Greenfield: A cautionary note
Al-Zarqawi's death is good news, but Iraq's problems will persist
By Jeff Greenfield
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is dead, but will his death lessen the ferocity of the insurgency in Iraq?
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- The death of a man who celebrated indiscriminate killing, and who claimed to have personally beheaded American captive Nicholas Berg, can certainly be seen as unalloyed good news. But if you look at the news of the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the most sought after terrorist in Iraq, through the prism of domestic politics, here's a cautionary note.
Clearly, the U.S. and Iraqi governments were quick to spread the evidence that a highly visible force in the insurgency had been eliminated, and they were careful as well not to use the kind of graphic photographic evidence they used in July 2003, when two sons of Saddam Hussein were killed in Mosul.
But look at what happened then and in the intervening period -- nearly three years -- to American support for Iraq policy. (The Zarqawi effect on U.S. politics -- 1:54)
When Uday and Qusay died, support for the American effort in Iraq was at 60 percent.
By the end of 2003, support had dropped to 50 percent, but then in mid-December 2003, Saddam Hussein was captured -- and support for the Iraq policy jumped to 61 percent.
But since then, approval of the situation in Iraq has fallen almost without a break, in spite of bright spots:
Today, approval of the president's Iraq policy is at 34 percent. The key to whether those numbers get better may well lie in the answer to one question: Will the death of al-Zarqawi lessen the level of violence against Americans and against Iraqis of different religious beliefs?
And here, the words of a high ranking Jordanian intelligence official, quoted in the forthcoming Atlantic magazine, are worth noting: After arguing that the U.S. had vastly exaggerated the role of Zarqawi, the official said, "If Zarqawi is captured or killed tomorrow, the Iraqi insurgency will go on."
The president said as much today, that tough days lie ahead. The question is whether the removal of this one enemy will actually make a difference to the safety and stability of that country, or whether the pattern of sectarian violence will survive the welcome death of a merciless adversary.
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