Zarqawi, leader of the group al-Qaeda in Iraq, is profiled in this Backgrounder. He sowed mayhem for over four years (WashPost) with suicide bombs, kidnappings, assassinations, and statements directed as much at Iraqi Shiites and those he called "collaborators" as against the U.S.-led military occupation. Over the years, he became an elusive, tremendously divisive figure and the Iraqi government's most wanted man (BBC).
The news gave Iraq coalition leaders a rare positive moment. Though he warned of continued difficulties in Iraq, President Bush declared "the ideology of terror has lost one of its most visible and aggressive leaders." Terrorism expert Magnus Ranstorp tells RFE/RL Zarqawi's death will have a demoralizing effect on the worldwide Islamic terrorism movement. It also coincided with an important success by new Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki—the long-awaited naming of ministers for defense, interior, and national security (NYT). But other voices warned Zarqawi's death, like the capture of Saddam Hussein two years ago, might not necessarily take the steam out of the insurgency (Guardian). Counterterrorismblog.org warns the search is already on for a replacement leader. Reaction around the world struck a similar tone—largely glad to see such a violent force contained, yet cautious not to overplay the significance (Khaleej Times).
The Iraq mission recently has suffered through the revelation of what appears to have been a massacre of Iraqi civilians at Haditha, an upsurge in violence in Basra and other areas where relative calm had prevailed, and strident criticism of U.S. tactics from the new prime minister. Maliki has shown little fear of taking on Washington (CSMonitor) in his first weeks in power.
On Wednesday, he began releasing Iraqis jailed for their ties to Saddam Hussein's Baathist government in a bid for "national unity" (BBC). He also demanded Iraqi officials be allowed to investigate and prosecute U.S. Marines who took part in the incident in Haditha last November. The implications of Haditha are explored in this Backgrounder. Maliki, who says abuse of civilians has become a "regular occurrence," also ordered the creation of a commission to set ground rules for coalition troops' behavior (NPR).
The United States has not objected to Maliki's approach so far. While some administration officials have told reporters they are uncertain about his recent pledge (WashPost) to relieve American and coalition troops and take responsibility for the security of most of Iraq by the end of the year, the administration is aware of pressure building in Congress and among the public to plot an eventual way out for the American military. The Pentagon, in its latest quarterly report to Congress on progress in Iraq, says the mission is succeeding and setting a withdrawal timetable at this point would be counterproductive. But David Ignatius writes in Lebanon's Daily Star that Iraq is in a civil war, no matter what the authorities are calling it.
Anthony Cordesman, a leading military and intelligence analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, tells Bernard Gwertzman the Pentagon's assessments have grown increasingly unrealistic and now border on "deception." Cordesman says the report delivered to Congress in May "dodges around all of the problems and simply does not give either Congress or the American people anything approaching a realistic picture."