Al-Zarqawi Legacy is Alive and Kicking

ByABC News
June 9, 2006, 11:42 AM

— -- Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi is dead but his legacy is alive and kicking.

In Jordan, the country of his birth, the Hashemite monarchy has heaved a big sigh of relief over the demise of its nemesis. Zarqawi staged numerous attacks in the Kingdom, most lethally last November 9, when coordinated suicide attacks on three hotels left 60 people dead and many more wounded, Jordan's 9/11. The man from Zarqa, whose real name was Ahmed Fadhil al-Khalaileh, seemed to harbor a personal grudge against the regime in whose dungeons he spent several years in the 1990s.

Today he has numerous followers in Jordan who share with him his puritanical Salafi ideology and fervent opposition to the U.S. and Western presence in the Middle East, as well as his intense hatred of the regime. Jordan's pervasive security apparatus keeps close tabs on these people, and this has limited the number of successful attacks. All the same, Zarqawi's exploits both in Jordan and Iraq have earned him a surprising popularity among ordinary Jordanians, who are deeply upset about U.S. policies in the region, in particular its support of the Israeli occupation and its war in Iraq. From their midst may arise future Zarqawis eager to fill his shoes and make their mark as folk heroes battling far superior U.S. and Israeli forces.

In Iraq, Zarqawi's footprint is probably even larger. He had three years to roam about almost unhindered in a permissive environment that enabled him to recruit followers and stage spectacular suicide attacks and grisly beheadings of hostages. By targeting in particular Shiite civilians through car bombings in market places and mosques he helped unleash a virulent sectarian dynamic that was entirely new to Iraq.

But his was an errant campaign. It came under criticism, sometimes public, sometimes muted, from Iraqi insurgents of a nationalist persuasion and even from within his own jihadi corner. His critics felt that alienating Shiites in a country like Iraq where some 60 percent of the population are Shiites was counter-productive, a major tactical error in the battle to defeat the occupying armies.