The New York Times
May 6, 2006
Not All See Video Mockery of Zarqawi as Good Strategy
By C. J. CHIVERS
An effort by the American military to discredit the terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi by showing video outtakes of him fumbling with a machine gun — suggesting that he lacks real fighting skill — was questioned yesterday by retired and active American military officers.
The video clips, released on Thursday to news organizations in Baghdad, show the terrorist leader confused about how to handle an M-249 squad automatic weapon, known as the S.A.W., which is part of the American inventory of infantry weapons.
The American military, which said it captured the videotapes in a recent raid, released selected outtakes in an effort to undermine Mr. Zarqawi's image as leader of the Council of Holy Warriors, formerly Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and suggested that his fighting talents and experience were less than his propaganda portrays. But several veterans of wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, as well as active-duty officers, said in telephone interviews yesterday that the clips of Mr. Zarqawi's supposed martial incompetence were unconvincing.
The weapon in question is complicated to master, and American soldiers and marines undergo many days of training to achieve the most basic competence with it. Moreover, the weapon in Mr. Zarqawi's hands was an older variant, which makes its malfunctioning unsurprising. The veterans said Mr. Zarqawi, who had spent his years as a terrorist surrounded by simpler weapons of Soviet design, could hardly have been expected to know how to handle it.
"They are making a big deal out of nothing," said Mario Costagliola, who retired as an Army colonel last month after serving as the operations officer for the 42nd Infantry Division in Tikrit, Iraq.
An active-duty Special Forces colonel who served in Iraq also said that what the video showed actually had little relationship to Mr. Zarqawi's level of terrorist skill. "Looking at the video, I enjoy it; I like that he looks kind of goofy," said the Special Forces officer, who was granted anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on military matters. "But as a military guy, I shrug my shoulders and say: 'Of course he doesn't know how to use it. It's our gun.' He doesn't look as stupid as they said he looks."
The release of the captured video reflected the dueling public relations efforts between the American-led forces fighting in Iraq and the terrorists and insurgents. It also reflected increasing interest by the military and civilian strategists in trying to ridicule Mr. Zarqawi.
"In Arab and Muslim societies, pride and shame are felt much more profoundly than they are in Western culture," said J. Michael Waller, a professor at the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school in Washington. "To find video like this that can cut him down to size and discredit him is a real way of fighting terrorism." A paper written by Professor Waller advocating the use of ridicule against the insurgents has been circulating at the Pentagon and among military commanders with experience in Iraq recently, according to several military officers.
But the retired and active officers said the public presentation of the tape did not address elements that were disturbing, not amusing: the weapon was probably captured from American soldiers, indicating a tactical victory for the insurgents. And Mr. Zarqawi looked clean and plump.
"I see a guy who is getting a lot of groceries and local support," said Nick Pratt, a Marine Corps veteran and professor of terrorism studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Germany. "You cannot say he is a bad operator." He added, "People should be careful who they poke fun at."
David S. Cloud contributed reporting from Washington for this article.
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In: Iraq, Afghanistan
Tags: zarqawi, iraq, terrorism, jihad, muslim, islam, propaganda, ied, us, army, marines, experts, weapon, shooting, blooper, gun, islamic, state, iraq, baghdad, mosul, kirkuk, anbar, mujahid, mujahideen, terrorist,
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