Our Opinion: The terror continues

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Gulf War in the early 1990s was a relatively quick, low-casualty engagement that accomplished the limited objective of ending the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait.

After that war, many people asked why the U.S. didn't finish the job by removing Saddam Hussein from power, a seemingly simple task for the mightiest military power in the world.

We now know that removing Hussein from power was not the difficult part of that task. The difficulty was establishing a stable government to replace what we destroyed, a necessity if we were to claim justification for the action.

Despite the lessons we should have learned in our more recent and on-going struggle with Iraq, we still tend to think of hostility toward America by any segment of the world's population to be caused by a single individual or, at most, a few fanatical leaders.

We focus on Osama bin Laden, rather than on his followers. Even someone as prominent a terrorist as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi remained a fairly obscure figure to the average American until his death last week from a U.S. air strike in Iraq. We have difficulty concentrating on more than one person with an Arab name at a time.

Zarqawi, a 39-year-old Jordanian, was the self-proclaimed leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Zarqawi took responsibility on several audiotapes for numerous acts in Iraq, including the killing of U.S. and allied soldiers. He was also believed to be responsible for taking hostages and killing many civilians, including the beheading of hostages (possibly including Nick Berg and Ken Bigley) in Iraq.

Zarqawi was a Sunni Muslim, the faction that dominated Iraq during the reign of Saddam Hussein and now has difficulty accepting a lesser status in a new government.

In September 2005, Zarqawi declared "all-out war" on Shia Muslims in Iraq and is believed responsible for dispatching numerous Al-Qaeda suicide bombers throughout Iraq, especially to areas with large concentrations of Shia civilians. As the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, he is suspected of causing thousands of people's deaths.

There is no reason to mourn Zarqawi's death but there is also no reason to think that his death will end the type of violence he advocated and participated in. Even the likely future death of Osama bin Laden will not end terrorism.

Deaths of terrorist leaders create martyrs but that makes little difference one way or the other to the future of terrorism. How can you tell when a fanatic has been further inspired by someone's martyrdom? Is the shrillness of his rhetoric a bit higher pitched? Is there more foam around his mouth?

Terrorist leaders need to be stopped, either through death or imprisonment, but we shouldn't be surprised when others are waiting to take their places.