Reports from Iraq over the weekend suggested that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq had died during a gun battle on Saturday afternoon in Mosul.
Acting on one of the more and more frequent tips from local Iraqi citizens, US and Iraqi security forces surrounded a house in Mosul where a group of terrorists were believed to be hiding. In the course of the siege, four terrorists were killed by gunfire and the remaining three blew themselves up, including a woman who was found with the words “suicide bomber” painted on her chest.
The Jerusalem Post reported that the Arab media were indicating that Zarqawi was one of those killed in the raid based on reports from local Iraqis, from Iraqi goverrnment sources and on the behavior of coalition forces who secured the area and brought in special investigative units to determine the identity of those killed in the attack.
However, subsequent reports and statements from coalition authorities suggest that Zarqawi was not present at what was clearly a suicide-bomb workshop.
Reports do suggest that Zarqawi’s days are numbered, as more and more local authorities who had previously shielded him are turning against Al Qaeda because of the indiscriminate nature of its attacks in Iraq and Jordan. Even Zarqawi’s own family has denounced him, taking out advertisements in Jordanian newspapers announcing that they “sever links with him until doomsday.” The leader of his tribal group commented that he “would not hesitate to kill [Zarqawi].”
In a taped message, Zarqawi attempted damage control rather like a western politician, trying to explain away his attacks on three Jordanian hotels last week which killed only Arabs, including members of a wedding party. Zarqawi said, “We ask God to have mercy on the Muslims, who we did not intend to target, even if they were in hotels which are centres of immorality.”
One of the Jordanian attackers, Sajida Mubarak Atrous Risha, was captured after her bomb failed to explode. She is he sister of the Al Qaeda leader in Fallujah who was killed earlier this year.
Increasingly, public sentiment throughout the Middle East has turned against Zarqawi and the Iraqi insurgency as they continue to target innocent Moslems, particularly Shiites. Thousands marched in protest in Jordan last week chanting “Cease, cease, al-Zarqawi, you are a villain! Cease, cease, you terrorist, you are a coward!”
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice observed, “In the aftermath of the vicious attacks in Jordan — which killed dozens of people and wounded many more — leaders and clerics and private citizens are now stepping forward and taking to the streets and calling this evil by its name. This is a profound change.”
Mejdi Nuaimat, a Jordanian student commened, “We do not consider this jihad; we consider it against Islam and against humanity.”
In Baghdad Jameel Younan Nissan whose house wa destroyed by a suicide bomber said, “Nobody here supports the insurgency. Even before this attack, the feelings against Zarqawi were growing. He has no religion, no sect, no humanity. He is the devil.”
A recent UPI poll of Jordanians shows public sentiment turning massively against the Jihadists, Zarqawi and al Qaeda, with 94 percent stating that the actions of these groups were not in the best interests of Arabs or Islam. Meanwhile recent polling by the BBC in Iraq shows strong support for the government-building process, for the role being played by the US-led coalition and for increasing dissatisfaction with the insurgency.
With no one left willing to shield him and many former Iraqis moving away from violence and joining the political process in anticipation of the December elecion, Zarqawi is becoming increasingly isolated and running out of resources. Many believe that his death or capture is inevitable in the next few weeks.