Hunting Zarqawi

Coalition efforts to cleave the foreign element of the insurgency from the indigenous Iraqi elements are accelerating. The successful operations in Fallujah and elsewhere in the Sunni Triangle is fracturing the command, control and communications of the Islamofascists, and forcing them to fight in smaller groups that are more susceptible to infiltration and the application of military force. The hunt for Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq and mastermind of the most heinous attacks against Coalition forces and Iraqi civilians, has intensified after he lost his base of operations in Fallujah. The latest search is taking place in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, where fifty suspected members of his terrorist group have been detained.

The hunt for Zarqawi has many similarities to the hunt for Pablo Escobar, the powerful and greatly feared Colombian drug lord responsible for numerous acts of narco-terrorism in the late 1980s and early 1990s against Colombian judges, police, government officials and civilians. Mark Bowden expertly documents the hunt for Pablo Escobar in Killing Pablo; it is a must read to understand the complexities in insurgency warfare, particularly the difficulties in tracking an individual with extensive support in many communities. Pablo Escobar waged a brutal war against Colombia to prevent his extradition to the United States to face trial for drug trafficking and murder, and used any and every form of violence to intimidate judges and the government.

Escobar was finally killed by members of a Colombian police force (assisted by American intelligence) devoted to the task. The effort took years, and was only accomplished by destroying Escobar’s vast system of support from underneath him, until he was found alone in an apartment, without his bodyguard and with little means of defense.

The hunt for Escobar incorporated multiple techniques, each vital to his capture. The Colombia government, despite the violence perpetrated against it, stood firm and committed itself to ending Escobar’s reign of terror. The establishment of the Search Bloc, the Colombian police force devoted to the hunt, was instrumental, as many of the local police forces and members of the military feared opposing Escobar. The Search Bloc worked closely with an American intelligence team for training and to track Escobar’s cell phone communications. A secretive vigilante group, known as Los Pepes, was established (some believe with the encouragement of the Search Bloc). Los Pepes was believed to be comprised of police, military, and family members of those killed by Escobar. This vigilante group co-opted members of Escobar’s rival drug cartels. Los Pepes was crucial to the fight, as it undercut Escobar’s support organization by assassinating friends, family, foot soldiers and middle managers in Pablo’s drug cartel until there were few people left willing to help him.

Finding Z-mo

Elements of the hunt for Pablo Escobar can be seen in the hunt for Zarqawi. The Iraqi interim government is committed to routing Zarqawi and his network of foreign jihadis. Iraqi police and military forces are being established with Coalition support, and are working closely with American forces and intelligence. The reduction of Fallujah and the ongoing operation in the Sunni Triangle are designed to reduce his base of support by denying him freedom of movement and open bases of operation. A top aide of Zarqawi’s, Abu Said, has been captured in Mosul in recent operations, as well as the capture of fifty suspected members of his organization in Basra. The Iraqi government is attempting to co-opt and split the insurgency, and has offered to negotiate with some members of the insurgency in Jordan. Jordan has arrested members of Zarqawi’s family and is threatening to seize the Zarqawi family holdings if he does not turn himself in to the Jordanian government. Militias opposed to Zarqawi, such as the Salvation Movement and the newly formed Anger Brigades, are rising up and may take on some of the functions prohibited to the Coalition and Iraqi interim government (much like Los Pepes in Colombia).

The insurgency in Iraq will not end with the capture or death of Zarqawi. But his demise bodes well for the prospect of a stable Iraqi government after elections. Killing or capturing Zarqawi would remove a deadly enemy from the battlefield. His willingness to use extreme violence against civilian, military and government targets is unmatched in Iraq, and threatens the appearance of government control. Efforts to destroy Zarqawi and his terror network also give the government an opportunity to split the insurgent coalition, some of which abhor Zarqawi’s extreme methods and violence against civilians. Finally, taking out Zarqawi would be a moral and propaganda victory for the Coalition, providing yet another defeat for al Qaeda. Zarqawi is the face of al Qaeda in Iraq, and has already indicated that there are serious problems in both manpower and support for the fight against the infidels. There is no better way to highlight this point than displaying Zarqawi for all to see, either behind bars or on a mortician’s table.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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