The front page of the Washington Post today devotes less space to the death of Abu Musab Zarqawi than it does to a story on a 12-year-old black boy and his parents, "The Young Apprentice." The latter is part of a Post series on "Being a Black Man," includes a handsome three-column photograph on the front page, and looks to be a worthy piece of journalism (I haven't read much on the jump pages). But it does seem strange that it gets more space than the Zarqawi story. Weird.
The front-page Zarqawi lead story by Ellen Knickmeyer is very downbeat. Here's the lead:
Analysts and military spokesmen said Thursday that the death of insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, killed Wednesday when two 500-pound bombs obliterated his hideout north of Baghdad, will not extinguish the sectarian conflict that he helped foment and that is now claiming many more lives in Iraq than his campaign of beheadings and bombings.
Who are these analysts? On the jump on Page A20 we find: Michael Clarke, "an expert on terrorism at the International Policy Institute of King's College London"; Abdel Bari Atwan, "editor of the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper and a noted Palestinian observer of international militant [sic] groups"; retired Marine Lt. Col. Dale Davis, "a former intelligence officer still active in the Middle East"; and Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Clarke thinks the cycle of sectarian violence "is probably past the point of no return." Atwan says that al Qaeda was helped because Zarqawi was "an unmanageable bully." Davis says Americans overestimated the effect of previous victories like the capture of Saddam Hussein. Cordesman says that Zarqawi will become a martyr and his death may inspire more insurgents. All of which, I suppose, are arguable points. But Knickmeyer presents a more optimistic appraisal from "military officials" in the eighth and ninth paragraphs:
The U.S. military focused Thursday on the potential impact of Zarqawi's killing on the Sunni insurgency. Without Zarqawi, military officials contended, the insurgency lacks its main fundraiser and figurehead. 'He's been really at the forefront in terms of being able to recruit and bring in foreign fighters, so this definitely will disrupt the effort,' said one military official familiar with the hunt for Zarqawi.
"No one behind him had the kind of charisma and operational intellect that he brought to the table," the official said. "Our hope is no one can step in, and you end up with fragmentation and perhaps dissension among his followers."
But this doesn't really offset the bleak prognostications presented in the rest of the piece. As a friend and longtime journalist whom I bumped into this morning said, this article makes it seem as if the death of Zarqawi was a setback.
I should note that the Post ran four other articles on the demise of Zarqawi, not all of them echoing Knickmeyer's tone.