy, for they will keep killing our people and our friends.
Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. He is resident scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.
By Michael Ledeen
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online