Aftermath: Lebanon, May 2008

Writer and film-maker Nir Rosen's account of conditions in Lebanon's lawless Beqaa Valley


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Image: Aftermath (Nation Books, 2010) dustcover // courtesy Nir Rosen


THE LEBANESE SHIITE political, social and resistance movement Hizballah is sometimes demonized as a state within a state. While living there I found it more accurate to view them as a state within a non-state. I was also struck by the extent Sunni towns in the north and also in the Beqaa valley of the east also function without much of a state presence, and with their own militias. And while much has been said about a Shiite revival, in Lebanon, as in much of the Arab world, there has also been a revival of Sunni identity, and a sharp and frightening increase in Sunni sectarianism and anti-Shiism. In May of 2008 Hizballah acted swiftly (along with its allies) to crush Sunni militias and prevent an attempt by the government to target Hizballah's military capacity. Sunnis in Lebanon felt shame and anger. Their sense of community had been strengthened following the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq al Hariri. Though Hariri had not previously been viewed as a Sunni symbol, he was recreated as one and thanks to an intense propaganda campaign in the Lebanese and Saudi dominated Arabic media, Lebanese Sunnis came to view themselves, and Shiites, very differently. This was happening in the context of the war in Iraq, which had greatly increased sectarian tensions in the region. Following his 2006 execution Saddam Hussein also came to be viewed as a Sunni figure. So in May of 2008, following Hizballah's victory in Beirut, I revisited the lawless Beqaa valley, to see how Sunnis were responding there. Although Lebanon is oversaturated with journalists, and even more show up in times of conflict, they tend to focus on Beirut and not venture into rural Sunni areas. The following excerpt from my book documents some of my research in those areas.


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Sunni militias were beginning to form, and in Majd al-Anjar, a Sunni stronghold in Lebanon’s Beqaa, irate shabab closed the key Masnaa border road to Syria. On May 12 I drove there to check it out. Few roads led into the tightly connected narrow streets, where the plethora of mosques and the austerity and solidarity, among other things, reminded me of Falluja. I stopped to see if the mukhtar, Shaaban al-Ajami, was home. He was not. A muscular policeman with long hair stood in front of a mosque across the street, watching us. Suspicious locals stopped me to ask who I was. A hardened woman led us to a road- block, just past a large intersection leading to the Syrian border crossing at Masnaa. Lebanese soldiers perched indolently atop their armored personnel carriers, phlegmatically watching anarchy as several hundred men with automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, pistols, and hand grenades manned roadblocks of earthen barriers and fires. Some wore masks. There was nobody in command — it was a mob, not a militia, and so even more frightening. The men were angry, afraid, suspicious, shouting at one another, each one an authority unto himself. They carelessly swung their weapons around, oblivious to where they were pointing. Some rested the barrels of their rifles on top of their feet, a sign they had no professional training. A car approached with a family inside. They surrounded it, shouting at the passengers. A woman inside shrieked in fear. Local police showed up in an offi- cial pickup truck; the young muscular policeman with long hair emerged and greeted the armed men, warmly kissing and embracing them.


When strangers approached, the men immediately demanded to know if they were Sunni or Shiite. Hundreds of Syrian laborers carrying bags and baskets descended from buses and walked between the earth barriers on their way to the border. Two old men were detained, their identity cards revealing them to be Shiites. Locals sitting in the shade by shops quickly descended when they heard Shiites were found. Rifles were loaded and a frisson passed through the mob. The harrowed Shiites were finally released unscathed.


Nabil Jalul, a redheaded thirty-four year old local leader, carried a tiny pistol he could hide in his pocket. He wore a ski mask but raised it above his brows so we could talk. He used the language of the takfiris I had met in Iraq, those extreme Sunnis who declare other Muslims who do not share their austere practices (especially Shiites) to be kufar (infidels). He called Shiites rafidha (rejectionists), an anti-Shiite slur, and told me they had been armed by the Nusayris, a slur for Alawites, meaning the Syrian regime. Shiites were agents of the Israelis, he said, and they had not liberated their holy sites in Iraq from the American occupiers, so who could take Shiites in Lebanon seriously when they spoke of liberating Jerusalem from the Israeli occupiers? “We fight based on a creed,” he said, while “they” (meaning Hizballah) used weapons against other Lebanese. “Resistance is not about entering Beirut and oppressing its people. This roadblock is for victory in Beirut and the Sunnis. We won’t open the road until they open the airport.”


Nabil referred to Hizballah (which means Party of God) as Hizb al-Lat (Party of Lot), meaning the party of sin. Like many other Salafis, he also called them Hizb Ashaytan (Party of the Devil). “We are the shabab of Majd al- Anjar,” he said. “We fight the rafidha. We ruled for hundreds of years. We have many mujahideen and martyrs in Iraq. If the Sunnis of Beirut call us, we will come.” He told me many jihadist websites published calls for Sunni volunteers to come to Lebanon. Some required secret passwords, but he wouldn’t give me his.


Nabil had no formal military training, but, like many in the Beqaa, he began handling weapons at a young age. His life changed when he fell under the influence of Abu Muhamad, a local of Kurdish descent who had been one of Zarqawi’s deputies. Abu Muhammad’s real name was Mustafa Ramadan. An ethnic Kurd from Beirut who had once been a hoodlum who drank alcohol, he married a woman from Majd al-Anjar and moved to Denmark. He returned a Salafi and recruited some youth from the town to his own network, finally go- ing to Iraq with his sixteen year old son. Abu Muhamad was trained in Afghanistan and was part of Basim al-Kanj’s Dinniyeh group. He was arrested in 2002 in a mosque in Majd al-Anjar. After four months in prison he used his connections and paid his way out. In Iraq he was said to have dispatched the car bomb that killed SCIRI leader Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim in 2003. He died fighting in Iraq, in an attack on the Abu Ghraib prison that nearly breached its walls.


Nabil’s brother-in-law was killed fighting in Rawa, a town in Iraq’s Anbar province, in June 2003. I visited the town the morning after dozens of Iraqi and foreign fighters had been slain in their desert camp by Americans. Locals buried them by a mosque, placing their ID cards in bottles that served as tombstones. Other youths from Majd al-Anjar were buried in Rawa that day. One of them was the son of Abu Muhamad, which was why he was also known as Abu Shahid, or father of the martyr. At least seven young men from the town were martyred in Iraq, and Nabil had a plaque in their honor in his guest room.


Nabil was jailed from 2004 until 2005, accused of plotting to bomb Western embassies and other targets. He later proudly showed me the many articles about his arrest and release. He was released with other jihadists at the same time as Samir Geagea, a Lebanese war criminal and leader of the right-wing Christian Lebanese Forces. The release of the radical Sunnis was meant to pla- cate Sunnis and bolster the Sunni credentials of the Future Movement.


Majd al-Anjar was an important smuggling center. After the American invasion of Iraq, Nabil smuggled weapons and fighters into Syria and Iraq. Smugglers from the town relied on dirt roads through the mountainous bor- der. All of Lebanon’s political factions relied on smuggling through Syria, Nabil told me. Many of the Lebanese officers at the border received salaries from smugglers that could reach five thousand dollars a month. Smuggling was still a good business, but it was more difficult now. Only special explosives were smuggled from Lebanon to Iraq, such as C4 and TNT. He showed me a picture of himself from the early days of the Iraq War, with a beard down to his chest. Back then he was so religious he refused to own a television.


Abu Muhamad would come from Iraq and meet Nabil in Damascus, where they rented apartments. Nabil delivered truckloads of weapons to him: bombs and explosives as well as missiles and silencers for pistols. They bribed Syrian customs officials and used clandestine dirt roads. Nabil’s friend Ismail Khatib purchased the weapons, sometimes with his own money, and handled commu- nication with their brethren in Iraq. “We were a very tight group,” Nabil said. “We couldn’t be penetrated.” Ismail’s cousin Ali was among the dead in Rawa in 2003. After another fighter was killed in Iraq and two trucks of weapons were seized, the authorities began to watch their network. The Syrians, who still maintained bases in Lebanon at the time, had an intelligence headquarters nearby. Nabil was arrested on September 19, 2004, two months after his last de- livery of weapons to Syria. The Syrians were the ones who sent Nabil to prison. “They decided to stop the flow of foreigners into Iraq,” Nabil told me, “just like all the Arabs who changed their policies suddenly and decided to look good for the Americans.”


Majd al-Anjar was also an important stop in the network that smuggled fighters to Iraq from Lebanon and its Palestinian camps, especially Ayn al-Hilweh. Dozens of men from that camp were martyred in Iraq. Among its most famous martyrs was Abu Jaafar al-Qiblawi. His poster hung above one of the main roads in that camp. Nabil was his friend and had smuggled him into Syria. Ismail took him on to Iraq. In the last film showing Zarqawi, Abu Jaafar was the one who handed a machine gun to him. He was killed with Zarqawi in June 2006. After his death a thirteen-minute video, filmed in August 2005 on the banks of a river, showed his last will. In the video he held a machine gun and addressed his parents, calling on his father to remain steadfast and his brothers to join the jihad. The mujahideen would be victorious, he said, in their fight against the greatest power in the world, America, which was the leader of nonbelief. America had to be destroyed, he said, and Muslim lands had to be liberated. He sang songs for his mother and to his beloved. One of Abu Jaafar’s brothers was killed in the Nahr al-Barid battle in 2007, and an- other was arrested in 2008 by the Lebanese army while attempting to smuggle a Saudi fighter out of Ayn al-Hilweh.


When Nabil and the men in his network were arrested (they were found with fifty kilograms of TNT and five kilograms of C4), they were tortured by members of the Interior Ministry’s Information Branch. During the interrogations Nabil was hit in the back of his head with a club; his legs were bruised for months after the beatings. Nabil was accused of being the number-two man in the group. Ismail was tortured to death, and his funeral in Majd al-Anjar was an occasion for massive demonstrations. With Ismail’s death, Nabil lost his connections to Iraq and no longer smuggled on behalf of the jihad. Nabil bragged about those days. “We are Al Qaeda,” he told me. “We had connec- tions to Abu Shahid.” Nabil knew seven or eight men who had returned home to Majd al-Anjar from Iraq, and he knew there were others. In town I met a middle-aged Iraqi Baathist who, I was told, had been in the resistance, though he refused to discuss his past except to say he had served the state. “I’m wanted in Syria for terrorism,” he told me, adding that he was also wanted in Lebanon for opening fire in a fight. Sheikh Dai al-Islam al-Shahal from Tripoli visited Nabil after his release from prison. “Dai al-Islam is a friend of mine,” he told me. “He knows the truth, but he won’t speak all of it.” It was clear Nabil didn’t think highly of him, and he made a contemptuous face.


Back at the roadblock Nabil and others set up in Masnaa, a convoy of expensive cars drove up, and Sheikh Muhamad Abdel Rahman, head of the Sunni religious endowment in the Beqaa, emerged. Hundreds of men surrounded him as he gave a speech with a loudspeaker. An establishment figure, he came, like others, to try to influence the men. The Sunni elite feared young men like Nabil, whom they could not control. Representatives from the Future Movement had asked them to open the roadblocks, Nabil said, as had the municipality. Although locals voted for the Future out of Sunni solidarity, they did not belong to the party — which had opposed the initiative taken by local youths to close the road.


Sheikh Muhamad addressed them directly. “You represent Majd al-Anjar,” he said. “The decision to open the road is yours. It’s impossible to open the road without your agreement. The decision must protect the interest of the town and the people of the town and the shabab of the town.” He warned that there were some infiltrators among them. “You are not here for stealing. If there are people among you stopping and stealing, it’s harming your dignity.” The issue was protecting Sunnis’ dignity and autonomy, he said; they would open the road if it was in the interests of the sect. “The Islamic Sunni resistance begins today,” he said. “We work for Lebanon, and they work for Iran.” Young men shot into the air as he spoke.


“The sheikh, the municipality, the Future Current, the world came to open the border,” one of the young men said triumphantly, “but the shabab of Majd al-Anjar who closed the border refused to open it.” 


The following Friday I visited the Abdel Rahman Auf Mosque in Majd al- Anjar, also known as the Wahhabi Mosque. Nabil met us at the entrance to town and guided us to the mosque, handing us over to a chubby bearded friend before going home. Expensive cars were squeezed in around the mosque, which was full of young men and boys. It had two floors, with a screen on the second floor so people could watch the imam give his sermon. Sheikh Adnan al-Umama, a local, spoke of Hizballah’s “barbaric raid” on Beirut and condemned Iran. In Iraq the mujahideen were called terrorists, he said, while Hizballah’s Shiite brothers in Iraq helped the Americans.


The battle was one of creeds, he said, meaning between Sunnis and Shiites. “These people who came against us are secular and infidels. If they were honest about what they say, then we have to be ready to fight them. We saw them invading Beirut with hearts full of hate and accusing us of the murder of Hus- sein. If they have a problem with the government like they claim, why did they attack civilians and humiliate our women and our Muslim homes in Beirut?” Hizballah “terrorized us in our cities. Their friends in Iraq are friends with the Americans. We are the real people of the resistance. Sunnis are the real resistance.” The battle against Israel was a Sunni battle as well, he said.


“I’m not agitating for a sectarian conflict. But, on the other hand, we won’t stand still if they try to humiliate or insult our homes and our women.” The Lebanese army would fall apart soon because of the sectarian division inside it, he said. It was time for Sunnis to stop being afraid of Shiites to start rising up. “Until the government is able to defend us, we insist on carrying our guns,” he said. “And we will resist [the Shiites] with our women and children and all the power we have. I praise our heroes who blocked the road. Yes, they did the right thing. We are the pure, noble Muslims, and we are merciful, and we won’t stay silent about the attack on the people and our women in our cities.”


As I listened to the sermon with a friend, a man turned to question us suspiciously, but Nabil’s friend explained that we were with him. Then suddenly a thick older man with a long gray beard took my friend’s notebook from his hands and demanded mine as well. After the prayer ended he interrogated us as others surrounded us. He tried to read the notes and ordered Nabil’s friend to make copies of our identity cards.


I later went to meet Sheikh Adnan at his home. Landscape paintings and gaudy European art decorated his guest room. Given the tone of his sermon, he was younger, quicker to smile, and more jovial than I had expected. He began by apologizing for the men who had interrogated us at his mosque. He normally preferred not to give political sermons, he told me, focusing instead on religion, because politics was always changing.


Majd al-Anjar, with its twenty thousand residents, was unique, he said, because it was close to the border, was populated only by Sunnis, had a large number of graduates in Islamic studies educated all over the Arab world, and had no secular political parties. Sheikh Adnan was not optimistic. “Outside powers determine events here,” he told me. Shiites were doing the same thing in Lebanon that they were doing in Iraq, but Iraqi Sunnis were stronger because they had weapons from the former regime at their disposal and a better geographical location. Bin Laden and Zawahiri were wrong when they called for Al Qaeda to operate in Lebanon, because they did not know the nature of the country, he said. It was too divided and mixed, and Al Qaeda could never establish a stronghold.


He did not want fitna in the Muslim community, he said; he wanted to fix the problems of arms in Lebanon and the dangers they posed for Sunnis. After seeing what happened in Beirut, Sunnis understandably wanted to arm themselves too. The Future Movement had no creed, he said. Its people worked only for money, unlike Hizballah. Sunnis were looking for a leader to represent them, but the Mufti Qabbani was too close to the Saudis and the Future Movement, and he was weak, having done nothing in response to the events in Beirut. There was an opening now for Islamist movements, but the experience of Nahr al-Barid had made Islamists wary of organizing. He wondered why the Americans had abandoned the Siniora government and asked me if I had any insight.


We drove to Nabil’s house. He lived with relatives on the second floor of a compound. Nabil’s guest room was a shrine to jihad. He had a large collection of ammunition shells and grenades on display in his cupboard. Upon entering his house, guests were greeted by framed pictures of the 9/11 attacks — the Twin Towers aflame and a smoldering Pentagon. “We are not in line with Sheikh Adnan,” Nabil told me. “He is moderate, as they say.” Instead Nabil and his friends took fatwas from scholars associated with Al Qaeda. Nabil asked his little boy what he wanted to be when he grew up. “A mujahid!” his son grinned. A tall man wearing jeans and a T-shirt that were too tight (in true Lebanese style) burst in the room. His name was Hossam, and he was one of the organizers of the roadblock. Seeing the pistol on his belt, I asked if he was a cop. “No, I’m a mujahid,” he said. He explained that closing the road was a spontaneous decision taken by the shabab. “Our conscience and our honor made us close it,” he said. “I smoke hashish, I’m not religious. It was something from the inside.”


I visited often in the spring and summer of 2008. Nabil always had his 9-millimeter Glock pistol in his hand, on his lap, or on the table beside him. Like many Glocks I had seen in Lebanon, it had been smuggled in from Iraq, an American gift to mostly Shiite Iraqi Security Forces now in the hands of radical Sunnis in Lebanon. Once, as I sat in Nabil’s guest room, he received a phone call. He grabbed his pistol and ran out. Three unknown cars with tinted windows had entered the town. He called Hossam. “Three cars came in,” Nabil said. “They might be military. Park your car and I’ll send someone to pick you up. . . . They’re raiding your house. . . . Don’t worry about me. I’ll start shooting if they get close to my house.” Nabil took out a walkie-talkie and contacted other men in their network. Hossam, sweating and out of breath, walked in with a thuggish-looking friend. Hossam wielded a new AK- 47 equipped with a scope and flashlight as well as a drum magazine to hold far more ammunition. He wore an ammunition vest laden with extra ammunition and several American hand grenades that he said cost fifty dollars apiece. His friend carried a PKM, a belt-fed machine gun. “If Saddam Hussein was alive he would help us with ammunition,” Hossam said. “That’s why they killed him.”


Hossam’s father had killed a man, and the two families were feuding, which was why he always carried a pistol. But in the battle against Shiites the two families were together, he said. “I never carried a rifle before,” he said, “but since the Shiites attacked I started carrying one.” Hossam had taken part in sectarian clashes between Sunnis from the nearby town of Saad Nayel and the Shiites of Talabaya. A few days earlier Sunnis and Shiites had fought each other in the nearby town of Sawiri as well. Hossam claimed he had forced Shiite officials at the Masnaa border crossing to stop working there. This was why security offi- cers were paying a visit to the town. “We and the state are opposed,” said the thuggish man.


“Before May 8 I used to love life,” said Hossam. “I would never sleep. I was into women, drugs, alcohol — I was living life to the fullest. Something happened in my heart I can’t explain to anybody. Since May 8 I am a different per- son. I started praying five times a day, feeling more confident when I’m fighting.” Now he fantasized about becoming a suicide bomber. “I should be doing martyrdom operations too,” he told me, his eyes darting to Nabil, look- ing for approval. “I would like to blow myself up during Nasrallah’s speech when there is a large group of people.” He got so much pleasure from shooting, he said, and he surmised that if he went on a martyrdom operation his soul would feel even better. Nabil expected suicide operations like those in Iraq to occur in Lebanon, targeting Shiites. “I won’t be surprised if it happened,” he said.


Nabil didn’t seem to have a job, but I soon realized he had a lucrative underground business selling weapons. I asked him why he always carried a pistol with him. He quoted a hadith about how one must always be armed. I asked if he was not worried about the authorities. “The army is not allowed in here,” Nabil said. I asked who didn’t allow them. “We don’t allow them,” he said. “None of them will survive. Do they want another Nahr al-Barid?” Likewise the police were not allowed to come into town, he said: “If they do, the whole town will fight.” I was reminded of the accusations that Hizballah was a state within a state. Outside Beirut there was little sign of any state willing or able to assert itself, and unlike Shiites, the Sunnis of Lebanon had no comparable social movement to fill the vacuum.


As we drove through the narrow alley leading to Nabil’s house, a man asked him to sell him two thousand rounds of ammunition. “Come to my house,” Nabil said. One day when I visited Nabil I found his living room converted into an armory. He had an RPG launcher, many boxes of ammunition, and eight ri- fles, including AK-47s, a PKM, and a Degtyaryov machine gun. In a box that originally contained a Syrian dress, Nabil had stuffed an assortment of grenades. He took some out to play with, to my displeasure, and showed me how to take them apart.


Nabil introduced me to Marwan Yassin, or Abu Hudheifa, a gentle, friendly man he called his sheikh and emir. Abu Hudheifa was not formally educated in Islam, but he studied Sharia at home and memorized the Koran at the late age of twenty-five. He had six children. He had just been released from prison after serving ten months. I asked him if he had been tortured. “Not this time,” he said with a smile. In 2004 the Syrians arrested him trying to enter Iraq. He spent eight months in a Syrian prison before he was transferred to a Lebanese prison, where he served three more months. He was tor- tured in both countries.


Majd al-Anjar was special, he said, because it had a lot of religious people of the same color, meaning Sunni. “We have a lot of people who went to Iraq and were killed there, so we have people who love jihad,” he said. “Iraq is under direct American occupation. Here, it’s an indirect Iranian occupation.” Sunnis in Lebanon were in a weak position, he said.


One night in June Nabil called around midnight to tell me he had just re- ceived word that two local boys, Abdallah Abdel Khalaq and Firas Yamin, had blown themselves up in Iraq on two consecutive days. Twenty-year-old Abdallah, whose nickname was Abu Obeida, called his family the night before to say goodbye and explain that the next day he would either park the car and detonate it or, if there was too much security, detonate it while driving. At noon the next day he blew himself up while driving in a crowded Baghdad street. Two hours later his companions called his parents to let them know the happy news about their son’s martyrdom. The family was religious and proud of him, and distributed candy. Firas, who was called Abu Omar, had gone to Iraq with Abdallah without telling anybody in town. Nabil had a film of them both with a Kuwaiti fighter who had been to Afghanistan. “If I had a chance I would go,” Nabil said.


Nabil took me to meet a group of friends in an office. They were drinking tea. Several had long hair and long beards. One had the physique of a bodybuilder. I asked them what they expected to happen. “Very bad things,” said one. Nabil spoke of prophecies in the Koran about a final battle occurring in Sham, or Greater Syria. The American invasion of Iraq was one sign of it. I had heard many jihadi Salafis in the region predict this imminent final battle, one that would be fought with swords. An older man in traditional Arab dress was the father of a young man who had been martyred in Rawa. As I chatted with the men, Nabil played absentmindedly with the pistol on his lap.


One morning one of Nabil’s friends drove me around town. He spoke on his cellphone to a woman. “We are ready,” he told her. “We didn’t sleep since last night.” The night before, Nabil said, the Lebanese army had arrested the father of one of the guys in their group in Masnaa. There were regular clashes with local Shiites, whom the men called Hizballah, probably inaccurately. “Last night we went down to Marj,” Nabil’s friend said, “patrolling with our cars with tinted windows, driving back and forth in the main streets of Majd al-Anjar and Marj. We had guns, we were ready.”


Nabil introduced me to a friend they called Dr. Saadi because he had a PhD in history from the University of Damascus. Only in his thirties, Saadi had a guest room well stocked with books on Islam. He’d been imprisoned for alleged involvement in the 2000 “millennium plot” to blow up the American Embassy in Jordan. After his release, he traveled to Falluja at the height of the jihad in 2004 and met Omar Hadid, a famed fighter in that town.


There was no Sunni party in Lebanon with a creed, Saadi complained, only those who fought for money. The Future Movement had become mercenaries without belief, he said. They controlled Lebanon’s Sunnis but obeyed the Americans, and Salafis were marginalized. But one day soon only the Salafi ideology would survive, and they would raise the Sunni flag in Lebanon. The May event had given a fillip to extreme movements in Lebanon such as Al Qaeda. The country’s unique diversity had moderated Saadi’s extremism, like it had for all of the Salafis I met in Lebanon. The variety of sects living in Lebanon meant that no single group could dominate the others, he said.


As we spoke, AK-47 shots suddenly erupted not far away. All the men burst out laughing, especially when they saw me flinch. A friend had just been released from prison and he was shooting into the air. “Army intelligence captured him,” Nabil explained, “and we threatened to block the roads. Now he is shooting into the air in celebration for himself.”


Like many Salafis I had met, Saadi was envious of Hizballah for confronting Israel but at the same time dismissive because Hizballah limited its activity to liberating Lebanese territory. “Hizballah protects the Jewish border with orders from the Syrian regime,” he said. Moreover, by respecting UN resolu- tions, Hizballah proved that it had no genuine commitment to liberating Palestine. Hizballah had proved it had no principles, he said, by forming an alliance with a Christian party, the Free Patriotic Movement. The goal of Hizballah’s “takeover” of Beirut was to weaken Sunnis in the Arab world, he said. The group was acting like the Mahdi Army in Iraq, proving it was only a Shiite militia. “Sunnis around the world are mad after what happened in Beirut,” he said. “The result will be a thousand Zarqawis coming after Hizballah.” Nabil was a great admirer of Zarqawi. “Behind the sword was a merciful heart,” he said, “an eye that cried for the whole Islamic nation. There will be thousands of Zarqawis now.”


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Nir Rosen is the author of In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq (Simon & Schuster, 2006) and Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars In the Muslim World (Nation Books, 2010), from which this essay is excerpted.