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Abu Musab al-Zarqawi: a portrait

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Abu Musab al-Zarqawi: a portrait


Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was the face of terrorism in Iraq, the only recognisable figure among the numerous groups operating in the country, whose members are usually seen masked and hooded in propaganda videos.

He was a symbol of terrorism in Iraq and its ringleader – at least for the Americans, who raised the price on his head to 25 million dollars – the same as that for Osama bin Laden.

The first time that the wider world heard the name Zarqawi was in 2003 at the UN Security Council. In the run-up to the Iraq war, US Secretary of State Colin Powell named him as the link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, who Powell claimed had given him refuge.

Zarqawi – not his real name – was born on October 20th 1966 in Zarqa, near to Amman. A petty criminal in his youth, he is remembered by those who knew him then as a simple, quick-tempered and barely-literate gangster.

He fought in Afghanistan in the US-backed struggle against Soviet forces in the 1980s, returning to Jordan where he was condemned to 15 years in jail but released under an amnesty in 1999.

He returned to his old stamping ground, Afghanistan, this time fighting against the Americans. He arrived in Iraq in 2003, after the war.

Zarqawi was blamed for some of the first big insurgency attacks to shake Iraq.

As well as the occupying forces, fellow Iraqis – particularly the Shi’ite community became his target.

Said to have been the mastermind of the Hila attack – the bloodiest seen in Iraq – Zarqawi succeeded in sowing the seeds of hate between the two communities, blurring the line between resistance and terrorism.

At the end of 2004 Osama bin Laden confirmed that Zarqawi was al-Qaeda’s representative in Iraq.

Terrorism experts are divided on what his death will mean for Iraq. Some say it will change nothing, as he was no more than a figurehead, whose influence had been exaggerated. Others claim it could be the beginning of the end of the insurgency.

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