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June 9, 2006

Lebanonwire

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Zarqawi death 'relief' for rival rebels: experts
by Habib Trabelsi

PARIS - The death of Al-Qaeda's Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi could prove a relief for rival insurgents, freeing them from the negative image of sectarian violence perpetrated by the Jordanian-born extremist, analysts said Friday.

Zarqawi was killed in a US air strike on Wednesday outside Baquba, north of Baghdad.

"Without a doubt, Zarqawi's killing is a serious blow to the Iraq branch of Al-Qaeda, but his removal will come as a relief to the resistance groups of which Zarqawi's was but one," said Abdel Bari Atwan, chief editor of the London-based Arabic-language daily newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi.

"The resistance has been relieved. It has been freed of the negative image imposed on it by Zarqawi's mistakes, in particular his hatred of Shiites, bombings that killed more civilians than members of the occupation forces, and the gruesome beheadings of hostages," he added.

"I believe that by killing Zarqawi the occupation troops have helped the cause of the resistance, which will in future concentrate its operations on the occupiers," Atwan said.

"I also think that Al-Qaeda will enter a new phase under the control of Abu Abderrahman al-Iraqi, its new de facto leader, who pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden in the communique confirming the death of his Jordanian chief whose activities had been disavowed by Ayman al-Zawahiri", the Al-Qaeda number two, he added.

In a letter to Zarqawi, attributed to Zawahiri and made public by the Pentagon in Washington in October 2005, the Egyptian demanded that the Jordanian stop video-taping the killing of hostages and cease random attacks, especially on Shiite civilians.

The letter urged Zarqawi to reunite Muslims, not divide them.

For the director of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, Abdel Monaam Said, Zarqawi "was certainly an important Al-Qaeda leader, but his popularity was tainted by stupefying crimes in Iraq and abroad, especially the triple suicide bombing in Jordan" which killed 60 people in three Amman hotels last November.

"The Iraqi resistance was hampered by the jihadism of Zarqawi, which was founded on radical Islamism and caused many civilian casualties, both Shiite and Sunni. The military operations of the other groups, on the other hand, essentially targeted the occupiers and had a political objective," he added.

"The removal of Zarqawi is good for the Iraqi resistance because his actions were detrimental to them," said Dhia Rahman, an Egyptian expert on Islamist groups.

Rahman said he believed Zarqawi's death could "unleash a series of violent acts of revenge, including the kidnapping of foreigners".

Many Islamists and Al-Qaeda sympathisers turned to the Internet on Friday in the wake of Zarqawi's death.

"O infidels and apostates, your joy will be brief and you will cry for a long time... we are all Zarqawi," wrote "Abu Mussab Abdel Wadoud", leader of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Algerian Salafist Group for Predication and Combat.

"Young Muslims, Abu Mussab has done his duty. Do the same -- or even better!" wrote an Islamist from the Maghreb calling himself "Sheikh Atiyat Allah".

Another Islamist, "Abdallah Al-Ghamdi", used a long message interspersed with verses from the Koran to call on the mujahedeen to "abduct a high-ranking foreign official to exchange for the mortal remains of Zarqawi".

"Ghamdi" also urged mujahedeen to "satisfy their revenge" by targeting "traitorous infidel symbols" such as US President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Iraqi premier Nuri al-Maliki and King Abdullah II of Jordan.

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