al-Zarqawi or al-Invention? By William Bowles

6 July 2004

Today’s Independent (06/7/04) has a front page story titled “A video nasty: Terror chief shows off his deadly work” and is about yet another “foreign-led” group of “militants” purportedly headed by the one-legged Jordanian and ‘right-hand man’ of Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Yet the story presents not a single shred of evidence to support the title nor if the mono-pedal perpetrator even exists, aside that is from ‘received opinion’, largely that of US intelligence sources and we know just how reliable they are.

Moreover, the other assertion in the story, that the group said to be led by al-Zarqawi called the Unity and Jihad is composed of “many…foreign fighters” is unsupported by any evidence. Later in the piece, we read:

“The video suggests that foreign fighters have been able to develop a reasonably sophisticated network inside Iraq.”

In fact, in a story in USA Today, we read:

“Suspected foreign fighters account for less than 2% of the 5,700 captives being held as security threats in Iraq, a strong indication that Iraqis are largely responsible for the stubborn insurgency.

“Since last August, coalition forces have detained 17,700 people in Iraq who were considered to be enemy fighters or security risks, and about 400 were foreign nationals, according to figures supplied last week by the U.S. military command handling detention operations in Iraq. Most of those detainees were freed after a review board found they didn’t pose significant threats. About 5,700 remain in custody, 90 of them non-Iraqis.

“The numbers represent one of the most precise measurements to date of the composition of the insurgency and suggest that some Bush administration officials have overstated the role of foreign holy warriors, or jihadists, from other Arab states. The figures also suggest that Iraq isn’t as big a magnet for foreign terrorists as some administration critics have asserted.”
Foreign detainees are few in Iraq By Peter Eisler and Tom Squitieri, USA Today (05/07/04)

But there is an even more insidious subtext buried in the story and an ironic one given that Iraq is occupied by around 180,000 foreign fighters, that there is something intrinsically wrong with ‘foreigners’ fighting to remove the occupiers.

But back to our fabled al-Zarqawi where the Independent’s story goes on to tell us that:

“Allies of the Zarqawi organisation are believed to be holding the abducted US Marine Corporal Wassef Ali Hussoun, who has been [we are told] threatened with beheading.”

But believed by whom? Where do these beliefs originate from? We are not told, they merely exist in a virtual journalistic space. Instead, we get a mass of contradictory information about who is responsible for what.

So at the beginning of the story, al-Zarqawi’s organisation is called “Unity and Jihad”. Later on it’s called the “Islamic Movement” then later still it’s the “Army of Ansar al-Sunna”, all purportedly part of al-Zarqawi’s “very, very sophisticated…information campaign”, at least according to Time Magazine’s Michael Ware, who is by the way, the only identified source for the information in the story. Ware bases his allegations on a series of interviews with a “number of insurgents over the past year”.

The piece goes on to tell us that the video, a “chillingly professional…sophisticated tape” that is the basis for the front page story and allegedly the work of al-Zarqawi, contains only an audio message from Zarqawi, though there is no substantiation for the claim. In fact the piece tells that:

“…it [the audio allegedly of Zarqawi] seems to have been taken from an audio tape he released last month threatening the new Iraqi government [sic].”

All we have to substantiate the claim is that the tape says it’s him. The only thing real about this story is a video tape that could have originated anywhere and been made almost anybody with access to the source material.

What is important about the article is the theme, namely, that the ‘insurgency’ is ‘foreign-led’, in other words, if it wasn’t for those damn ‘furriners’, all would be well in Iraq.

What the story is consistent with is a well-designed propaganda campaign that has elevated al-Zarqawi from a non-entity to someone who rivals Osama in his ability to orchestrate a full-fledged military campaign across the length and breadth of Iraq and do it almost overnight. A campaign that serves to relegate the rising tide of resistance to the foreign occupation, the entire assumption based on some video tapes and one person’s interviews with some (unnamed) insurgents conducted over the past year.

Why for example, are there no videos of this man al-Zarqawi? Surely given his centrality to the ‘insurgency’ he would have far greater impact if there were. Then there are the Websites that the videos surface on, the last two of which were registered here in London and with known London addresses as revealed here and elsewhere last month.

The tape we are told, is:

“complete with graphics and professional-quality editing and camera-work [and is] the first significant raising of the stakes by militants since the return of partial sovereignty to Iraq by the US last week.”

Why a professionally edited videotape raises the stakes is not explained, nor does the piece unpack how a country can achieve “partial sovereignty” (sovereign: supreme, unmitigated), though it is in keeping with the rest of piece insofar as it presents assumptions as facts, so I suppose a country can be partially sovereign or supreme, especially after it’s been ‘liberated’ by bombing it back into the stone age.

That the Independent led with this story is no doubt to ‘balance’ the one by Robert Fisk on July 4 that the paper also carried on its front page (So this is what they call the new, ‘free’ Iraq).

How the Independent reconciles the two stories is beyond me but clearly, today’s piece can only be called a piece of US-inspired propaganda, with its emotive subtext, ‘conveniently’ supplied by the video’s plethora of images and words that conform to every stereotype of ‘fanatical Islamic terrorist’ such as, “I sacrifice myself for my religion”.

The tape we are told by Michael Ware, who obtained it:

“…speaks of a danger more organised than the one viewed through snippets of the intelligence and glimmers of insight the public [has] previously seen”.

Glimmers of insight? Not from Ware surely? One assumes that it’s the quality of the editing and the graphics that demonstrates just how well organised they are (perhaps if the ‘insurgency’ fails they can fall back on making wedding videos?). Ware goes on to tell us:

“It [the tape?] does not bode well for the immediate future of Iraq’s fledgling government, nor the ultimate exit plans for the 130,000 US troops still [in Iraq].”

Ware asserts that the video “stamp[s] him [al-Zarqawi] as the star of the new global jihad inspired by Osama bin Laden”.

Frankly, I’ve rarely read such unmitigated rubbish in my life, all of it based on a single video that comes from who knows where and imbued with Ware’s fanciful musings on a ‘network’ that even the US government is forced to admit doesn’t exist. Shame on you Independent for inflicting such unsupported drivel on us.

Addendum:

The author of the Independent article responded to my piece and I reproduce it, verbatim, below, along with my rebuttal.

Bill

hi bill, what an odd rant this morning. do you genuinely believe the video is a fabrication or that michael ware is a fabrication? why can you not accept that arab fighters from outside of iraq have joined the opposition to the us/uk occupation. of course the vast majority of the opposition are ordinary iraqis – the paper has long made this clear. but why ignore evidence that shows there are outsiders.

best

andy buncombe

Here follows my rebuttal:

Dear Andy,
You obviously didn’t read my piece very carefully. I never stated, implied or inferred that the video was a fake or a fabrication, and I fail to see how you came to this conclusion. I never wrote that there were no ‘outside’ fighters either. In fact, I defended the idea of ‘outside’ fighters. I quote:

“But there is an even more insidious subtext buried in the story and an ironic one given that Iraq is occupied by around 180,000 foreign fighters, that there is something intrinsically wrong with ‘foreigners’ fighting to remove the occupiers.”

The piece doesn’t state that the vast majority of fighters (or insurgents to use your description) are Iraqis, indeed your piece gives the distinct impression that a national network of foreigners is the cause. And in fact your article doesn’t mention indigenous resistance fighters at all.

I quote from your article:

“The deadly efficiency of the foreign-led militants behind a series of terror attacks and assassinations across Iraq…”

And:

“The video suggests that foreign fighters have been able to develop a reasonably sophisticated network inside Iraq.”

And:

“It also appears to confirm the central role played by Zarqawi within the insurgents network.”

And:

“Allies of the Zarqawi organisation are believed to be holding the abducted Cpl…”

And:

“…Zarqawi…blamed for the deadliest attacks over the past year, and for wielding the knife in that [allegedly] decapitated…Nick Berg.”

And:

“The video’s starkest message to the fledgling government of Iraq that Zarqawi’s men – men of them foreign fighters – are now well organised, embedded inside Iraq…”

“Network, organisation, across Iraq, the central role played by Zarqawi in the insurgents network, foreign-led, embedded…”.

Six examples that give the clear impression that the ‘insurgency’ is led by and organised by foreigners.

The USA Today piece that I quoted a part of, you conveniently ignore, destroys the basis of your piece entirely.

The issue is not about whether there are a number of ‘outsiders’ in Iraq but the nature and importance of their role in the resistance. Your comment that I ignore the evidence is simply not borne out by the facts of my ‘rant’ as you put it.

The supposition of your entire article is based upon a single video and the report of one person, Michael Ware of Time Magazine of which you offer not a single piece of substantiation for Ware’s interviews, other than the fact that he said interviewed them. And in any case, how do we know whether or not the people he interviewed represent the resistance, especially as your piece states that they took place over the past year (what, a year ago, six months ago, last week?) And I didn’t imply, infer or state that Michael Ware doesn’t exist, where did you get this from?

There is also the issue of whether this Zarqawi fellow actually exists or is simply an invention of US Psyops, given the reports on his death last year in northern Iraq or his losing a leg in Afghanistan before that.

My central point still stands, that the article shifts the focus of the resistance from the Iraqis to these elusive foreigners, where the US and the UK want the focus to belong. That’s why I maintain that the article is mischievous and misleading.

Go well

Bill

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