Next target: Zarqawi's global web
The slain leader was developing a wider terror network, particularly in Europe.
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US forces have "had a steady drum beat of operations against the Al Qaeda network here in Iraq since the Zarqawi operation," Gen. George Casey, commander of multinational forces in Iraq, told Fox News on Sunday. "We will continue to go after [Zarqawi's] network and disrupt it in what we feel is a very vulnerable period. And so we hope to take advantage of that."Skip to next paragraph
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Zarqawi's top followers will assume that US forces are exploiting the new leads, says Gunaratna. "Some key operatives will change their venue and their methods," he says. "They will know that Zarqawi's material has been compromised."
The ultimate value of the intelligence from "such a big event" as last week's raids "depends on how [Zarqawi's network is] organized. The goal is always to cut off the head," says a US official in Baghdad familiar with terrorism investigations.
"Think about it like a corporation. The little guy is going to have information about his boss, who will know about the subdivision - the best thing is to get them all," says the official. "But not everybody is organized that way; it is not necessarily a hierarchy."
Indeed, Zarqawi's network appeared to operate alongside - not necessarily over - a broader Iraqi insurgency. Last January Zarqawi helped form the Mujahideen Shura Council, bringing together several Sunni insurgent groups that share Al Qaeda's ideology of turning Iraq into an Islamic state.
"His Shura Council is 80 percent Iraqi, so [US and Iraqi forces] will continue to hunt those people," says Gunaratna. "But Zarqawi has made this group very Iraqi. He has seeded his ideas and values to those Iraqis."
Indeed, Zarqawi's adherents seem to be working on revenge. A string of attacks have continued unabated in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, killing an average 19 people a day over the past three days.
Also Saturday, a more prescient clue: a gruesome video on the Internet of the beheading of three uniformed Shiites, that were claimed in the video to be members of a death squad - a tactic often used by Zarqawi himself against Western hostages.
"Iraq is the front defense line for Islam and Muslims, so don't fail to follow the path of the mujahideen [holy warriors], the caravan of martyrs and the faithful," said Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi, the Iraqi leader of Council.
"As for you, the slaves of the cross [Christian coalition forces], the grandsons of Ibn al-Alqami [Shiites], and every infidel of the Sunnis, we can't wait to sever your necks with our swords," warned Mr. Baghdadi, according to an Associated Press translation of the Internet statement.
But the ability of Zarqawi's acolytes to produce and disseminate such videos also may prove to undermine such technically savvy groups.
"They have to keep track of all these little cells they have, and contacts. And the fact that so many have computer training is a temptation to put everything on a hard drive, because who can memorize all those individuals and aliases?" says Radu, of FPRI, about Al Qaeda leaders. "The electronic age is a double-edged sword for them, because it makes them vulnerable if those things are captured."