Saturday, June 10, 2006


From today's letters page in the Times:

Sir, Your frontpage picture of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (June 9) has handed terrorists throughout the world a publicity coup of immeasurable value. Never since the picture of Che Guevara became indelibly stamped on the minds of millions has there been an iconic image of such strength.
The War on Terror is not furthered by the US military releasing this picture.


London WC2

I'm pretty sure I remember exactly the same thing being said when Uday and Qusay Hussein died, and the US military released the pictures of their bullet-ridden bodies. And yet now the incident is barely mentioned in mainstream media. Current events in Iraq are far more worrisome and important.

There is something sickening about the politics of death - but such is the nature of the media that debate on Iraq has become a question of who can market death more successfully. Pressure on Bush and Blair mounts with the death of each serviceman; to trade blows the US and the UK do not need to show that they are improving the quality of life in Iraq. Evidence of that sort ultimately becomes anecdotal in nature, and it's difficult to convince viewers in Britain that quality of life is improving when people are being blown up every day. Instead, victory over the insurgency can only be demonstrated by bodies on the ground.

Yes, it's a pretty sad state of affairs. No-one should take any joy in seeing someone else dead (that includes you, Tim Ireland), but Iraq is now a trading of iconic images. Will the death of al-Zarqawi have an effect? I guess so. As in Palestine, and as in Afghanistan, if you knock enough leaders out, there will be problems caused. Particularly in what seems to be a fairly loose operational command. Is that a long-term strategy for success? Probably not - you only need to look at the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan to see that a new leadership corps can quickly develop.

But time is running out on Bush and Blair. If they can secure a positive legacy at all over Iraq, which seems doubtful, then they need to have visible successes now. Knocking al-Zarqawi off the scene is one of the best ways they could have managed this. Because that's one of the few ways they will get a positive headline. Will the image of Zarqawi be iconic? I doubt it - the iconic image of this year is Prescott playing croquet. What is certain, though, is that for all the distaste of the brandishing of photos of a dead terrorist, the political trading in death will continue.