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The War Nerd June 3, 2005
Mister Big Unplugged
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email

The more I hear about how Zarqawi's behind all the trouble in Iraq, the more it reminds me of a bad cop movie. Every cop movie has the same plot: they track down Mister Big and the crime ring gets broken. I remember a classic example, the Ninja Turtles movie, where it turns out the man behind a wave of juvenile delinquent crime wave is Shredder, a Ninja godfather. Actually Shredder was pretty cool, especially the thorn claws on his gloves. Not the kind of outfit you'd want to wear when operating heavy machinery, and probably a little hot for those NYC summer scenes, but slick in a WWF kind of way.

Then you read the real crime news and there is no Mister Big. It's a million little muggers and thugs, with no organization at all. Nobody puts that in a script because it's too depressing. If the problem is just one guy, you can beat it by killing or capturing him. If it's a million little nobodies, you're doomed.

So naturally the Pentagon PR ops have been trying to pin the Mr. Big tail on some Arab's ass. First it was Saddam. Everybody was so sure that once we snatched him out of his backyard hole, peace would break out. But attacks went up, not down, after he was captured. So we had to find another Mr Big, and that's how this Zarqawi became America's Most Wanted.

At least Zarqawi's a better nominee than Saddam. He's a real guerrilla operator, with a solid mujahedeen resume: born in Jordan, probably to Palestinian refugee parents, grew up in the town of Zarqa (his alias means "The Guy from Zarqa"), went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets and got radicalized.

You know, what we should have done with all those brave Muslim volunteers who helped boot the Russkies out of Afghanistan was hold a big victory banquet in Kabul, thank them all for their contribution to Liberty:and then nuke the banquet hall. It sounds cold-blooded, but if you want to rule the world you have to do some stuff you won't want to tell your grandkids about.

Those guys had got used to blowing things up in the name of Allah and didn't feel like quitting just because the Russians went home. They went back to their native slums all over the world and started making no end of trouble. It was Afghan mujahedeen vets who taught the Somalis how easy it was to bring down a chopper, even one as well armored as the Blackhawk, by firing RPGs at the tail rotor. It's Afghan vets who form most of the effective Al Qaeda cells around today.

Zarqawi came home to Jordan around 1990, but didn't get the hero's welcome he was expecting. The Jordanians weren't so sentimental about the boys who went to Afghanistan. They threw him in jail. It may not have been due process, but it was a smart move. The dumb part was letting him out, which they did sometime in the late 90s. He hung out in Europe-have you noticed how these Islamic wackos can do whatever they want in Europe? It's like all you have to do is wear a big Taleban beard and an "I heart Jihad" t-shirt, and German or French immigration will wave you through the VIP line.

Zarqawi bounced around Pakistan and Iran, then ended up in northern Iraq working with a small Kurdish terrorist gang. Which suggests he's strictly small-time.

The reason these Jihadi websites keep making such a big fuss about Zarqawi's every move is basically the same one that keeps the Pentagon blaming everything in Iraq except the weather on him. They need a Mr. Big for their propaganda as much as we do. Except their version is a hero, Robin Hood in a greasy skullcap, always outsmarting the big dumb American crusaders. Essentially he's a great fundraising gimmick, a cross-eyed posterboy, for Al Q. They haven't done shit in years, and the only way they can keep the rich donors happy is taking credit for every blast in Iraq.

That may be why Zarqawi's PR men put out that very, very weird press release last week announcing that he'd been wounded in Iraq. If you know the rules of guerrilla war, you had to be shocked by that communique. Information is the only important weapon in this kind of war, and the last thing you want is to keep the enemy updated about where you're leaders are or how they're doing. Ideally the enemy shouldn't even know their names or have their pictures.

Here are a few possible scenarios for the press release:

1. Simple disinformation. In other words, Zarqawi ain't wounded, didn't leave Iraq, and may be doing something major inside Iraq. The release is designed to send the bloodhounds barking off in the wrong direction.

2. Zarqawi is dead. Maybe the news that he was hit got out, and his people are trying to buy time by keeping him "alive" for morale's sake. It's real hard to know when a guerrilla leader's dead. The Pentagon claimed Zarqawi was killed in an air raid in 2004. The Russians have claimed every Chechen leader was killed more times than a Hindu cat. Don't believe a guerrilla death claim any more than you would a guerrilla-war body count. Wait till you see the video:and then wait some more.

3. Not-so-simple disinformation. Maybe he died years ago. Maybe he doesn't exist. The whole Zarqawi business could be a Jihadi/Pentagon internet scam.

4. Small-Time PR. This is my bet: Zarqawi's real, he's been actually wounded, but he just doesn't matter much. He's one of these foreign romantics who get involved in somebody else's war, make a lot of noise, become a pinup star but don't rate among the real leaders.

Like I've said before, foreigners just don't cut it in a guerrilla war. Zarqawi, a Jordanian/Palestinian, can't disappear in an Iraqi crowd. That means most of his time has to be spent surviving. His face has been all over the net for years now, and there's a $25 million bounty on him. Like they say in spy movies, his cover is blown. No way he can be really useful as a guerrilla leader. That job puts you out on the street all day, moving through checkpoints, changing your identity non-stop.

If he's just another Jihadi, how come both sides, Al Q and the Pentagon, have been blowing Zarqawi so hard for all these years? Because both sides want to make the Iraq insurgency a classic Mr Big story. Al Q wants to give its own lame, James-Bond multinational crew credit for what's actually a homegrown, neighborhood-based Iraqi uprising. The Pentagon wants to put a face-an outside agitator's face-on the car bombers. America will do anything to avoid having to face the most obvious fact about Iraq: they hate our guts, all of them. Pasting Zarqawi's face all over the net also hides the fact that our so-called intelligence units still don't know a damn thing about the insurgency. It makes it seem as if we're hot on the trail of the one demon responsible for the whole mess.

Which suits the insurgents just fine. That's the most depressing angle of all on Zarqawi: it's not just the Pentagon and Al Q who are happy to keep him in the spotlight. The real bosses of the insurgency must get down on their knees every night and thank Allah for the Z-man, because he keeps the heat off them.

They're not Mr. Big. There is no Mr Big. They're more like a few thousand Mr. Middles, a whole crowd of ex-officers and clan leaders in every Sunni town or village who have some kind of loose control over some of the insurgents. Not all-there are hundreds of insurgent groups fighting, and nobody controls them all.

But it stands to reason that some of the bigger, more professional networks have real leaders. These guys will turn out to be solid, intelligent men, usually young-20s, early 30s-who get respect in the neighborhood. They'll be homegrown Iraqis with real standing in the clan and tribal networks that really run things in Iraq.

And they'll be anonymous. Guerrilla war kills off the glory-seekers like Zarqawi pretty quickly. The guys who last will be total unknowns, until the new regime gives them their medals when we finally give up on this mess.

They'll be shy by Arab standards, coolheaded types. Contrary to what the dumb-ass press keeps saying, the leaders don't need to "fuel" the insurrection. It's got all the fuel it needs. The Iraqis, not just the Sunnis either, are so pissed-off by now that the real leaders' job is mostly persuading the hotheads to take it slow, plan their attacks.

And when these guys get a little R&R, their favorite TV will be the nightly news, with pictures of this poor fool Zarqawi's beady-eyed face staring at them. They'll be cheering him on, just like the Pentagon boys and Al Qaeda fundraisers in Jakarta and Riyadh and Berlin.

That's the Zarqawi fan club-the weirdest bedfellows since Jackson and Culkin.

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Gary Brecher
Browse author
Email Gary at, but, more importantly, buy his book.

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