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Death Could Shake Al-Qaeda In Iraq and Around the World
For many years, Zarqawi had an arm's-length relationship with al-Qaeda. He met bin Laden in the late 1990s in Afghanistan, but the two clashed personally, according to Arab intelligence officials and former Islamic radicals.
Zarqawi accepted al-Qaeda money to set up his own training camp in Afghanistan, they said, but he ran it independently. While bin Laden was preparing the Sept. 11 hijacking plot, Zarqawi was focused elsewhere, scheming to topple the Jordanian monarchy and attack Israel.
After Sept. 11, with al-Qaeda's leadership on the run from U.S. forces, Zarqawi and his fighters moved into Iran and later into Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Iraq. Zarqawi maintained his independence at first. But after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, he played up his affiliation with al-Qaeda's core leadership when it served his purposes, analysts said. He formally swore loyalty to bin Laden in October 2004 and changed the name of his Monotheism and Jihad network to al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Both sides benefited. By using the al-Qaeda name, Zarqawi bolstered his legitimacy and attracted media attention, as well as money and recruits. In turn, al-Qaeda leaders were able to brand a new franchise in Iraq and claim they were at the forefront of the fight to expel U.S. forces.
But the relationship was fragile, and Zarqawi provoked the ire of al-Qaeda's founders by focusing less on U.S. military targets and by killing or injuring thousands of Iraqi Shiites. In September 2005, U.S. intelligence officials said they had confiscated a long letter that al-Qaeda's deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had written to Zarqawi, bluntly warning that Muslim public opinion was turning against him.
With Zarqawi gone, some analysts said bin Laden's allies would try to re-exert strategic influence over the remains of the al-Qaeda network in Iraq. If al-Qaeda fails to maintain a high-profile stake in the conflict with U.S. forces in the region, the analysts said, its relevance in the jihadist movement will quickly diminish.
"I don't believe al-Qaeda in Iraq will die as a result of the death of Zarqawi," said Mustafa Alani, a terrorism analyst at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai. "Al-Qaeda headquarters will now have more influence on the Iraqi branch. At least, I think they'll be in a far better position than before."
Others said Zarqawi's death is likely to widen the factional splits that have been developing for years within the global movement. More and more, Islamic radical groups are becoming splintered and are only loosely affiliated. While they may be united in a broader struggle against the United States and the West, they often have different aims and tactics.
Nawaf Obaid, director of the Saudi National Security Assessment Project, said Zarqawi's network had already been eclipsed in size and strength by other groups of foreign fighters in Iraq. He said units led by Egyptian, Saudi and Algerian commanders posed a much more serious military threat than al-Qaeda in Iraq, although much less is known about how their operations are organized. The strongest, he said, are North African groups in Iraq composed largely of veterans of the civil war in Algeria.
"They're completely autonomous organizations," Obaid said in a telephone interview from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. "They're more powerful than Zarqawi was and have more weaponry and money at their disposal. They all have their own networks, their own fundraising abilities and their own way of bringing in fighters."