Zarqawi may be hated but so are the Americans (TELEGRAPH UK) By Patrick Bishop in Zarqa 01/29/05)
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Grimy, rubbish-strewn Zarqa´s sole claim to fame is that it is the
home town of the most bloodthirsty terrorist on the loose in Iraq.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, drunkard and thug turned born-again jihadist,
is doing everything in his power to wreck the elections in Iraq.
Yesterday, expatriate Iraqis turned up at a heavily protected polling
centre in the Jordanian town´s main school to defy Zarqawi and his
ilk and to declare their faith in their country´s future.
"I´m here because voting is going to change things for the better,"
said Mohammed Hussein, 22, who left southern Iraq for Jordan two
years ago. "Zarqawi is a criminal and a terrorist."
Another young voter, Massen Ali, chipped in: "If we find him we´ll
cut him to pieces. We alone can liberate our country."
Zarqawi, of course, is not Iraqi but Jordanian. He is a lower-class
member of the important Bani Hassan tribe whose area borders Iraq and
who are among the Hashemite monarchy´s biggest supporters.
According to legend, after a dissolute adolescence he underwent a
transcendental conversion and went to fight in Afghanistan.
On his return he was jailed by the Jordanians. After an amnesty, he
returned to Afghanistan before travelling to northern Iraq to join a
Sunni terrorist group.
Zarqawi´s foreignness and appalling methods make it easy for Iraqis
to hate him. "No one from our country could do something like that,"
they say. That does not mean that they disagree with his ultimate
goal of driving the Americans out.
Voters see no contradiction in the fact that the American soldiers
who made the election possible are the same people they are most
eager to see the back of.
"No one here is against the resistance," said Sabah, 33. "No nation
can accept occupation. If an American soldier has his head cut off,
then no one is going to condemn that. Killing civilian contractors
and so on is another matter though."
Most of the voters are Shias answering the call of their spiritual
leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to support the poll. Everyone
seemed to be backing his list, No 169, the United Iraqi Alliance.
Everyone hoped the election would be the start of a period of
stability, prosperity and reconciliation with the Sunni minority
under whose rule they suffered for so long.
In Zarqa´s main shopping street a mile away from the polling station
it was hard to find such positive sentiments among the merchants and
customers, many of whom made the Iraqi exiles sound like Lib-Dems.
"The elections can never work," said Omar Quadi, part-owner of a
large and bustling pastry shop. "As long as the occupation is in
place it can only drive Iraqis apart."
As for Zarqawi, he said: "I don´t know why there´s a fuss about his
methods. What´s the difference between knocking someone´s head off
with a bomb like the Americans do and cutting it off with a knife?
The result is the same."
Hisham Kreishan, a local journalist, said: "Zarqawi is not a
terrorist. He´s a freedom fighter. All Jordanians are proud of him as
a mujahid who is defending an Arab country."
Both men are middle-aged and relatively prosperous. They live in a
country which is doing well out of the war and where the prospect of
a free and open society under a modernising king is always
tantalisingly just around the corner.
It is a measure of the region´s problems that someone like Zarqawi
can arouse their admiration. Zarqawi, like Osama bin Laden (whose
disciple he was meant to be but, according to the best intelligence,
has never met) is attractive because he seems to have principles. No
matter how warped they may be, he appears to stick to them.
"When he was in prison he earned the respect of the other inmates by
his disciplined approach," said a Jordanian close to the family. "His
followers weren´t allowed to speak to other prisoners and the
television in their area was covered with black plastic so they would
not see images of women.
"But he was also kind. One of his men had had both his legs blown
off. He would help him to the bathroom every day and wash him." The
indulgence shown to Zarqawi stems from the fact that his activities -
attacking the Americans - have the support of an alarming number of
people in Jordan.
"Ten years ago the enemy for Jordanians was Israel," said a middle-
class Jordanian. "Now it´s the Americans. They talk about human
rights but everyone knows that as long as a regime supports American
foreign policy it can basically do what it wants."
According to a cautious diplomat in Amman, "at an emotional level
across Jordan there´s a continuous wish for the Americans to fall on
That feeling stretches way beyond Jordan´s borders. It seems unlikely
that tomorrow´s elections, even if deemed a success, will do much to
change it. (© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004. 01/29/05)
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