No Different, More Complex

Iraq's terrorist organizations did not allow the Iraqi government and the coalition forces to reap the fruits of the major intelligence and operational coup they scored by killing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. A few hours after his death was announced, a large bomb went off in Baghdad, causing casualties.

Because terror in Iraq is spawned by several organizations, some overlapping, some operating separately. U.S. and Iraqi intelligence officials list at least 15 "known" terrorist organizations, including the Islamic Army (comprised, despite its name, of former Baathists with no special religious affiliation), the Mujahedeen Army (a Sunni organization), and the Islamic Resistance (affiliated with the Moslem Brotherhood), as well as several Shi'ite and Kurdish organizations. In addition, dozens of armed gangs are active in Iraq, some of which team up, when expedient, with larger organizations such as that of Zarqawi.

All of these groups are currently feeding off the enormous sectarian enmity between Sunnis and Shi'ites that has been escalating for the past two years and reached its peak with the bombing of the mosques in Samarra in February. This was the fertile ground on which Zarqawi was able to build an organized and effective network of operatives, recruiters, agents and terrorists under the name "al-Qaida in Iraq." In this way, Zarqawi conferred a local identity on an organization that is supposed to serve radical Islam's struggle worldwide.

This, incidentally, is also the background to the bitter ideological battle between Zarqawi and Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's deputy, who demanded that Zarqawi stop attacking Shi'ites so that Muslim forces could be united against the common enemy - the Americans and their allies.

Zarqawi rejected this demand. Familiar with Iraq's deep sectarian divisions, he understood that Zawahiri's proposal would mean giving up any prospect of a unified Sunni front against the occupation, and would also simply relocate Iraq's sectarian strife to the ranks of other Sunni organizations that had hitherto cooperated with him.

Instead, therefore, he continued to expand his Iraqi network, building it up as a disciplined army comprised of local units. Thus, for instance, he operated independent terrorist cells in Mosul, Baghdad, Basra and Anbar; each of these cells made its own decisions on carrying out attacks, based on the targets that presented themselves. Essentially, Zarqawi viewed himself as the supreme commander of a coalition of organizations in Iraq rather than as a symbol of al-Qaida like bin Laden.

This structure will enable these independent cells to continue operating even with Zarqawi gone. That, of course, is no surprise; terrorist organizations in many countries have continued to function, or even grown stronger, after their leader was captured or killed. Usually, the slain leader is promptly replaced. In this respect, Iraq is no different from any other country. It is merely more complex, thanks to the sectarian strife.