Iraqi instability washes over neighbors
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death, though it is a major development related to Iraq, is hardly a reason for a prolonged celebration. That is the message that is emerging from a number of informed sources in Washington and in Iraq's immediate neighborhood.
Jordanian intelligence is claiming that it played a crucial role in bringing an end to Zarqawi's short life (he was Jordanian and wanted in that country for acts of terror) and highly turbulent career.
But the same sources are proffering highly sobering analysis of the depth of anger that currently prevails in Jordan, Iraq and the occupied territories toward the United States and toward Arab regimes that are seen as friends of Washington, and, by extension, toward Jerusalem. That anger needs to be watched in the coming months.
An important driving force in and around Iraq is the US-Jordan-Israel nexus that is trying to stabilize the region in light of those countries' respective interests. The US wants to stabilize and democratize Iraq; Israel wants to pacify the Palestinian population and "resolve" the Palestinian-Israeli conflict unilaterally, and hopes that by doing so, the problem will go away. Jordan would very much like to see this conflict resolved, but feels powerless about its resolution.
Zarqawi's death has done nothing to resolve the continued US predicament about staying in Iraq. As long as the US forces remain in that country, the insurgency will not lose its intensity. The only uncertainty is whether the Islamist aspect of the insurgency can maintain its pace now that Zarqawi is no longer in the picture.
If that were to happen, then another question is whether the insurgency will remain as bloody as it has been during the leadership of Zarqawi. Intelligence experts are certain that the insurgency will be less bloody, at least for the next several weeks.
Then the successor of Zarqawi will have to establish his own pace and the level of violence. Another variable is how the successor will be received by other insurgent elements - ex-Ba'athists, Saddamists, members of the Republican Guard and the Fidayeen-e-Saddam, and pan-Arabists - who are the real purveyors and experts in the asymmetric war that is being waged so effectively against the American and Iraqi security forces.
On this issue there are two related obdurate factors. First, given the present state of internal turbulence in Iraq, the Americans cannot leave without creating a powerful image of "humiliating withdrawal", as was the case in South Vietnam, or without reliving the humiliating withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in 1989.
Even if one were to ignore the symbolic aspects of a potential US withdrawal from Iraq, realistically speaking, such a development would plunge the country into more of a bloody mess than it is in now. It appears that the US is stuck in Iraq for some time.
Second, as long as the US remains in Iraq, the very legitimacy of the national-unity government will remain shaky, at best. With the presence of US forces, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will have to prove constantly that he is not an American puppet.
He has already made some tangible gains by announcing the names of his nominees for the Defense and Interior ministries and for national security adviser, on the same day that Zarqawi's death was announced. He is also demanding from US military authorities a rigorous inquiry into the killings of civilians at Haditha.
However, the only true and durable source of legitimacy for the national-unity government stems from the ability of Maliki to take concrete steps aimed at improving the living conditions of Iraqis.
The Palestinian conflict continues to intensify anti-Americanism, not just in the immediate region, but also in the Muslim world at large. Arab public opinion did not miss the fact that Zarqawi and Jamal Abu Samhadana, the founder of the Popular Resistance Committees, were killed the same way, through the use of air power.
What is most significant about the death of the Hamas official is that the US did not utter a word of protest, even though innocent bystanders were killed. At the same time, in the wake of the refusal of Hamas to recognize Israel, renounce violence and negotiate with the Jewish state, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert insists that his government will unilaterally determine the modalities of peace and borders with the Palestinians.
The Palestinian nation is becoming increasingly divided because of the intensification of differences between President Abu Abbas of the Fatah organization and the duly elected Hamas government.
Rightly or wrongly, Arab public opinion holds the administration of US President George W Bush responsible for this state of affairs. Why, they ask, is it that the US insists on establishing high standards of observance of international law from the Arab side while there is no insistence that Israel should do all it can to resolve the Palestinian conflict? These are the developments that also fuel the insurgency in Iraq and elsewhere.
Concerns for Jordan
Jordan is the weakest link in this nexus. It is increasingly worried about the seething anger within its borders. At the same time, it remains convinced that the Iraqi insurgency might become even bloodier than before.
Amman is also alarmed about Iran's growing influence in Iraq and in Lebanon. Jordan's concerns cannot be dismissed, since it has the highest number of Palestinians outside the Israeli-occupied territories. This sector of the Jordanian population remains unhappy about their country's prolonged friendship and cooperation with the US and Israel, while their brethren in the occupied territories continue to struggle for their independent homeland.
Amman's close ties with the US and friendly relations with Israel are making their own contribution to the potential political combustibility of that country. From the US perspective, it is very important that Jordan closely cooperate with its "war on terrorism".
However, that cooperation has never been a two-way street in the sense that Washington has paid scant to no attention to what is of vital concern and interest to Jordan. Few, if any, US officials concede that their country's highly visible and proactive role in the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would create an enormous amount of goodwill in Jordan, which King Abdullah direly needs.
In the absence of that US role, Jordan remains a highly unsettling place, with a large number of Palestinians watching the growing violence and killing of their counterparts in the occupied territories. One only wonders how many Zarqawis are being created as a direct outcome of frustrations related to that reality.
King Abdullah is certainly mindful of this issue. At the same time, Jordan is palpably concerned about the growing influence of Iran in Iraq - not that Jordan is unaware of the historical ties between Iran and Iraq emanating from Shi'ite Islam that is shared by most people in the two countries.
What worries Amman is how that particular bond will be exploited in creating the ever-increasing influence of Iran in Iraq in the coming years.
The implicit aspect of Iran's mounting significance in Iraq is that the Sunni neighboring states are increasingly faced with the reality of growing Shi'ite clout and strategic significance, not only in Iraq, but also in Lebanon.
This is something they have never experienced, or anticipated. That is one reason President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt publicly questioned the national loyalties of Iraqi Shi'ites in April.
Why is it that no Shi'ite politician similarly questions the political loyalties of Sunnis? The sad aspect of Mubarak's insensitive remark is that he stated what many Sunni leaders have been thinking regarding the Shi'ite populace within their borders.
As an integral aspect of their information war, and to make a point worldwide that the Iraqi insurgency is largely composed of "foreign Islamists", the US military deliberately made Zarqawi a larger-than-life figure. His death, though it is a major event within Iraq, does nothing to stabilize that country or legitimize its government.
A turbulent Iraq continues to feed the instability of its immediate neighborhood. Jordan knows that its own stability is also getting wobbly. Thus it is doing the only logical thing by cooperating with US forces and hoping that it will win in Iraq and, in the process, stabilize the region.
What is also destabilizing the region is the ever-obdurate Palestinian-Israeli conflict, to which regional and global jihadis are becoming increasingly committed.
Only the proactive and judicious participation of the US could create the momentum to resolve the conflict. Other than this, there is nothing Jordan can do about it. That is the ultimate source of its frustrations.
And Jordan's aggravations reflect the frustrations of all actors who wish to see their region turn into a peaceful and stable area. They know how such conditions may be brought about, but they themselves are not powerful enough to materialize them.
Ehsan Ahrari is the CEO of Strategic Paradigms, an Alexandria, Virginia-based defense consultancy. He can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected] His columns appear regularly in Asia Times Online. His website: www.ehsanahrari.com.