News of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s death trickled in to the US Marines camp outside the battle-scarred city of Fallujah today, bringing the troops a vague sense of satisfaction.
Some Marines scoffed at the appearance of the Jordanian-born terrorist in a video released in April. They suggested the leader’s demise was the product of his own vanity when he showed his face to the world.
The footage portrayed al-Zarqawi as an insurgent commander looking over maps and swaggering through the desert with a heavy machine gun. But out-takes released later showed that he needed assistance firing the weapon.
“He pumped himself up so much that he blew himself up, with the help of some US fighter jets,” said Staff Sergeant Joseph Medeiros. “I’m excited because we got a real bad guy off the street.”
South of Baghdad, soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat team have in recent weeks pursued phantom sightings of al-Zarqawi, who was thought to have travelled through the farms and desert they patrol.
But when the radio crackled before dawn today letting the Army know that al-Zarqawi had been killed, there was no celebration.
“It’s about time. He’s eluded us long enough,” said a deadpan Army Sergeant 1st Class Robert Moss, 30, as he stood in front of a wall of computer monitors with coloured maps tracking troop movements.
Staff Sergeant Philip Miller said most troops awake at the time shared a quiet moment to reflect on the accomplishment.
“Everyone’s been looking for him for so long,” said Miller, 26. “Taking him out of the loop is justification for all those guys who gave their lives for this.”
One low-ranking Marine near Fallujah suggested the deaths of al-Zarqawi and his seven associates would make things a little easier for the American mission.
“Time will tell, but if he’s as big as they say, then I think it’ll have a dramatic affect on our current operations,” said Marine Lance Corporal Kurtis Backiel, assigned to the 1st Battalion, 25th Regiment.
Others weren’t so sure. Mustafa Alani, an Iraqi military analyst with the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai, said the few hundred remaining members of al-Zarqawi’s band would probably continue their ultra-violent attacks under new leadership.
“These organisations always prepare for the day their leaders are killed or arrested. They always have a replacement,” Alani said.
As for Iraq’s overall insurgency, it was always clear that al-Zarqawi’s band played only a bit part, Alani said.