Zarqawi Dead! – Update

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There are reports that he is alive and has left Iraq:

LONDON (Reuters) – Al Qaeda’s leader in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had fled the country after being seriously injured in a U.S. missile attack, The Sunday Times newspaper reported, quoting a senior commander of the Iraqi insurgency.

Al-Zarqawi has shrapnel lodged in his chest and may have been moved to Iran, The Sunday Times newspaper reported, adding his supporters may try to move him on to another country for an operation.

The paper quoted an unnamed insurgency commander as saying the Jordanian-born militant was wounded three weeks ago when a U.S. missile hit his convoy near the northwestern Iraqi city of al Qaim.

“Shrapnel went in between the right shoulder and his chest, ripped it open and is still stuck there,” the commander said, adding a second piece of shrapnel penetrated Zarqawi’s chest but exited from his back.

“There was concern about spinal injuries,” the commander said. “But his ability to move eliminated that fear.”

The Sunday Times said Zarqawi, accused of masterminding many of the worst insurgent attacks in Iraq, was carried from his vehicle after the missile strike and given basic first aid in a hideout.

When he became delirious with fever four days later he was taken to hospital in the city of Ramadi, 110 km (68 miles) west of Baghdad, it said.

The paper did not say when the commander was speaking but said the source had proved reliable in the past.

The report contradicted a statement from Zarqawi’s group posted on the Internet on Friday, which said he was still leading operations in Iraq.

Steven Emerson said on Fox News today that he believes without Zarqawi al-Qaeda in Iraq will be in for some trouble, here are some highlights via The Counterterrorism Blog:

The impact on the al Zarqawi organization and the overall insurgency if he dies: “My feeling is that his operation is really a very top-town command and control…I think the organization has the good chance of falling apart…Not that I don’t think U.S. And Iraqi forces are doing a good job, but the insurgency is still very strong and time will tell now whether the reputed death of Zarqawi, at least his wounding, will have an effect.”

On the temporary replacement named on a website, Abu Hafs al-Qarni: “I had not heard of him before. It’s interesting that they would put a Saudi in charge. The question is whether he is actually on the wanted list by the Saudis.”

On the al Zarqawi network in Iraq: “(I)t comes from Syria. It comes from Saudi Arabia. There are some people transiting through Jordan. The Syrians, in particular, have a lot of blood on their hands…We’ve got to basically take away their weapons. Really go hand — you know, city to city, village to village, house to house, remove the weapons and also stop, plug up those borders coming in from Syria, where there is so many hundreds of fighters and insurgents coming in via Syria — from Syria as well as Saudi Arabia.”

Plus The Fourth Rail has some great analysis:

Recently we?ve looked at the potential for internecine warfare between the various al Qaeda factions in Iraq as well as a few of the potential successors to Zarqawi?s throne. Questions remain about the impact Zarqawi’s loss would have on al Qaeda in Iraq.

Zarqawi is a key to the organization because of his contacts, stature and operational skill. He has established ties in the region over the course of years with the creation of Jamaat al-Tawhid wa’l-Jihad, links to Ansar al-Islam and contacts with Saddam’s security services. He ran a training camp in Afghanistan and has ties to Osama bin Laden. This is the ‘glue’ that holds together the various domestic and foreign factions of al Qaeda in Iraq. For these reasons, he will be very difficult to replace. Local Iraqi jihadis will not have the stature, contacts or trust that Zarqawi possessed. Al Qaeda’s leadership will look upon the Baathists converts skeptically. The indigenous Al Qaeda fighters may not trust foreign Al Qaeda members and will be resistant to foreigners taking control of the organization.

It is interesting to look at the potential heirs to al Qaeda in Iraq, as it can illustrate the degree of fractionalization within the organization. There is a power struggle between the domestic Iraqi members (both the Islamists and Baathists) and the foreign elements. The following is a list of the names being bandied about for Zarqawi?s successor (based on reports by Adnkronos International and Dan Darling, additional background links are inserted if available).

The Iraqi Princes:

? Abu Maysira al-Iraqi ? The chief of media wing of al Qaeda in Iraq
? Abu Darda al-Iraqi ? The chief of operations in Baghdad province.
? Abu Azzam al-Iraqi ? A local commander in Anbar province and member of Zarqawi’s Jamaat al-Tawhid wa’l-Jihad. He was responsible for murdering various leaders of the Anbar province last summer.
? Abu Sad al-Duleimi ? A local commander in Anbar province.
? Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi ? A senior al-Qaeda leader who is reportedly Zarqawi’s liaison to bin Laden.
? Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri ? The former vice chairman of Saddam’s Baathist Revolutionary Command Council. He swore fealty to Zarqawi last year and commands a significant element of the Baathist/al Qaeda converts. H has significant links in Syria and is an important source of funding for al Qaeda in Iraq.
? Abu Talha ? A leader in Ansar al-Islam operating out Mosul in northern Iraq.

Check out his blog for more in-depth analysis of those who might succeed Zarqawi.

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