Zarqawi in Northern Iraq: The Early Days

When Musab Zarqawi and his men arrived in northern Iraq, they found themselves to be very little fish in a fairly large pond, surrounded by various jihadist groups led by various would-be leaders, each of whom no doubt saw themselves the next Osama bin Laden, now that few people knew where he (bin Laden) was or even if he were still alive. Zarqawi, much to his chagrin, made an almost unnoticed appearance. Zarqawi and his men initially aligned themselves with Ansar al Islam, a group made up of Sunni and Kurdish fighters, (note: ten years later, Ansar would dissolve and align with Islamic State of Iraq, the group founded by Zarqawi).

Though all these groups respected and, to an extent, revered Al Qaeda, primarily as a result of the attacks of 9/11 and the fact that Al Qaeda was so well funded, most of them maintained their independence. Curiously, Zarqawi did not initially proclaim his connection with bin Laden. It is possible that he intended, even at that early stage, to upstage the Al Qaeda leader, by declaring himself and his organization an independent group.

Zarqawi knew what he had to do however, and soon, he was making a name for himself among the local jihadists who migrated to this little enclave from all over the Muslim world. Zarqawi quickly began forging ties between Pakistan, Algeria and Morocco, raising money and gaining support from like-minded Islamists the world over. It was inevitable that he would also begin building local control. As a leader and organizer, in spite of his brutality and cruelty, his capabilities had to have been recognized and respected. Military analysts, trained to look objectively across the battlefield, recognized this and soon would realize the magnitude of it.

There were basically two groups of people in this area, vastly different in culture and appearance, but committed to the same objectives. These objectives bound them and superseded their differences. The more local Kurdish fighters intent on exacting revenge on Saddam Hussain, and his (Hussain's) people who had, within the past few short months, killed, through chemical poisoning, more people than had been killed at any point in history in this manner. They (the Kurds) were not as educated and sophisticated as their Arab associates and complained loudly over the Islamist restrictions placed upon their daily lives (these Kurds, though devout Sunni Muslims, were far from fundamentalist and, in their homeland, resented the imposition of the Arabs who demanded they live their lives to Islamist standards). Whenever groups of jihadists gather, or find themselves in proximity to one another (through the male desire to demonstrate dominance or prominence), they initially strive to demonstrate their “purity." Once this has been established, the scale shifts quickly to the use of cruelty to establish their standards of behavior and demand the same from all present.

“They forced our women to wear the body covering burqa, to the fields when they go to attend the sheep herds," the local Kurdish men complained.

The ties that bound them, however, were much stronger. It is likely as well that the locals feared reprisals from their Arab counterparts, if they resisted these restrictions. Zarqawi's people were already gaining a reputation for brutality, even in this small area.

They were in every respect creating a mini-Afghanistan in this area of northeastern Iraq. Musab's people had acquired a quantity of ricin and other easily obtainable chemicals used for making dangerous chemical weapons and had begun experimenting on stray dogs.

Two years later, Zarqawi would finally pledge allegiance to bin Laden and proclaim himself the leader of a group called Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad, the group that eventually became known as Al Qaeda in Iraq, then ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq). It is important to understand the following events that unfolded in these early years and literally "hurled" the heretofore unknown jihadi leader Zarqawi into international “jihadist/terrorist" fame.

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