Zarqawi 101

The Week magazine published a The Week Magazine fantastic primer on Zarqawi, that raised doubts about his operational capabilities back in November 2004.

So does he have links to al Qaida?

That, too, is questionable. In February, U.S. troops discovered a computer disk bearing a long, eloquent letter supposedly written by al-Zarqawi to bin Laden, in which he implores the al Qaida leader to send operatives to fight a holy war in Iraq. But many think the letter is a fake, since the language is too sophisticated for a man with little education. Several weeks ago, however, al-Zarqawi used a Web site to swear allegiance to bin Laden and al Qaida-a sign, say some experts, that he is cornered and desperate. "He was more of an al Qaida competitor," says one U.S. military officer, "and resisted allying with them because he didn't want to be dominated by them."

How important is he, then?

Though the administration has depicted al-Zarqawi as the primary architect of Iraq's postwar carnage, he may be responsible for only a small portion of the resistance. Iraqi guerrillas have told Western journalists that al-Zarqawi commands no more than 500 fighters, and that most Iraqi insurgents are disgusted by his beheadings and his bombing of civilians. Some skeptics think the U.S. has deliberately inflated al-Zarqawi's importance to downplay the widespread scope of the insurgency. "The guy is on the run," said one European intelligence official. "It would be almost impossible for him to calmly plan and execute the operations all over Iraq that some people believe he has done."