In yet another amazing coincidence, the announcement of the death of Zarqawi or somebody just like him came just as Prime Minister Maliki was finally submitting his candidates for the long-disputed posts of defense and interior ministers, which then sailed through parliament after months of deadlock. The fortuitous death also came after perhaps the worst week of bad PR the Bush Administration has endured during the entire war, with an outpouring of stories alleging a number of horrific atrocities committed by U.S. troops in recent months.Oddly enough, Zarqawi first vaulted into the American consciousness just after the public exposure of earlier U.S. atrocities: the tortures at Abu Ghraib prison in the spring of 2004. With story after story of horrible abuse battering the Administration during an election year, Zarqawi, or someone just like him, suddenly appeared with a Grand Guignol production: the beheading of American civilian Nick Berg. This atrocity was instantly seized upon by supporters of the war to justify the “intensive interrogation” of “terrorists” – even though the Red Cross had determined that 70 to 90 percent of American captives at that time had committed no crime whatsoever, much less been involved in terrorism, as the notorious anti-war Wall Street Journal reported. Abu Ghraib largely faded from the public eye – indeed, it was not mentioned by a single speaker at the Democratic National Convention a few weeks later or raised as an issue during the presidential campaign that year.
Today’s news has likewise knocked the new atrocity allegations off the front pages, to be replaced with heartening stories of how, as the New York Times reports, Zarqawi’s death “appears to mark a major watershed in the war.” Thus in his reputed end as in his reputed beginning, the Scarlet Pimpernel of Iraq has, by remarkable coincidence, done yeoman service for the immediate publicity needs of his deadly enemy, the Bush Administration.
It is not yet known who will now take Zarqawi’s place as the new all-purpose, all-powerful bogeyman solely responsible for every bad thing in Iraq. There were recent indications that Maliki himself was being measured for the post, after he publicly denounced American atrocities and the occupiers’ propensity for hair-trigger killing of civilians, but he seems to be back with the program now. Administration insiders are reportedly divided over shifting the horns to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s already much-demonized head, or planting them on extremist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, or elevating some hitherto unknown local talent – or maybe just blaming the whole shebang on Fidel Castro, for old times’ sake.