Cato Institute Experts Comment on the Death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the Future of Iraq

June 8, 2006

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 WASHINGTON – Cato Institute foreign policy experts are available to discuss the latest events in Iraq. Contact the media relations department to arrange an interview: (202) 789-5200, pr [at] cato [dot] org.

Christopher Preble, Cato Institute, director of foreign policy studies:

“The death of Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is welcomed by all civilized people. Zarqawi terrorized the Iraqi population, and engaged in some of the most brutal acts of the insurgency, including beheadings and the slaughter of countless innocents.

“It is now time to look to the future. In his statement announcing Zarqawi’s killing, President Bush reminded Americans, and the world, that the terrorism and sectarian violence in Iraq will continue. Deep tribal, religious, and sectarian fissures have been opened in Iraq. Zarqawi worked earnestly to foment civil war among Iraqi factions, but he was hardly alone. Others who would favor civil war over reconciliation must be marginalized within Iraqi society.

“But the only leverage that the U.S. government has over the factions within Iraq would be the prospect of our leaving.  With the interior and defense ministries now filled, and with Zarqawi dead, the administration must tell the Iraqi government—and the Iraqi people—that U.S. forces are leaving.  This would have a clarifying effect on the government of Iraq, forcing its members to look at each other, and decide whether they will compromise and move forward, or whether they would rather obstruct progress and let Zarqawi’s successors terrorize their countrymen.

“With a unified Iraqi government empowered to take control of security their country, the Bush administration must urgently refocus its efforts away from the internal politics in Iraq, and back on the al Qaeda members who are planning attacks against the United States.  Afghanistan has suffered mightily over the past several months, with a dramatic uptick in violence.  The intelligence assets and special forces who were assigned to hunt for Zarqawi and others in Iraq should be refocused on the pursuit of Osama bin Laden.”

Ted Galen Carpenter, Cato Institute, vice president for foreign policy and defense studies:

“Americans should not assume that Zarqawi’s death will make a major difference in Iraq’s overall security environment.  The episode is simply the latest milestone that is not really a milestone in that unhappy country.

“We should be especially skeptical of those who proclaim every favorable development as a crucial turning point in the Iraq conflict.  We’ve heard it all before.  Zarqawi’s death may well weaken the capabilities of the foreign fighters in Iraq, but the significance of that faction has been in decline for months.  Indeed, the primary component of the violence in Iraq is no longer an insurgency directed against U.S. occupation forces and security personnel of the embryonic Iraqi government.  Instead, the dominant factor is now tit-for-tat sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites.  The elimination of Zarqawi will have little impact on that problem.

“Americans need to ask why they should want their military personnel to try to play the role of referee in such an environment.  Zarqawi’s death should remove the last excuse for ‘staying the course’ in Iraq.  We’ve overthrown Saddam Hussein, enabled the Iraqi people to create a new constitution, presided over the election of a new government, and now killed the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq.  Enough is enough.  At some point, the Iraqi people need to stand on their own feet and decide whether they will cooperate in governing the country or whether they will wage an increasingly bloody sectarian war.  If they choose the latter, America does not have a dog in that fight.

“Let’s celebrate the end of Zarqawi.  And then let’s use the occasion to announce a firm schedule for the withdrawal of all American troops.”