June 8, 2006

Az-Zarqawi's Fatal Misjudgment

An edited version of this piece appears on the MSNBC Hardball Blog

Abu Mus'ab Az-Zarqawi,the leader of the Al-Qa'idah in Iraq organization, was killed in an American air strike on June 7, 2006.

It is likely that Az-Zarqawi would be alive today had he not made what I regard as a fatal misjudgment.

On November 9, 2005, followers of Az-Zarqawi conducted suicide bomb attacks in three tourist hotels in Amman - the Radisson SAS, the Grand Hyatt, and the Days Inn (two at which I have stayed) - in which 60 people were killed. A woman with a bomb strapped to her body was detained before she could detonate the device in the Radisson. Her husband was successful in detonating his own device, killing 38 people attending a wedding, including the bride and groom, and American filmmaker Mustafa Al-'Aqad.* Interrogation of the woman revealed that the mastermind behind these attacks was Abu Mus'ab Az-Zarqawi.

A believable rationale for these attacks has never been articulated. Up until this incident, Az-Zarqawi enjoyed almost cult status in Jordan, sort of a Salah Ad-Din figure battling the forces of the west, "crusaders" of a sort. However, this operation which killed almost exclusively Arabs and Muslims, turned public opinion against the Jordanian-born Az-Zarqawi.

Az-Zarqawi had already been sentenced to death in absentia twice in Jordan, once for an attempted attack in 1999 on the same Radisson SAS hotel in Amman, and again for complicity in the 2002 murder of US Embassy officer Lawrence Foley in the 'Abdun section of Amman. Despite these sentences, the Jordanian authorities never really pursued him as long as he remained outside the country.

In response to this senseless operation, King 'Abdullah II met with Muhammud Zahabi, director of the Jordanian General Intelligence Department (da'irat al-mukhabarat al-'amah), the GID. The king told Zahabi to find Az-Zarqawi and eliminate him.

This order was Az-Zarqawi's downfall. The Jordanian GID is easily the most professional of all the numerous Arab intelligence organizations. They are professional, well-trained, disciplined and effective. The key to the successful elimination of Az-Zarqawi would be predicated on timely, accurate intelligence delivered to an operational element with the capability to put weapons on the target. That's exactly what happened. The Jordanians provided much of that timely accurate intelligence based on their much greater understanding of the region and long-time intelligence sources in Iraq.

It is important to note that the air strike was conducted in concert with a series of as many as 17 other raids of suspected Al-Qa'idah safe houses. Hopefully, the intelligence gained will allow the Iraqis and coalition to eliminate the remainder of Az-Zarqawi's group. At the very least, the organization will be is temporary disarray as they try to determine how their operational security was compromised.

* On a personal note, Mustafa Al-'Aqad was the brother of one of my Arabic language instructors at the Defense Language Institute, and friend Usamah "Sami" Al-'Aqad. My condolences are with Sami's family.