BAGHDAD, Iraq June 30, 2006 — -- In a 19-minute tribute purportedly by Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is cast as a "martyr," a "lion," and a "hero" whose name and deeds will live on forever.
Will the mythical al-Zarqawi that bin Laden hopes to create be buried and forgotten by the new history being written in Iraq?
Al-Zarqawi, the most wanted man in Iraq before his death, was responsible for suicide attacks on civilians and Iraqi and American forces. He was killed in an airstrike northeast of Baghdad, on June 7.
His remains and legacy have been the source of much speculation and fighting despite a discreet burial.
Jordan denied requests from al-Zarqawi's family -- and some members of its Parliament -- to have the body returned to his hometown of Zarqa for a public funeral.
Many believe Jordan's decision was based on al-Zarqawi's claim of responsibility for November's suicide bombings of three hotels in Amman that killed 60 people.
In his tribute, bin Laden offered another reason.
"What scares you after the death of Zarqawi is your knowledge that, left alone, Muslims will give Zarqawi a huge funeral, which shows the sympathy of the Muslims with their sons of holy warriors," said bin Laden, his speech labored.
In an e-mail, Mowaffak al Rubaie, Iraq's national security advisor, said: "Zarqawi's remains were buried in an unmarked location at an unspecified place in Iraq. The Jordanian government refused to take his body back to Jordan."
Shortly after al-Zarqawi's death, Emily Hunt, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote in the New Republic Online that "[h]anding Zarqawi's remains directly to his relatives would yield a predictably undesirable result: a public funeral that could very well serve to burnish -- rather than extinguish -- the arch-terrorist's legend."
Hunt went on to write that even a public grave site "would probably become a shrine for radicals."
In his statement, bin Laden asked "Bush to return the body of the hero to his family."
In an e-mail, the U.S. military in Iraq said that al-Zarqawi's remains had been handed over to "the appropriate Government of Iraq officials and buried in accordance with Muslim customs and traditions."
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad referred all requests for information about al-Zarqawi's burial back to the military.
In his emotionally purposeful statement, bin Laden painted al-Zarqawi as a superheroic David valiantly struggling against the Goliath America.
"The enemy has attacked Iraq, killing innocent people and blowing up whole villages; the buzzing of planes filled the space and deafened the ears. The explosion of gunpowder blew [off] limbs filled [and] the nostrils. The mountains shook because of the fierce explosions."
Despite such overwhelming firepower, though, bin Laden lauded al-Zarqawi by saying "[i]n such horrible and depressing situation where you see semileaders but no leaders; semischolars with no real scholars; semimen but no real men, in such horrible circumstances the Knight of Islam Abu Musab al-Zarqawi came to exist."
While most Iraqis despised the bombings and death caused by al-Zarqawi and al Qaeda, they were also quick to point out that no such killings had existed before the United States had arrived on the scene.
"[W]hy do we have Zarqawi? Only since the American entered Iraq. Why did he come to Iraq?" asked Hussein, a Baghdad resident who wouldn't give his last name, shortly after al-Zarqawi's death.
"He is here for the sake of the American interests," he said.
Many Iraqis -- even those who supported the overthrowing of Saddam Hussein -- are growing weary of the ongoing U.S. presence.
"I want to see the Iraqi troops" said Kareem, who would only give his first name. "Let the Americans be in their bases, because when they are out all the problems happen."
Bin Laden appears to be attempting to make al-Zarqawi an Islamic hero of infinite proportions.
"So if his great story was taught, the children of the world will learn how belief can make real men who struggle against unfairness and delusion," bin Laden said. "I call for every teacher and novelist to adapt from his story the material for the future generations."
The U.S. military and the Iraqi government seem hopeful that interring al-Zarqawi in an "unmarked location at an unspecified place" will snuff out his memory and bury any chance at martyrdom.