While the U.S. killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has removed the leading terrorist from Iraq, it has not removed terrorism from the country.
"We can expect the terrorists and insurgents to carry on without him," President George W. Bush said, commenting on Zarqawi's death in an American bombing attack June 7. The president is right on this point.
There's no question that the killing of Zarqawi eliminated a very dangerous man credited with masterminding hundreds of murders and kidnappings in Iraq. This was a short-term victory.
But jihadis in Iraq, including the Islamic Army in Baghdad, have long prepared themselves to continue waging war without Zarqawi against the U.S.-led coalition and the Iraqi government.
And the sectarian violence Zarqawi sparked between Shiites and Sunnis will likely continue as well despite his death. A jihadi magazine, Sada al Jihad, indicated that Zarqawi's martyrdom will bring "nothing but fire on Allah's enemies everywhere."
Other jihadi groups in Iraq echo the same message. They are prepared to avenge their leader's death and fight until they remove America and its coalition from Iraq — or achieve death and martyrdom themselves.
Zarqawi's death also proves that the Sunni insurgency remains strong. His replacement, a man known only as Abu Abdul Rahman al-Iraqi, has already been named. That's a sign that the insurgency, and al-Qaida at large, has made tactical and strategic preparations to fight a long war.
These preparations include being able to replenish jihadi ranks as quickly as the terrorists lose men in their war, and making adjustments where needed to stay one step ahead of their perceived enemies.
But what does this mean for the U.S.-led war on terrorism and Iraq, in particular?
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced Zarqawi's death as a sign of victory for the people of Iraq.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the raid that killed the terrorist "marks a great success for Iraq and the global war on terror."
But larger and more systemic problems that plague Iraq today have yet to be resolved.
Even after Zarqawi's death, Sunni insurgents will continue to upset the political process and force the Iraqi government — with its newly appointed defense and interior minister - to focus on untangling the sectarian web of violence rather than on seeking long-term solutions to remedy some of the stark socio-economic conditions in Iraq.
Certainly only time will tell if Zarqawi's death can put a dent in the insurgency. Some senior terrorism experts predict an immediate decline in violence, as local jihadis regroup or debate positions of internal power and leadership.
But one thing jihadis do well is to fight on. Their business, after all, is to terrorize and kill and they don't believe in unemployment. They are trained to accept and pursue death (martyrdom) and are experts at employing religion as a cover for worldly rational choices.
As a result, Zarqawi's death was a victory only in the short term. In the long run, the global war on terrorism will be unaffected because al-Qaida is not built around the glorification of its top leaders, but rather the glorification of a violent ideology that masquerades as religious piety.
Jihadis have mourned Zarqawi's death, but only for a moment. Their deadly work beckons. They have learned to focus their efforts on destroying the West and its allies, rather than on celebrating the creation of a new martyr.
© 2006 United Press International
Farhana Ali is a terrorism expert at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization.
This commentary originally appeared in United Press International on June 10, 2006. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.