How Zarqawi’s terror network morphed into ISIS

Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was one of those who idolized Osama bin Laden

Octavia Nasr
Octavia Nasr
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Forgetting is one of our survival mechanisms and, thankfully, it works most of the time when dealing with trauma or painful memories. However, forgetting history can yield unpleasant results; while constantly picking and choosing what to remember and what to forget is a disaster.

When in conflict, people seem to refer to the very last thing that triggered their reaction. They focus more on the end result rather than the root of the problem. In the Middle East the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has always taken center stage. It served as an excuse for many extreme political views to thrive and terrorist groups to form.

Remember Osama bin Laden’s diatribes in which he blamed his terrorism on the mistreatment of Palestinians at the hands of Israel and its “accomplice” America. That was one of the main reasons why he claimed he was determined to “bring America to its knees.” Many others around the world joined him and set up their own franchise of al-Qaeda.

Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was one of those who idolized the terror leader and had a desire to go even further. He came to Iraq following the fall of Baghdad where he set up his Islamic “Emirate” and lured disillusioned and brainwashed young men to participate in his own version of Jihad.

In ten years, Zarqawi’s terror network grew exponentially in size and brutality

Octavia Nasr

His pledge of allegiance to bin Laden was not quickly accepted. Even for bin Laden, Zarqawi seemed harsh and ad-hoc. Lest you forgot, Zarqawi’s Islamic State of Iraq also known as al-Qaeda in Iraq is the genesis of what is known today as ISIS.


Let us remember that Iraq under the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein had no Zarqawi, bin Laden, nor al-Qaeda of any kind. George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 under the pretext of fighting al-Qaeda and ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction was utterly frugal and unfounded. Saddam Hussein was secular and the archenemy of any religious fundamentalist group; but Bush and his warmongers were intent on war to eliminate Saddam Hussein.

With the introduction and quick rise of brutal Zarqawi, the solution seemed to be then nabbing Zarqawi in an air raid and pretending this is the end of his terror.

In ten years, Zarqawi’s terror network grew exponentially in size and brutality. It morphed into ISIS, a serious regional - soon to be international - threat. Suffice it to remember that the region has been a fertile ground for infiltration and terrorism to understand the real problem and do something about it.

This article was first published in al-Nahar on July 1, 2014.


Multi-award-winning journalist Octavia Nasr served as CNN’s senior editor of Middle Eastern affairs, and is regarded as one of the pioneers of the use of social media in traditional media. She moved to CNN in 1990, but was dismissed in 2010 after tweeting her sorrow at the death of Hezbollah’s Mohammed Fadlallah. Nasr now runs her own firm, Bridges Media Consulting, whose main aim is to help companies better leverage the use of social networks.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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