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Zarqawi may be hated but so are the Americans (TELEGRAPH UK) By Patrick Bishop in Zarqa 01/29/05)Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/01/29/wirq129.xml DAILY TELEGRAPH DAILY TELEGRAPH Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
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 their faces".

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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