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Zarqawi's Death and the Iraqi Insurgency


The al-Qaida-linked terror leader in Iraq is dead. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death was announced today in Baghdad by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. air raid north of Baghdad last night. Seven of his aides were also killed.

NPR Diplomatic Correspondent Mike Shuster is with us in the studio this morning.


For a further look, Renee, at the significance of the death of the most wanted man in Iraq, we have Paul Wilkinson on the line. He's the chairman of the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Professor Wilkinson, what about the affect of Zarqawi's death internationally? We've talked already about the effect inside Iraq, but is this a blow to international terrorism?

Professor PAUL WILKINSON (Chairman, Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, University of St. Andrews): It is a psychological blow, certainly because he undoubtedly had been a key networker, developing networks which became merged with al-Qaida when al-Qaida's leaders gave him their blessing as head of the al-Qaida in Iraq. And his organization was, in effect, merged with theirs.

He has certainly been one of the most ruthless and malignant forces in modern terrorism, even as early as 2004. The U.S. government calculated that he'd been responsible for the deaths of 675 Iraqis and 40 foreigners. Well, as you know, since then he's been running a campaign of increasing atrocity against the civilians in Iraq, particularly the Shiite population - including their shrines, including their funeral processions and public gatherings, and causing enormous anger and revulsion throughout Iraq and in the Muslim world.

And we have to remember that he is responsible for organizing attacks in Jordan. He claimed responsibility for those terrible terrorist attacks on wedding receptions in hotels in Amman, which attracted enormous public protest.

SHUSTER: Is it been clear to you what the relationship between Zarqawi and bin Laden had become?

Prof. WILKINSON: Well, I think, it never been really close in the past. We have to remember that when Zarqawi was running a training camp for terrorism at Herat, it wasn't at that point part of the al-Qaida structure. It was in 2002 that you first have the giving of an oath of allegiance to bin Laden by Zarqawi. That was a major turning point. And then in 2004, a repetition of that, and...

SHUSTER: But there's been some suggestion that Zarqawi has eclipsed bin Laden in some sense. Do you agree with that?

Prof. WILKINSON: No, I don't think that's the case at all. I think there was always an exaggerated view of his importance. His impact was largely one of horrific violence. And it was, in fact, such horrific violence that there is some circumstantial evidence that others in the movement wanted him restrained, or, indeed, removed from a position of influence in the movement. Because they thought that his violence was so horrific that it would be counterproductive.

SHUSTER: Professor Wilkinson...

Prof. WILKINSON: Though...

SHUSTER: Professor...

Prof. WILKINSON: ...I don't think the relationship was ever a very close one. But at the same time, it's clear that bin Laden and Zawahiri saw the importance of trying to exploit the conflict in Iraq to try and...

SHUSTER: Professor Wilkinson, thank you very much.

Paul Wilkinson is Chairman for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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