Whatever happened to what’s-his-name?

by William Bowles • Friday, 3 February, 2006

‘Scourge of Western civilisation’, ‘leader of the insurgency’, ‘al-Queda in Iraq’, ‘Usama’s right-hand man’, the Scarlet Pimpernel of ‘Islamic fundamentalism’, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. For the past couple of years we have been bombarded with stories of the mythical man’s dastardly deeds, then all of a sudden—he disappeared from the headlines.

Well not entirely, in the month of January 2006 I collected 113 stories that mentioned his name of which about 40 are in Western media publications. Scanning the headlines however and we find that the pickings are pretty slim, so slim in fact, most are hardly worth mentioning as they contain nothing of any significance but I suppose they keep some ‘journalists’ employed.

Here are a few of the stories for your amusement

“Lebanon has revealed that members of the cell had plans to establish a military infrastructure in Lebanon with direct links to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head,” Monsters and Critics, 31 January 2006

“Iraqi ‘Militias’ Capture 270 Al Qaeda
… “The group of (Jordanian militant and al-Qaeda pointman) Abu Musab al-Zarqawi did not expect a similar campaign which has dealt them a serious blow,”” Jawa Report – Arlen, TX,USA 30 January 2006

“Bombs Strike Christian Targets in Iraq
… Suspicion fell on Islamic extremists such as al-Qaida in Iraq – led by Jordanian-born terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – that have been responsible for …”, Forbes – USA, January 30 2006

“Abu Musab Zarqawi blamed for more than 700 killings in Iraq … US commander: Al-Zarqawi likely still alive. . Anger, confusion in al-Zarqawi’s home town …” MSNBC, January 25, 2006,

“Al Qaeda Web site hints at rift
BAGHDAD – In a further sign of the rifts emerging within Iraq’s insurgency, Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has stepped aside as the head of a …,” Chicago Tribune, 23 January 2006-02-03

“Al-Zarqawi, Plain and Simple…
The British newspaper, Sunday Times, reported Abu Musab al-Zarqawi sleeps with a bomb-belt in order to be ready to commit suicide if he is ever caught.” January 21, 2006, Zaman Online – Istanbul,Turkey

“Is defiant tape a sign of weakness? … Al-Qa’eda has now “franchised” its methods and ideology to splinter groups around the world – especially to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who has led the jihadists …”, Telegraph.co.uk – United Kingdom, 19 January, 2006.

“Official US agency paints dire picture of ‘out-of-control’ Iraq
… “External fighters and organisations such as al-Qaida and the Iraqi offshoot led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi are gaining in number and notoriety as significant …””, The Observer – UK, January 17, 2006.

You’ll note that every single ‘news’ story is based on hearsay and allegations of links that ‘al-Zarqawi’ has to the ‘insurgency’, to ‘al-Queda’, to ‘jihadists’ but there is not a single story amongst the entire 113 or so that offers a single shred of evidence that the man actually exists let alone heads up the Iraqi ‘branch’ of ‘al-Queda’ or as some stories allege, some kind of ‘franchise’ arrangement, which would be laughable if it wasn’t being used as a basis to wage war on the planet.

Okay, look I could go on with more of this drivel (check the list yourself), the question to ask is why a man who has been labelled as one of the world’s most dangerous and sought-after individuals, with a $25 million bounty on his head, could occupy the headlines and then just as miraculously vanish from view without so much as a by-your-leave?

To understand the role ‘Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’ plays in the propaganda war the West has conducted for the past several years, we have to look to the role such stereotypes play in the West. He is, after all, only the latest in a long line of demons that stretches back for centuries, all of which have a core based on racist stereotypes eg, the ‘savage’, the ‘hook-nosed Arab’, the ‘baby-chowing Jew’, ‘cannibal’ or whatever. All have one thing in common, they invariably have dark skins and are decidedly non-Christian.

They exploit the deeply instilled fears and insecurities that are the product of a society that survives precisely because it is based upon a divide-and-rule system; weak against the powerful, the haves versus the have-nots, black versus white, Christian versus Islam, Catholic versus Protestant…

Having firmly instilled the image into the public’s mind, ‘fanatic’, ‘terrorist’, ‘fundamentalist’ or whatever, the actual person whether real or imaginary, can actually be dispensed with. ‘al-Zarqawi’s’ name can henceforth be safely slipped into any ‘news’ item without recourse to proof, as and when needed, triggering a classic Pavlovian response. All that is required is the occasional insertion here and there, perhaps a tape, an intercepted message, or a press release, purportedly originating with ‘al-Zarawi’ or one or his ‘lieutenants’, to remind us that he’s still alive and kicking Western butt somewhere.

It’s also worth noting that the major corporate/state media are never challenged as to the veracity of their alleged reporting, and those that try to get some kind of proof from the corporate press as to their oft-repeated allegations concerning ‘al-Zarqawi’s’ escapades rarely if ever get a response.

The way ‘al-Zarqawi’ gets used in ‘news’ items follows a tried and trusty formula; ‘it is alleged’, ‘according to reports’, ‘sources tell us’, ‘my sources’, or some third-party story that is itself based upon the same elusive ‘sources’ is always the basis for every story on ‘al-Zarqawi’. Nothing else is required, ‘al-Zarqawi’ has been transformed into a legend that requires no proof; nobody is going to come forward and accuse the corporate media of spreading a pack of lies as there’s nothing actually for the media to prove, all its sources are invisible or unnamed based upon a set of assumptions that the chief editors have no need to justify.

Ask yourself why not a single journalist has ever gotten within spitting distance of ‘al-Zarqawi’? Ask yourself why even third-party connections to ‘al-Zarqawi’ are almost impossible to track down aside from the man’s family who say he’s dead (one or two stories surfaced on this but never made it to the front-page or on television news broadcasts).

The reality is an unholy alliance between the state and the media who work in close collaboration with each other. Step out of line and the diplomatic correspondent, foreign editor or whoever, lose their access to the corridors of power and within a short time, they can kiss their well-paid jobs goodbye.

Investigating the sources of every story on ‘al-Zarqawi’ leads back to the state—either the US, the UK or an ally such as Israel, Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Italy, Australia. I challenge any corporate/state news organisation to produce a single, independent and verifiable source on the existence of ‘al-Zarqawi’.

Ultimately, the ‘al-Zarqawis’ are part of an arsenal of propaganda tools whose major function is to disguise the real nature of events and their causes. Thus in Iraq the ‘insurgents’ are led, not by indigenous Iraqis whose only objective is the expulsion of the foreign occupier, but by a foreigner whose objective is the destruction of ‘Western civilisation’.

Just as in the occupation of Vietnam, the ‘insurgents’, the so-called Vietcong, were portrayed as the dupes or proxies of a foreign power, the Soviet Union and/or China, whose real aim was also the overthrow of ‘Western civilisation.’

So too in another US-inspired and backed war, the so-called civil war in Angola, where it was the Cubans, who in turn, were the proxies for the Soviet Union. And again in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Grenada and Panama, it’s all so predictable it gets tedious.

Of course, search the corporate media for anything that links these events together, that makes connections such as the ones they are all too ready to make between the Iraqi resistance and ‘al-Zarqawi’ and you’ll search in vain. Hey, it was all part of the ‘Cold War’; it’s all conveniently part of ‘history’ now and hence can be relegated to academia. No need to bring up such uncomfortable realities and for good reason, for once such connections are made, it calls into question the current round of lying and deception being practiced on an already un-informed public.

The results of such venomous deception and demonisation are all too apparent; an atmosphere of hatred for Muslims and Islam which in turn has fuelled the most reactionary elements who purport to represent Islam to respond in kind. If anything points to the intimate relationship between reactionary side of Islam and the West it’s the way they feed off each other, whether for the same or different objectives; the mullahs of Iran, anxious to hang onto power, who need an external enemy or the West, who also need an external enemy to justify their equally reactionary programme.

We need look no further than the unholy relationship between the Reagan government of the 1980s and the Khomeini regime (with the Israelis as middleman), where an identical deception was played on an ignorant public. Even as Reagan branded Iran as evil in public it was doing deals, selling the mullahs weapons.

So whilst acres of words are spawned, indeed an entire industry has been created around ‘al-Zarqawi’ and fortunes made, no such industry exists to investigate the double-dealing and hypocrisy of successive US and British governments.

The media’s role is all too apparent when we look at the current hysteria surrounding the cartoons depicting Mohammed, cartoons I might add that were first published months ago without any comment by the media at the time. So why so different this time around? The answer is obvious; during the intervening months the media’s Islam hysteria has reached a new peak and is clearly linked to the failure of the occupation and the never-ending ‘revelations’ concerning Blair and Bush’s lying duplicity about the reasons for the invasion and its abject failure; the increasing effectiveness of the resistance and hence the need to divert attention away from the reality of the imperium’s objectives.

It follows exactly the same route that led to the Cold War and with the same predictable results with each side seeking justification for evermore extreme responses in a cycle of negative feedback that has no end, precisely the result both sides want.

It’s worth noting too, the way the media reports the latest ‘revelations’; the leaked conversation between Bush and Blair that took place in January 2003. The differences between the BBC’s coverage and the Guardian (which first published extracts from the book by Philippe Sands) are instructive and illustrate not only the differences between the state’s propaganda mouthpiece, the BBC and a nominally independent corporate news organ and the way ‘al-Zarqawi’ has been reported.

First the BBC:

Mr Blair is quoted as saying he was “solidly with the president and ready to do whatever it took to disarm Saddam”.

The Guardian:

A memo of a two-hour meeting between the two leaders at the White House on January 31 2003 – nearly two months before the invasion – reveals that Mr Bush made it clear the US intended to invade whether or not there was a second UN resolution and even if UN inspectors found no evidence of a banned Iraqi weapons programme.

The BBC:

The book claims Mr Blair only wanted a second UN Security Council resolution because it would make it easier politically to deal with Saddam.

The Guardian:

“The diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning”, the president told Mr Blair. The prime minister is said to have raised no objection. He is quoted as saying he was “solidly with the president and ready to do whatever it took to disarm Saddam”.

The BBC:

And it says Mr Bush told Mr Blair the US “was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colours”.

If Saddam fired on them, the Iraqis would be in breach of UN resolutions, he suggested.

The Guardian:

Mr Bush told Mr Blair that the US was so worried about the failure to find hard evidence against Saddam that it thought of “flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft planes with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colours”. Mr Bush added: “If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach [of UN resolutions]”.

The BBC:

Mr Bush is also quoted saying it was possible an Iraqi figure would defect and be able to give a “public presentation” of weapons of mass destruction.

The Guardian;

Mr Bush even expressed the hope that a defector would be extracted from Iraq and give a “public presentation about Saddam’s WMD”. He is also said to have referred Mr Blair to a “small possibility” that Saddam would be “assassinated”.

The BBC:

The note said Mr Bush thought there was also “a small possibility that Saddam would be assassinated”.

The Guardian:

Mr Blair told the US president that a second UN resolution would be an “insurance policy”, providing “international cover, including with the Arabs” if anything went wrong with the military campaign, or if Saddam increased the stakes by burning oil wells, killing children, or fomenting internal divisions within Iraq.

The BBC fails to mention this and much of the rest of the extremely relevant information such as Blair’s assurances to Parliament. Instead, it offers us this:

The BBC:

A Downing Street spokeswoman told BBC News the events leading up to the war had been thoroughly investigated.

The Guardian’s story is much more effusive:

On February 25 2003 – three weeks after his trip to Washington – Mr Blair told the Commons that the government was giving “Saddam one further, final chance to disarm voluntarily”.

He added: “Even now, today, we are offering Saddam the prospect of voluntary disarmament through the UN. I detest his regime – I hope most people do – but even now, he could save it by complying with the UN’s demand. Even now, we are prepared to go the extra step to achieve disarmament peacefully.”

Mr Blair told the US president that a second UN resolution would be an “insurance policy”, providing “international cover, including with the Arabs” if anything went wrong with the military campaign, or if Saddam increased the stakes by burning oil wells, killing children, or fomenting internal divisions within Iraq.

The meeting between Mr Bush and Mr Blair, attended by six close aides, came at a time of growing concern about the failure of any hard intelligence to back up claims that Saddam was producing weapons of mass destruction in breach of UN disarmament obligations. It took place a few days before the then US secretary Colin Powell made claims – since discredited – in a dramatic presentation at the UN about Iraq’s weapons programme.

The contrast is striking insofar as the Guardian’s story also gives us context and some history, almost entirely missing from the BBC story, which has only four perfunctory comments paraphrased from government sources about the leaked document. And I might add that the BBC in this case can’t claim lack of space or time as an excuse, its report is online and the Guardian’s appeared in print. It surely should be obvious to anyone reading these two stories that the BBC has been less than forthcoming with the facts, even when it has them to hand.

Read both reports in full, side-by-side.

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