In the parlance of jihad, the hunting down of Zarqawi is a milestone achievement in the war against extremists. Unlike the capture of Saddam Hussein, which was symbolic in nature and psychologically critical so soon after the Iraq campaign ended, or even the tactically important deaths of his sons, who were orchestrating the insurgency in the early aftermath of the war's end, Zarqawi's demise is far more important because it demonstrates:
• That coalition intelligence gathering capacities at the human level are now capable of giving highly accurate and actionable intelligence that increasingly offers the opportunity to gather veritable treasure troves of information from computers, handwritten notes and other forms of communication about jihadist operations that are retrieved from attack sites.
• That there is material dissent within the jihadist framework, whereby a psychopathological and ultra-violent terrorist like Zarqawi can take things so far, in tactics for executing terror strategy, that even his own followers, and perhaps more importantly, mentors and financiers in places like Damascus and Tehran, can come to the conclusion that he's more of a liability than an asset.
• That the Iraqi people have had enough of civil strife and sectarian violence, and like most peace-loving people on Earth, they just want to wake up in the morning, do their jobs, build their families and homes and live free of bombs and extremist influences.
In short, the death of Zarqawi is a defining moment in the birth of a democratic and free Iraq because, unlike the democratic elections that brought representative government to its people, this was a moment at which the people of Iraq used their freedom, and the individual responsibilities that underlie that freedom, to bring about material change in their country's future.
The danger for Iraq in Zarqawi's death is whether the void in jihadist leadership that he left behind can be filled by a continuing and vigorous campaign by Iraqi and coalition forces to root out the rest of his terror infrastructure, or whether the puppet masters in Iran and other neighboring countries will fill the void with a radiation-hardened form of the cancer with which Zarqawi infected Iraq.
The Iraqi people are taking their country back. There is no time to waste in turbo-charging U.S. and coalition efforts to eliminate the scourge of radicalism that has scarred the cradle of civilization.
Mansoor Ijaz is a terrorism analyst and founder and chairman of The Crescent Partnerships, a series of New York-based private equity partnerships focused exclusively on the development of national security technologies. As a private American citizen, Ijaz negotiated Sudan’s counterterrorism offer to the Clinton administration in April 1997, and proposed the framework for a cease-fire of hostilities in Kashmir between Indian security forces and Muslim separatists in August 2000.