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Amanpour: An important step, but not the end

Zarqawi's influence was already waning says CNN's Amanpour.


On the Scene
Christiane Amanpour

(CNN) -- CNN's Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour told CNN news anchors Michael Holmes and Adrian Finighan that the death of Abu Masab al-Zarqawi is an important step -- but will not stop the Iraq insurgency.

Christiane Amanpour: America's top commander, General George Casey, pretty much laid it out: This an important day because the icon of this violent brand of terrorism has been killed -- but this does not signal the end of this type of violence.

Even though Zarqawi, the face, potentially the operational head, certainly the morale booster, the recruiting head of al Qaeda in Iraq, has now been eliminated, there are many, many others who are there to fill the operational gaps.

Certainly we have seen this over the past several years since the insurgency has taken hold, that with every announcement of the death or the capture or the killing of senior figures in these movements, it does not signify a downturn in the intensity of the insurgency.

Rather it continues, and some would say it continues to get stronger.

As Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari acknowledged, it is not just al Qaedaism that is creating this violence in Iraq right now and this incredible instability but it is this now almost entrenched homegrown sectarian violence which is happening to a great extent within the within the Shia community, between Shia and Sunni and vice versa, militia, revenge squads, death squads, all this kind of thing that is going on unabated and unchecked until now.

There is a two pronged solution really to Iraq. One is to deny the insurgents any kind of support, sanctuary and ability to operate within the public.

The other is to try to haul Iraq back out of the mire of the debilitating sectarian violence and try with this new government which has now named its important posts of defense and interior ministers away from the brink and back into an ability to work towards a unified government rather than for individual political, ethnic, religious and sectarian needs.

It's a huge moment but it is a moment which is as important for the internal sectarian strife as it is for the killing of the leader of the foreign jihadis in Iraq.

Q: In terms of notoriety Zarqawi's reputation was as bad as Osama bin Laden -- he had a $25 million bounty on his head.

Amanpour: Yes, Zarqawi came to prominence shortly after the invasion of Iraq, which was a successful invasion in the deposing of Saddam Hussein but quickly turned into a very grueling counter-insurgency operation that still continues.

Zarqawi has always been the identifiable face of this insurgency. But his group had mostly been involved in the most gruesome attacks -- the kidnappings, the beheadings, the sectarian violence that he has tried to foment into full scale civil war.

This started in the summer of 2003 shortly after the invasion -- two huge explosions in Iraq: the bomb attack against the U.N. compound which killed the head of the U.N. operation there, Sergio Vieira de Mello and 22 others; the bomb attack in Najaf which killed Senior Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim and many, many Shiites down there -- all of this in an attempt to create what Zarqawi kept saying, a bin-Laden style Sunni caliphate inside Iraq.

Over the last several months there has been a perceived waning of his influence with the bulk of the insurgency really being carried out by Iraqi nationalists --whatever grouping you want to call them, Saddam loyalists, people who just don't to deal with the current situation in Iraq.

Interestingly Zarqawi really operated mostly in the shadows, posting messages and sayings on his Web site -- just this past April he sent out this video tape and already people are saying, and we'll hear this perhaps from General Casey when more operational details will come out about the raid which killed Zarqawi -- that potentially this video that was sent out could have started laying the seeds towards the intelligence that actually led to him.

There have been significant attempts to try to get Zarwaqi over the past few years, the invasion of Falluja was one of those attempts, back in 2004. They say they came close to getting him several times but each time missed him.

It's obviously important whenever you get the face of an organization, it's important, an important moment, it deals a moral blow, an organizational defeat, a blow to these people. But Zarqawi has not just been conducting terrorism inside Iraq against civilians, against the U.S. personnel -- for instance he was considered the one who actually did the beheading of Nicolas Berg, the first American who was beheaded there back in 2003.

But he also has been exporting terrorism, responsible for the three hotel bombings in Amman, Jordan in November last year. So he was increasingly becoming dangerous globally yet all the officials there have said today, this is not the moment to say the insurgency is by any means over -- it is just an important step.

Q.: To what extent could his death inflame the situation, that his supporters will become even more determined?

Amanpour: There is that possibility. When you talk to American commanders there, they talk about the breakdown of who these insurgents are. And by and large they believe that the so-called foreign jihadis, the al Qaeda types, were coming from different Arab countries actually only form the small part of the insurgency -- the bulk of the insurgency is Iraqi and that is not where Zarqawi's main power was.

There has been, even in the last several months when I was there back in December during the elections, talk about the local Iraqis getting very angry at the way Zarqawi was conducting this campaign of insurgency because it was going against the people of Iraq, and really creating so much violence against the people of Iraq. So there was an attempt already several months ago to try to foment splits within the insurgency movement.

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