The claim from Iraq’s al-Qaeda that today’s Jordan hotel bombings were their doing appeared on a website often used to post similar announcements.
The website said the hotels were targeted because they had become favorites of “American and Israeli intelligence and other Western European governments”. Militant Abu Musab Zarqawi, widely recognized as the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, was born in Jordan.
The dead were:
Of course, scores of others were injured.
There are numerous writeups on this tragedy throughout the world, among them a fairly extensive study put together by BBC News here. I’ve borrowed from that source the substance of the following paragraph:
Zarqawi’s youth was spent as a petty criminal in Jordan, remembered by those who knew him as a simple, quick-tempered, and barely literate gangster. He spent seven years in prison there, accused of conspiring to overthrow the monarchy and establish an Islamic caliphate. Jordan tried him in absentia and sentenced him to death for allegedly plotting attacks on American and Israeli tourists.
Many critics of the war in Iraq would say that the inevitable expansion of the conflict to neighboring countries will now begin, and that the region will become more and more unstable by the moment.
Be that as it may, in my view this action by Zarqawi bears the imprint of a man with a long festering grudge, and not the imprint of a man who has made a sound strategic decision. Some might say that it bears a striking resemblence to our own invasion of Iraq. We all know that Bush had a score to settle with Saddam.
It may also be a very serious mistake on the part of Zarqawi.
The thinking goes something like this: our invasion of Iraq knocked out of commission the one man in that region known to be an enemy of al-Qaeda, Saddam. It opened Iraq wide to the influx of thousands of terrorists, among them Zarqawi. Thanks to the Gulf War, economic sanctions and ten years of near daily ‘No Fly Zone’ bombings by the U.S., Saddam was a very weak player in every way but one. He kept al-Qaeda out of Iraq and either out, or under control every other Islamic fundamentalist whose sworn mission was to dislodge his highly secular government. Our blatant intrusion into the region is considered by many to be a major strategic blunder in that we have angered or alienated a large portion of the Islamic world.
So, as the thinking goes, we took on a non-player to satisfy a grudge and wound up chopping off our nose to spite our face.
But what kind of player in the region is Jordan? Two thirds of its population is Palestinian, the very people al-Qaeda is sworn to protect. Jordan has no wealth or strategic value of import, and has been occasionally criticized for allowing terrorists and other al-Qaeda supporters to operate there. In fact, it’s thought that most of Jordan’s population, of which Zarqawi has just killed or maimed a fair number, has been at least sympathetic to the efforts of Islamic fundamentalists in Iraq and elsewhere.
The prime minister of Palestine is quoted as saying, “We condemn this attack vehemently. It’s a criminal attack that targeted innocent civilians.”
What could Zarqawi possibly gain by attacking Jordan? Revenge? Wanted to pick an easy target to send a message to the West? I see it as a very foolish move to satisfy a personal grudge. And I believe it will likely end much of the tolerance, if not outright support, that he has enjoyed in that region to date. He has made a blatant intrusion into a small, weak country that has no meaningful relevance to Iraq or what he’s doing there. The comparison of Zarqawi’s intrusion into Jordan with that of Saddam’s into Kuwait, or, for that matter, with ours into Iraq is tempting.
I see it as the beginning of the end of al-Zarqawi, and the irony is poignant.
Incidentally, The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israelis staying at one of the hotels Wednesday had been evacuated before the attacks and escorted back home “apparently due to a specific security threat.” The intelligence in this matter appears to have been very good, at least for some.