The mysterious man behind the beheadings.
The mysterious man behind the beheadings.
Taking stock of people and ideas in the news.
June 29 2004 4:53 PM

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

The mysterious man behind the beheadings.

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Most Iraqis don't see Zarqawi as a hero. And after last week's widespread attacks against Iraqis, even some supporters of the insurgency criticized the strikes and jihadists who seemed to be behind them. But as with Bin Laden, a feedback loop seems to have developed: The United States blames Zarqawi, increasing his street cred and thus the number of insurgents who proclaim fealty to him—giving substance to the initial charge. That might help explain one of the more curious aspects of last week's rebel offensive. Dozens of guerrillas who captured the center of Baquba were wearing headbands showing their loyalty to Zarqawi. It was the first time his supporters have come out in public.

The Bush administration has an obvious motivation to place an Osama-connected outsider at the center of the attacks. And it's possible that this analysis is correct. But one has to wonder: Even if Zarqawi is playing a key role in the Iraqi insurgency, is it wise for the United States to keep giving him credit for it?

Eric Umansky, previously the "Today's Papers" columnist for Slate, is currently a Gordon Grey Fellow at Columbia University's School of Journalism.