April 11, 2006
those of us who feel a strange compulsion to analyse the seedy world
of US black operations, and who had always doubted the recent existence
of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, vindication probably doesn’t come any
closer than this.
"Zarqawi used in US propaganda blitz" ran the headline in
the Sydney Morning Herald of Tuesday 11 April 2006, over a Washington
Post story by Thomas Ricks.
It was another of those slippery pieces, based on official leaks, by
which the Bush regime micro-manages public perceptions.
"The US military is conducting a propaganda campaign to magnify
the role of the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, according to internal military
documents and officers familiar with the program", the article
would be more accurate to say that the US military hasn’t
been conducting such a campaign for some weeks. With propaganda preparations
for a war on Iran in full swing, recalcitrant Shiites are now the US
enemy of choice and a concerted push to demonise the Iranians and their
puppet Iraqi militias and curry favour with Sunni politicians and even
the Sunni and Baathist resistance is under way (see here).
Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s recent sweeping claim that Shiite
Muslims are loyal to Iran rather than their home countries is another
sure sign of the new orientation. Mubarak is a dog-loyal American stooge,
and his conclusion fits neatly with the line from Washington: Coalition
troop withdrawal "would be a blow", he said. "The war
would be inflamed among Iraqis. It would become a theatre for a dreadful
civil war and then the terrorist operation will be escalated –
not only in Iraq".
But back to the strange case of the Tin Leg Terrorist …
One of the documents on which Ricks’ bases his article is an alleged
transcript of a conference of US army types, "meeting in Kansas
last year". A "Colonel Harvey" is alleged to have said
"Our own focus on al-Zarqawi has enlarged his caricature, if you
will – made him more important than he really is, in some ways".
The idea that Zarwaqi really exists puts one in mind of Mark Twain’s
celebrated remark that rumours of his own death were "greatly exaggerated",
except in Zarqawi’s case the subject of a whole speculation industry
almost certainly died some years ago, so he isn’t in a position
to challenge the claim that he hasn’t yet gone to meet the houris.
In fact, Zarqawi’s death had been reported even before the US invasion
And of course there’s no way of knowing if "Colonel Harvey"
really exists either, or whether such a meeting actually happened. The
entire story has the feel of being another ripping yarn thrown together
by the psychological warfare specialists.
worthwhile analysing Ricks’ story as a study in slippery writing:
"For the past two years US military leaders have been using Iraqi
media [actually, they’ve been paying Iraqi papers to run black
ops stories] and other outlets in Baghdad [fake jihadist websites]
to publicise Zarqawi’s role in the insurgency. The documents explicitly
list the 'US home audience’ as a target of the broader propaganda
campaign" [well, imagine that].
"The military’s propaganda program has largely been aimed
at Iraqis, but seems to have spilled over into the US media …"
This last is revisionist nonsense. Right from the start the al-Zarqawi
campaign was aimed at the Western public. Zarqawi’s alleged links
to Saddam Hussein was a central plank of Colin Powell’s justification
for the invasion and he was blamed for the Madrid train bombings and
the beheading of Nick Berg. The internet release of a low-quality video
of Zarqawi decapitating the young American contractor was particularly
well-timed for the Bush regime.
… One 'selective leak’ about Zarqawi was made to Dexter
Filkins, a New York Times reporter and psyops conduit based in
Baghdad. Filkin’s resulting article, about a letter supposedly
written by Zarqawi and boasting of suicide attacks in Iraq, ran on the
Times front page in February 2004. The report also ran in the
Sydney Morning Herald."
This is a reference to an unsigned letter from Zarqawi to Osama bin-Laden
which was supposedly on a CD captured by Kurdish forces and subsequently
published on the website of the now defunct Coalition Provisional Authority
(CPA). It was thereafter constantly cited by CPA and military spokespersons
as evidence of a vicious al-Qaeda campaign to provoke a sectarian civil
war in Iraq and repeatedly trotted out by pro-warcemmentators like William
Safire and David Brooks. It is therefore gratifying to read that:
"Filkins said he was not told there was a psychological operations
campaign aimed at Zarqawi, but he assumed the military was releasing
the letter 'because it had decided it was in its best interest
to have it publicised’.
"He said he was sceptical about the document’s authenticity
then, and remains so now."
Indeed. Thank you Ricks. If Filkins really was sceptical back in 2004,
he hardly made it obvious. Internal evidence suggested that the letter
was a crude forgery and many bloggers, internet writers, and even a
few mainstream journalists said so.
the Washington Post’s version of his story Ricks quotes
an internal briefing, produced by the U.S. military headquarters in
Iraq, which revealed that Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt – then
the US military spokesperson in Iraq – had concluded that, "The
Zarqawi PSYOP program is the most successful information [sic] campaign
Considering the extent to which the legend of the Wicked Wahabist has
been retailed by the mainstream media, he’s absolutely right.
think we can regard Ricks’ story as the closest we’re likely
to get to an admission by the US military that the whole Zarqawi story,
post 2003, is a psyops concoction. Sadly for fans of the long-running
black operations soap-opera, it seems the Tin Leg Terrorist will finally
be written out of the show.
fans could see that Zarqawi’s run was over when the ever-obliging
Filkins piped another psyops yarn into New York Times on March
"Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist and the head of
Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, has sharply lowered his profile in recent months,
and his group claims to have submitted itself to the leadership of an
"In postings on Web sites used by jihadi groups, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia,
the terrorist network's arm in Iraq, claims to have joined with five
other guerrilla groups to form the Mujahedeen Shura, or Council of Holy
Warriors. The new group, whose formation was announced in January, is
said to be headed by an Iraqi named Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi. Since
then, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia has stopped issuing its own proclamations."
In fact, things were looking grim for Zarqawi a year ago when breathless
reports surfaced to the effect that he’d been badly wounded and
that following his brush with death a power struggle had broken out
within al-Qaeda in Iraq Incorporated. As Nick Possum remarked on this
site, and in the Sydney City Hub:
"But then the plot had thickened. By Thursday 26 May the mainstream
media were breathlessly reporting that a struggle for succession had
broken out within al-Qaeda Iraq Inc., which was leaking like Australia’s
Liberal Party during a leadership contest. Half the organization was
spending hours on the phone to Western journalists, who were offering
direct quotes from a variety of talkative terrorists. Yeah, right. How
likely is that?
"On that day Donald Rumsfeld, no less, told thousands of US paratroopers
that Zarqawi was cornered like Hitler in his bunker (he must have just
seen the movie). Even hardened observers like me were thinking the scriptwriters
had decided to kill off their creation. Perhaps he’d evaded his
pursuers so often they were looking incompetent. Perhaps they were risking
making him into a kind of Robin Hood.
"But it wasn’t to be. How could they replace an asset as useful
as Zarqawi? Even as Rummy was speaking, the black ops scriptwriters
were moving their prize asset out of harm’s way.
Yes, that’s it. Let’s get him to Iran. That’s more evidence
of Iranian perfidy. Another reason why we should bomb the crap out of
But in the end, the myth of the Satanic Salafi got in the way of the
new line. Making the scourge of the Shiites an ally of Tehran was just
too silly for words, and the man had to go.
how much more of the Zarqawi legend is, shall we say, "greatly
exaggerated"? What about the Nick Berg killing – where Zarqawi
supposedly wielded the knife in the infamous beheading video? That was
back in April 2004, at a time when the Zarqawi letter to Osama bin Laden
letter we now know to be a fake was the centrepiece of the Coalition
psyops campaign. The beheading rescued Bush’s fortunes by providing
the neo-conservative shills with an example of a resistance atrocity
that neatly offset the breaking Abu Ghraib torture story. The authenticity
of the video and scepticism about the role of al-Zarqawi in it surfaced
immediately on the internet, largely because Berg, shortly before his
disappearance, had just been released from US incarceration – where
he had been interrogated because of suspicions he had been involved
in insurgent activities (see Nick Possum’s detailed analysis here
and here and here).
collapse of the Zarqawi myth provides an opportunity for a US lawmaker
of goodwill to demand the opening of the State Department, CIA, FBI
and US military files on the Berg case (including the video records
of his interrogation in Iraq by the FBI).