Al-Zarqawi's gone, but fear remains

Iraqis wonder what his death will change

June 09, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAGHDAD, Iraq --Haifa Hassan stared with blank sadness toward a spot on her living room carpet when asked about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death.

The larger-than-life terrorist had little to do with the killing of her 12-year-old son, whose crumpled body was found beaten, burned and strangled after local criminals kidnapped him two weeks ago. The family had raised $10,000 in ransom. It was not enough.

"The terrorists are here now, here among us," said Hassan, whose face wore a faraway look. "They did terrible things to my son. They are criminals. This is their work."

"They still exist," she said, her hands in her lap.

As news of al-Zarqawi's death settled into homes across the country, Iraqis at lunch tables and in living rooms found themselves wondering what, if anything, would be different. A relentless stream of killings and kidnappings has choked off the routines of life to a trickle, and the death of al-Zarqawi, while welcome, did not seem likely to stop the violence.

The painful, familiar beat resumed almost immediately. Five young women, one of them pregnant, were gunned down in a drive-by shooting outside a university, and six bombs, four of them in cars, killed 37 people and wounded 85 in largely Shiite areas in Baghdad.

Late yesterday, the government imposed a Friday curfew for Baghdad from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., during time for Friday prayers, and a nighttime curfew in Diyalo province, where al-Zarqawi was killed, until further notice.

"Zarqawi is part of a story, and this story will not end when he is finished," said Dhia Majid, a university professor whose brother, a pediatrician, and his wife, a pharmacist, were shot dead in western Baghdad last summer. "It's not Iraq, it's a slaughterhouse."

The skepticism springs from how Iraqis see the violence here. Al-Zarqawi is part of a larger galaxy of gangs and criminal groups that kill and kidnap with virtual impunity as the state watches helplessly. In the past year, the killing has shifted from spectacular suicide bombings, often attributed to al-Zarqawi, to assassinations, kidnappings and other criminal violence, and many Iraqis say they are now more afraid of the latter.

A central worry was that al-Zarqawi had progressed so far in his work of dividing Iraqis that the thick new flow of bodies from assassinations by Sunni and Shiite militias will continue without him. Three years of violence has sown hate in many hearts.

"Now it is worse than just explosions," said a young Shiite woman who works as a secretary for a government official and who felt it was inappropriate for her to speak for attribution. "My family, they are not aggressive, but it's the feeling inside, the hatred. They believe Sunnis are doing all of this."

Mazin Obeid Khalaf, lunching in one of Baghdad's social clubs, said Iraq's poverty and lack of education provided fertile ground for religious extremism.

"The religious parties, this is the most dangerous part," he said. "Shorts are not allowed; cardamom is not good with tomatoes; the whole spectrum of killing."

Still, al-Zarqawi was a "symbol of killing, of the division between Sunni and Shiite," and at least Iraqis are rid of him, he said.

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