Thursday, June 15, 2006

Zarqawi: the Sequel

This typically ponderous Timesian headline leapt out from today's edition of What the Government Told Us So it Must Be True:

U.S. Portrayal Helps Flesh Out Zarqawi's Heir

The byline is "Dexter Filkins" who -- let's face it -- sounds a martini-mixing valet from a Noel Coward play.

The story begins:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 15 -- American military officers on Thursday put a face on the new chief of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, releasing a photograph and details of the man they say succeeded Abu Musab al-Zarqawi after he was killed in an airstrike last week.

In a news briefing, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the American military spokesman here, identified Mr. Zarqawi's successor as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian who he said had trained in one of the terrorist camps in Afghanistan run by Al Qaeda in 1999.
Mr. Masri, he said, was a "founding member" of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and had become one of Mr. Zarqawi's "closest remaining associates."

Here's the translation: Since the U.S. military killed the former terror mastermind who single-handedly was preventing them from victory in Operation Fill'er Up Unleaded, a murder they can use as proof that they are vanquishing the "insuregents," they have created another straw man, a new terror "mastermind" that they can use as an alibi for why they still cannot finish off the "insurgents."

Sure enough, the head shot of this newcomer looks like it came from the "Terrorist" photo file at Central Casting -- a somber young man wearing a white kaffiyeh and robe, a well-groomed moustache and van Dyke, staring vacantly into a camera. Actually, it looks more like his camel driver's license I.D. Above the photo is inscribed:

Abu Ayyub al-Masri
AKA Sheik Abu Hamza al-Muhajer

as if he was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list.

Mr. Filkins, after drawing his master's bath, continues:

General Caldwell said Mr. Masri — the name means "the Egyptian" in Arabic — was the same person as Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, whom Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia declared as its new leader in an Internet posting this week.

"The Egyptian"? Sounds like a professional wrestler. Also, it's interesting to note that the Iraqi Al Qaeda franchise proclaimed its new leader not by staging a grandiose ceremony but by putting it on the Net, like a pimply-faced sophomore posting at MySpace. Did "the Egyptian" added a profile with his top ten sheiks and favorite jihadists? Hell, if the announcement had been any more understated, they'd have been handing out fliers. "Check it out, we have a new leader, check it out."

Both names are thought to be pseudonyms.

Ah, so they really don't know who this guy is.

Shortly after Mr. Zarqawi was killed, American officials predicted that Mr. Masri was the likely successor.

Or do they? Was his emergence predicted? Accepted with a sigh of relief? "Whew! We finally filled the terror mastermind vacuum." Or, taking it one step further, was he somehow chosen by Washington to play the role of Zarqawi for a while? Did they audition people? If so, was it an open call, or did you have to be referred by an agent?

AGENT (to U.S. military): Listen, I got this great new kid, he's fresh, did some under-fives in Al-Qaeda training videos, does his own stunts: IEDs, car bombs, the whole nine yards...he's perfect for "Zarqawi, the Sequel."

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