Big, Bad Abu Musab al-Zarqawi: The creation of a myth By William Bowles

3 June 2005

Update on Zarqawi 3/6/05

A piece in the Washington Post dated June 1 2005, is pretty typical in that it contains 800 words of, well nothing except total speculation. The article bylined Katherine Shrader contains not one single fact about Zarqawi, it’s a total waste of space and illustrates the desperate nature of managing a propaganda campaign that depends totally on fiction, that once initiated has to be be kept going at all costs.


The article’s major claim to fame is what it reveals about the relationship between the media and the state, one of almost total subservience. Hence the piece quotes all the usual suspects including the obligatory ‘experts’, one from the Rand Corporation who, without a hint of irony tells us:

“I am not saying he isn’t wounded, but he is a master of disinformation,” Hoffman said. “If you are looking for a one-legged person and someone with two serviceable limbs is walking by, you don’t think it’s Zarqawi then.”

“Intelligence for him isn’t a luxury,” Hoffman later added. “Intelligence for him is how he survives.”

And another from an outfit called Intelcenter which purports to do “cluster analysis” (left) on the ‘international terror network’, which might be better described as a license to print money if anybody is gullible enough to actually pay this outfit money for their alleged expertise. Not surprisingly, it’s based in Alexandria, Virginia or ‘spook central’, just off the DC Beltway. Headed by Ben N. Venzke, Intelcenter is typical of the dozens of companies that have sprung up in the wake of ‘international terror’. Before running Intelcenter, Venzke ran an outfit called Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin which has US military connections including a handy ‘how to’ on making your own bombs courtesy the US military! Who needs al-Qu’eda when you have the US military supplying all the necessary diagrams in a handy pdf!

Venzke tells us, straightfaced that:

They [al-Qu’eda] are extremely good at operational security, and it is institutionalized throughout the organization

Pretty amazing intel considering they admit to knowing absolutely nothing about the organisation, that is if it actually exists.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – a man notorious for his alleged ruthlessness – is suspected of direct involvement in the kidnap and beheading of several foreigners in Iraq – even of wielding the knife himself.

A headline to conjure with no doubt, though clearly whoever writes this drivel needs to go back to journalism school and get a lesson in sentence construction. “Alleged” and “suspected”, but nevertheless there’s no doubt that he’s “notorious”, what for, his allegedness?

Fascinating the way the media operates. Note here that the words that will stick won’t be his allegedness but his ruthlessness and his notoriety, that is, after all, entirely the objective of this piece of disinformation.

Now whether the BBC is leading or being led makes little difference. I’m not sure if people even care about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. What does count however, is the overall impression that’s created, that is after all the objective, to deflect attention from the real issues through the creation of a mythological figure, the archetypal ‘bogey-man’, who comes and goes at will, seemingly impervious to capture. Able to slip across borders that are we are told, under surveillance 24/7, first he’s here then he’s there, he moves at the speed of light, the master of disguise, blah-blah-blah…

I caught a snatch of a news report on the BBC in the am (31/5/05) that talked of “Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of the insurgency in Iraq”, so the elusive little bugger has been promoted overnight just as it seemed he was about to be ‘downsized’. The BBC of course, is not exactly au fait with the man, just with the bits and pieces of disinformation it gets fed by the army of ‘experts in terror’ who feed parasitically on the myth and for all I know, are instrumental in its creation, or least ‘conduits’ through which disinformation can be fed.

Just a ‘throwaway’ line but one that instils an entire set of assumptions about what’s going on in Iraq. Now is this all self-delusion? After all, how do the news mavens think? What exactly goes on between thought and pen? The traditional argument is somewhat self-referential as it relies on the idea that somehow, ‘news’ gets onto the front page and hence becomes ‘news’ all on its little own-some, without any help from its friends, but of course ‘news’ has to be primed. Cues are handed out from the ‘powers that be’ that inform the corporate/state media what’s what when it comes to what needs to be the focus of the ‘news’ at any given time.

Terror Watch
The ‘Experts’

Much depends on the fact that most of us are not informed about events, hence discontinuities in the storyline escape unnoticed and unchallenged, although this is changing rapidly, even if its only an escalating state of utter disbelief at what we are being told – or not told (eg see the latest MediaLens piece) due in no small part to the Internet and the collapsing credibility of the corporate/state media’s lock on events.

As regular readers will know, I’ve been on Abu’s case since he surfaced mysteriously in Colin Powell’s Powerpoint presentation to the UN way back in February 2003.

Zarqawi’s pedigree is fascinating and an object lesson in story continuity for any would-be scriptwriter looking for a job with the imperium, for any analysis of Abu Zarqawi’s evolution as a character reveals serious discontinuities. Not that these bother the news organisations, as they regularly discard anything that doesn’t ‘fit’ the current scenario but you know how the ‘soapies’ work, with characters often killed off for a variety of reasons, only to re-emerge at a later date without any apparent objections from the viewer as to how, exactly, they arose from the dead.

Scriptwriting 101 – Characterisation
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s name first came to be used by the imperium shortly and not coincidentally, just before the appearance of the notorious September 2002 UK government ‘dodgy dossier’, when a reference is made to him by George Bush[1], then again but more extensively, in Colin Powell’s fictional account of Saddam’s WMD before the UN in February 2003. Indeed, Powell devotes several paragraphs and Zarqawi even gets a fuzzy aerial shot of his ‘HQ’ in northern, Kurdish-controlled Iraq, where he is credited with being boss of ‘Ansar al-Islam’, variously described as an ‘offshoot’ or a ‘competitor’ of al-Qu-eda’ (depending on which press report you read, that in turn depends on which parasitical ‘expert’ is selling them the drivel). Powell is effusive in his description of Zarqawi

When our coalition ousted the Taliban, the Zarqaqi network helped establish another poison and explosive training center camp. And this camp is located in northeastern Iraq.

Ansar al-IslamPOWELL: You see a picture of this camp.

The network is teaching its operatives how to produce ricin and other poisons. Let me remind you how ricin works. Less than a pinch—image a pinch of salt—less than a pinch of ricin, eating just this amount in your food, would cause shock followed by circulatory failure. Death comes within 72 hours and there is no antidote, there is no cure. It is fatal. [2]

Aside from anything else, Powell’s description of ricin is complete rubbish, relying not only on our general ignorance about ricin but crucially, the fact that such assertions are unlikely to be challenged by the media. But who bothers about such details when viewing a soapie? It’s the overall effect that’s important. Later, in March of 2003, the camp (actually a small collection of huts) was flattened by US bombing, to such a degree that it was unrecognisable as a camp.[3] A strange event given as how the US had known about this ‘al-Qu-eda HQ’ for a considerable period of time.

Over the next few months, bits and pieces about Zarqawi emerge but it’s not until after the occupation of Iraq by the ‘coalition of the killing’ that we start to read more about Zarqawi but even then, who he actually is and his relationship to al-Qu’eda is at best, sketchy and fraught with contradictions but as with all fictional, larger-than-life characters, it’s best not to be too specific, let the consumer’s imagination fill in all the blank sections, merely suggest, well, that’s he’s evil, ruthless, cold-blooded, without a conscience, well you know the sort of thing…

We learn that he is Jordanian and that he was a naughty boy at school and a bit of drunk (clearly not a devout Muslim at the time), though even here, we are totally reliant on the Jordanian secret service for these tidbits. He is variously described as being either the murderer of CIA operative, Foley, an opponent of the Jordanian monarchy, out to kill Israelis, Osama’s right-hand man, his competition, take your pick. He did however spend some years in a Jordanian prison before being released under an amnesty, although again, what he did time for is not clear (one account says it was for a bombing, another simply for his opposition to the Jordanian regime) and that then he did a bunk to Afghanistan where he was allegedly trained by al-Qu’eda, then hopped it to Pakistan before or after either falling out with Osama or being sent to Iraq by Osama, take your pick.

Early US reports are contradictory about his relationship to Osama, but this is the entire point about keeping Zarqawi’s activities deliberately vague, you can’t be too specific, else someone will actually be able to follow a lead and expose the actual nature of his activities, if any.

At some point it’s alleged that he a lost a leg due to US actions in Afghanistan or perhaps when they flattened the Ansar al-Islam HQ in northern Iraq but given the speed at which he allegedly moves around the world, perhaps he found it? He has also – in line with his soapie credentials – died and been reborn.

Of course, Zarqawi’s actual role was to establish a connection between Osama/al-Qu’eda and Saddam Hussein and given that back in February 2003, Zarqawi was an unknown quantity, what better character was there than this non-entity to establish the connection with?

Once the idea has been planted, all that is necessary is to feed the media with a variety of ‘tidbits’ about the man, the more contradictory they are, the better, it makes him all the more mysterious and, easy to speculate about.

The Christian Science Monitor story of October 2003, ‘The rise and fall of Ansar al-Islam’ is one of the more notorious pieces of disinformation about Zarqawi, full of all manner of assumptions and accusations but without a shred of supporting evidence to back up a single claim by the author, Scott Peterson[4].

He tells us for example:

Ansar [al-Isam] was once part of a long-term Al Qaeda dream to spread Islamic rule from Afghanistan to Kurdistan and beyond. But that idea was embryonic at best, and when US forces attacked Afghanistan in October 2001, Al Qaeda support for Ansar dried up.

Yet virtually all of Peterson’s information comes from the US-backed PUK or Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, long a recipient of US funding and support, so anything they say has to be viewed with suspicion, not to mention its dealings with Saddam.[5] In fact the leader of PUK, Jalal Talabani, now ‘prime minister’ of Iraq, did deals with just about everybody![6]

The rest is up to the media and it’s here that we see the pivotal role the media plays in promulgating the myth, or should we say myths, starting with Newsweek Magazine’s allegations about Zarqawi’s role in the ‘beheading’ of the American Nicholas Berg, about which I’ve written before, another piece of disinformation that did the rounds, even ending up on the front page of the Independent. Subsequent research revealed that the Zarqawi/Berg connection had but a single, unverifiable source that was at least one year old.

What is amazing is just how many different stories there are about Zarqawi, most of which present entirely contradictory accounts about his life and activities, not that this bothers the media which is all too happy to turn this one time drunk and petty thief (Jordanian source) into Al-Qu’eda’s #2 man in Iraq (US government source) and now, we are told by the BBC, the actual leader of the resistance in Iraq. Just for good measure, Rumsfeld actually denied at one time, that Zarqawi was of any consequence at all, as did the CIA.[7]

Take for example Zarqawi’s alleged base in Falluja, the primary reason we were told, as to why the US demolished the city of 300,000 and slaughtered who knows how many thousands of innocent people. At one point, the US were alleging that Zarqawi directed the entire defence of Falluja by telephone! A not inconsiderable military achievement. Perhaps it was a videophone, so as he scooted (hopped?) around the country, he directed fire? Such assertions depend entirely on the reader’s lack of knowledge about how, exactly, battles are fought.

We read this past week that he is now in Syria, Iran, back in Pakistan, possibly licking his wounds (wound?) somewhere in Iraq; that he had passed the baton on to his #2 man. So where do all these stories actually come from?

Scanning the stories, we find that none have an actual source, it’s all pure supposition, using the classic phrase, ‘it is alleged’ but by whom we are never told unless it’s yet another unverified source.

Then there’s the issue of the Websites that conveniently tell us exactly what Zarqawi is not only thinking but also doing, presumably because he’s so confident of success in carrying out his various and sundry missions around the planet, that he wants to give the US a sporting chance at catching him? What a sporting fellow Mr Zarqawi must be to be so very helpful.

Is it not all so transparent as to be utter nonsense? Apparently not, because this doesn’t stop the home of ‘objective’ news, the BBC, repeating all this rubbish ad infinitum, with the able assistance of a raft of ‘terror experts’, who are making a fine living out of Mr Zarqawi thank you very much.

Typically, a BBC story purporting to be an “analysis” of Zarqawi tells us:

But trends like the increase in suicide bombings in Baghdad may be evidence of growing collaboration between the foreign elements and local Iraqi insurgents.[8]

Note the use of the phrase “may be” but then again may be it’s not. And for good measure, the sentence leaves the impression that the resistance is led by “foreign elements”. This particular piece dated 26 May, is full of may be’s:

It remains unclear whether he is seriously wounded, whether he is in Iraq or elsewhere, and whether he has been replaced at least temporarily as leader of his group.

Unclear instead of a may be. Well they can’t keep saying may be can they. And in fact, it’s not clear whether he has actually been wounded at all (or for that matter, is actually even in Iraq).

He is blamed for many of the most deadly attacks and is the only widely-recognised leader in the insurgency.

Blamed by whom? And who recognizes him as the leader of the insurgency? Why the BBC of course. The use of such stock phrases like “he is blamed” are classic propaganda lines, for they leave an impression of veracity without actually having to offer a single piece of evidence.

The foreign fighters whom Abu Musab al-Zarqawi leads may be only a portion of the total.

May be again. It’s all complete rubbish, based on nothing except pure supposition that ultimately serves to obscure the fact of the complete failure of the occupying forces to crush the resistance.

They have targeted and captured senior Zarqawi associates, they say, and believe they may even have got close to the man himself.

They say is of course, the Americans. Well what else should they say? And the BBC calls this objective, even-handed reporting!

The piece ends by saying:

That may be, as the Americans contend, a sign of increasing desperation.

Or it may be further evidence that the insurgency is stronger and more sophisticated than US commanders and intelligence have calculated.

It may be an invasion from outer space by one-legged, aliens. Take for example, this BBC news report, also dated 26 May:

The denial [concerning Zarqawi’s wounding] was posted on a website often used by al-Qaeda after a statement appeared on a lesser known website saying that a new chief would take control while Zarqawi recovers from his wounds.

The authenticity of either statement cannot be verified.[9]

First it tells us authoritatively, that the Website is used by Al Qu-eda but then it tells us that the statement cannot be verified, so how does it know that it’s an al-Qa’eda statement in the first place? It does this by implication, justifying one supposition with another, that the Website is “often used by al-Qaeda” though it offers no evidence to support this claim any more than it can substantiate the Website’s claim that a “new chief” will take control.

Ultimately of course, it serves to mask the disaster that is the occupation and to cover up the fact that the Iraqi people are not too happy at having their country blown apart, its infrastructure destroyed, hundreds of thousands of its people killed and its natural resources ripped off by gang of heavily armed pirates.

So in spite of thousands of ‘news’ reports about Zarqawi, all of which are essentially self-referential in that not one single piece of actual evidence backs up any of the claims made in them, the overall impression created is that of a vast body of knowledge about the man and his alleged actions, that through the sheer volume of reports creates the impression of credibility. After all, if news outlet after news outlet repeats the same assertions, the overall impression is one of credibility.

One has to ask the question why do the corporate/state media participate in such a gigantic fraud, to which one can only answer that the media shares the same ideological viewpoint as the state’s and that its objective is to project a view of the world that supports the state’s view. It serves to obscure the causes of events through the creation of such mythological characters as Zarqawi who then becomes the ‘cause’ of the occupation’s failure and of the Iraqi peoples resistance to the occupation.

Moreover, it serves to dehumanise the Iraqi people by transforming them into passive victims who can only stand idly by whilst they are manipulated by ‘outside’ forces over which they have no control, a tactic long used to rationalise invasion and occupation of Vietnam, Nicaragua, El Salvador et al. That we are only now coming to grips with the ‘big lie’ shows just how powerful is the media’s grip on reality through the invention of archetypes like Zarqawi.


1. ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Terrorist’, June 23, 2004.
2. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell Addresses the U.N. Security Council. and ‘No sign of poison in Ansar’.
3. ‘The rise and fall of Ansar al-Islam’.
4. ibid
5. ‘US Met with Kurdish Factions On Overthrow of Hussein’.
See also for PUK murders of Kurdish women members of WcP or the Worker communist Party of Iraq. PuK, which fought a long-running war with its main rival the PDK, even did a deal with the Ba’ath regime prior to Saddam’s overthrow.
6. See Dilip Hiro’s book, ‘Desert Shield, Desert Storm’ and Iraq’s ‘New President Jalal Talabani: Ally of CIA, Iranian Intelligence and Saddam Hussein’
7. ‘Rumsfeld questions Saddam-Bin Laden link’.
See also ‘Undeterred by CIA report, O’Reilly stood firm on “smoking gun” Zarqawi; urged Rumsfeld to watch The Factor’.
8. ‘Analysis: Zarqawi’s insurgency’.
9. ‘Iraq backs Zarqawi wounded claim’


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