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Jun 09, 2006

Give Me The Largest Frame You've Got


Of course, the "elimination" of Zarqawi was a strategic accomplishment which provides a moral boost both to the U.S. military and also the nascent government of Iraq. 

How big was Zarqawi, though? 

You can look at this pic from yesterday's parade, and think he was huge.  You have only to listen to Rummy, however, to appreciate how much Zarqawi "personified" -- rather than embodied -- the "hydra headed" terror network in Iraq.

For "Mission Accomplished"-level overstatement, however, look no further than the latest Economist.


"After Zarqawi?"  Come on!  If it was bin Laden there, fine. Saddam would more than fill the slot.  (Bush would, too.)  But to elevate this guy to a level where he constituted his own era? 

Well, the idea is as out-of-touch as the photo is out-of-date.

(image 1:
Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP. Baghdad.  June 9, 2006.  Via YahooNews.  image 2: The Economist.  Jun 10th 2006.  Cover)


What... no photos of the x-rayed teeth? No prosthetic leg mounted like a reliquary to be marveled at?

And, yes, I'm being sarcastic. These huge gilt frames are so tacky, that the trophies are probably destined for Bush's Imperial Library.

Trophy shots of the dead are against the Geneva Conventions.

Considering all the other violations of those "quaint" rules of warfare, this is perhaps insignificant. Or is it? Apparently the gathering of trophies (Saddam's gun rests in Bush's desk, the looted museum pieces were a professional job, the head from the toppled statue was shipped back to Texas) is all that the Administration can claim by way of victory.

This essay is well worth reading:

"What began as a war of necessity, premised on the slam-dunk certainty that Saddam Hussein was staring us down with weapons of mass destruction, eventually became a war of ideas. If there were no weapons, then at least it was a war of liberation, bringing freedom and democracy to a land in desperate need of both. And when that war devolved into clouds of dust and pools of blood as the country broke into religious and ethnic factions, and the rule of law was extinguished by terrorists and militias, the war of ideas began to seem more like another thing -- a war of trophies."

The size of the photo, let alone the expanse of mat and frame, is most certainly for propaganda. The photo could have been projected against a screen if the military needed to show proof to a roomful of people. A documentary exhibit could have used a simple black edge. Gold is for icons.

If you click on the other linked images, you realize that the photo is archived in the STYLE section with animated cars and costumed knights. Not under news. Perhaps the photo editor realized that this display of death is just as cleaned-up, manufactured, and packaged for the consumer as any road show. Theatre of the Macabre. But the ticket price is far too steep.

This news is too late for bushco - is this a justification for war? and despite glowing rumy, the only difference is that the occupation forces have a name and posted picture for one dead insurgent! MSM is taken by this though and will play it for a while as a success.
What is noted by people in Iraq is not one dead body, but the fact that after the dead body is shown, nothing will be changed.

Interesting juxtaposition there, the dark swarthy terrorist and the blond soldier.

And how is it that they dropped two 500-lb bombs on the house and this guy is left intact with hair and beard too? Just asking... Another question: Why didn't they surround the house with a battalion and take him out alive for questioning?

Gary--I've wondered about the same things. Thanks for asking.

What strikes me as I look at these photos is that the more the US makes of Zarqawi's death, the greater a martyr he will become for Iraq insurgents. Is he a hydra? Will seven more spring up to replace him?

So here we have an American soldier with our gold-framed trophies of war--photographs of an enemy, alive and dead--to present to a distant news media to present to the distant American people. We won't show coffins of our soldiers who have been killed, but we will show this.

Can anyone please comment on the technical aspects of a photo the size of Dead Zarqawi? That's what, 10 x the size of the American soldier's head? Would it have to be old-fashioned film or can it be digital? I basically want to know what it would take to produce a photo of that size and get it wrapped up pretty as a picture so quickly.

So they have a little "frame" shop over there in Baghdad. Maybe they are just recycling frames from Oudai's pornography collection? Or maybe they had some mat board flown in special for the occasion?

Or perhaps they have futures in Sotheby's?

Maybe there will be a new Iraqi deck of cards?

Anyone have some images of the dead Oudai and Co. to juxtapose with this?

While the death toll mounts, we'll have the new "American Boogeyman," next.

Just after "Don't Cry for Me," with Ann Coulter.

So this is what happened to the awkward guy with a gun and New Balance Running Shoes! He went from bumbling, nerdy loser to the Epochal Man in the space of a few weeks.

Imagine the outrage if the insurgents killed some senior American military officer and then held a press conference to show huge photos of his lifeless face...

Now they're saying that he was still alive and tried to get off the stretcher, then mumbled something "indistinguishable" before dying. Any Muslim who hears that will assume that he said something like "la ilaha ilallah", the testimony of faith - which would have been "distinguishable" by any Arabic speaker - and that might actually make people have more sympathy for him.

Think Spartacus...

The picture is meant to remind folks of the death that awaits them should they challenge the empire...

Is it some ghoulish, threatening point to show *just* Zarqawi's head? Separated from his body?

rtbag, its be-heading Western Style or "decapitation" in politically correct circles. Thanks for the setup.

To kill your poster child is to slay the goose before the eggs. This might affect things in the next month or so (as far as American audiences are concerned) but come November, the public will remember more about August high gas prices than June's "Terrorist-of-the-Month."

Hubris Sonic > Che!----REALLY !

As Bolivia had no death penalty:
..the Bolivian army junta was asked what to do with him. Assured of American support, they ordered him shot.
His fingers were then cut off to identify his fingerprints, obligingly sent by the Bolivian military to the Argentinean junta..(returned)to Valle Grande and taken to a Catholic hospital where the body was put on public exhibition, scantly clad as I recall, this Christlike photograph angered officials in Washington.

I suggest this poorly framed piece of propaganda could also be associated to the extremely brief announcement by the 'Iraq Leader' squeezed between the US Military Commander and US Ambassador, another "We got Him" Paul Bremmer moment, toned down but still *loud and clear*.

Lighkeeper opines "A number of interesting points: first,(most)gay men are more narcissistic than most"
*than most*-are you referring to heterosexual males. If so how do arrive at that conclusion ?

{narcissistic-characteristic of those having an inflated idea of their own importance}

As a 'straight man' a few friends and acquaintances (non gay) impress me as abundantly endowed with this characteristic of self, some use it subtly to verbally intimate while others if appropriately challenged verbally will resort to physically intimidation.

Could you mean that heterosexual men are more covert in expressing their narcissism.? I have straight and gay friends/acquaintance's but particular enjoy those who are defined in category # 4
I understand some of your points but as a former sailor your light in other areas does not shine all that brightly for me.

Other possible definitions to contemplate 1. Excessive love or admiration of oneself. 2. A psychological condition characterized by self-preoccupation, lack of empathy, and unconscious deficits in self esteem. 3. Erotic pleasure derived from contemplation or admiration of one's own body or self, especially as a fixation on or a regression to an infantile stage of development development. 4. The attribute of the human psyche characterized by admiration of oneself but within normal limits.-- The Free Dictionary-BY FARLEX (online)

The posture of the two soldiers is disturbing. Their hands behind their back, positioned, almost cut off, to partial upper arms, give feeling of hiding bloody hands behind...or mutilations of limbs by insurgents' bombs.
What are they doing there, posted between the frames? Are they guarding the pictures, or giving credence and importance to a man, who was killed by two 500 pounds bombs? Are they the mark of occupation army that has to be ever present even in death?
Is the government afraid to have others have a closer look at the dead?

I have seen a lot of dead people including those who have died peacefully and those who haven't. This 'head' looks like a wax museum piece. Others may have already pointed this out, but he appears so content I'm imagining he's met up with the 40 virgins. In short, this does not look like any dead person I have seen so far, so the most I can say isthis: the look challenges my reality testing and my reality testing is damn good.

Thanks, hauksdottir, for the link to the Washington Post column. I just didn't know what to make of the very unmilitary gold frame and the column provides a plausible explanation. Also plausible is your suggestion that the picture is destined for Bush's office.

It was hard to copy the url of the column so I've got a short version of it from

The official story seems to be, once again, disintegrating before our eyes.
Why did they protect/ignore him for ten years?
Why did they build him up to fantastic proportions?
Why did they mock him with those outtakes a couple of weeks ago?
Why did they drop two bombs on his house, but have no military presence in the vicinity?
Where is his supposedly missing leg?
Was he wearing NewBalance shoes when he died?
Why did they have to kill/capture him four times before it took?
Is that really Zarqawi? and is he really dead?
Was 'finding the outtakes' a warning to Zarqawi that his time was up?
Like others here, I'm wondering why the fancy framing. Did they think that by putting matting and framing around ghoulish photos they would make them respectful? If that's what they think is being respectful of the dead, it's a pretty good clue as to what they think of the living.

Esoth: So this is what happened to the awkward guy with a gun and New Balance Running Shoes?

See, the sneakers were how they were able to identify the carcass!

Many-headed hydra yes -- but let's not forget our Christian iconography! While combos like David and Goliath,or Judith and Holofernes might work for the Bush Set, we get into shaky ground with John the Baptist -- wasn't it Salome, evil temptress, that demanded his head on a platter? Check out Caravaggio's work, for example.

And what is with the frames around the photograph/film still? Leaving aside the hideous breach of the Geneva Convetions yet again, usually the army can, at best, cough up a few drymounts on posterboard. But here we seem to have the head of Zarqawi, matted and framed, for our visual pleasure. It does beg the question -- while the terrorists remove heads before our very eyes, we dispose of the body as though it never existed. Which makes one wonder -- how did Zarqawi end up looking like Che after being hit with a 500-lb. bomb? Close cropping and big frames suggest something else is going on outside the picture (and indeed the frames quite literally produce "closure" on the image). "Nothing to see here, folks -- just Zarqawi's head... It's all over, move on..." Someone in the army must have read Foucault -- visibility is a trap. Invisibility is where the power lies.

Thanks, Tracy, for the tinyurl. One of these years, I'll figure out better links.

IIRC, Islam prohibited displaying graven images of people, which is why there was so much wonderful geometric and floral decoration covering everything not nailed down. Something has changed. Heads of martyrs, heads of ayatollahs, heads of politicians all get carried around now or slapped on huge billboards. Saddam the secularist was probably a driving force, but the preachers don't mind seeing their face on the wall, either. What will the military do if next week they drive to the airport and see a mile of posters of this face glued up on the walls on both sides of the route? Propaganda works both ways.

What makes this framed head, with cloudy background and gilt frame any different from another to be venerated? Respected?

The frame job was professional and western (look at the extra white matting at the bottom of the left hand image). The army undoubtedly has large-size printers for maps and such, but their propaganda tools have been posters and leaflets. With the new government gathering in the Green Zone, they could have a frame shop for the president of the month.

Zarqawi was nothing but a minor thug until we made him a leader of the resistance and a hero. Are we also going to make him into a saint?

That he was alive when captured is bothersome.

This man's death (if he was indeed Zarqawi) may also be bothersome. None of these significant "turning points" have changed anything, but decades from now historians might be able to pick out the threads of rebellion and hardening of resolve.

A fire which smolders underground is very hard to put out.

hauksdottir: "IIRC, Islam prohibited displaying graven images of people... Something has changed. Heads of martyrs, heads of ayatollahs, heads of politicians all get carried around now or slapped on huge billboards..."

In general, most orthodox Sunni Islamic scholars say that statues, drawings and paintings of people are prohibited. Some Sunni scholars say that photographs of people are allowed, others (including the Salafis, which many of the hard-core jihadists follow) say that they're prohibited (except when required for passports, etc.).

The pictures of ayatollahs, preachers, etc., that you see in Iraq are usually Shia, who apparently have a different opinion.

By the way, here's an article about Zarqawi that's the most thorough I've seen:


Thanks... interesting article.

Among other things, it mentions green tattoos on the hand. It seems so unlikely that a Salafist Muslim would be tattooed. I have to wonder what he thought was so important as to override religious proscriptions. Zarqawi's body was also apparently ID'ed because of the tattoos, yet the only authentic images of him are the wedding reception and the April videotape... and I don't recall the tattoos being called out for notice.

Hmmm... he'd been pulled alive from a collapsed building before, too.

Is this dead man really Zarqawi? A thinker and writer could still have tremendous power even if presumed dead. Take a new name and keep publishing. Zarqawi, OTOH, needed his physical presence to build team loyalty.

None of the photos shows the hand with the tattoos. Interesting.

Given the cynicism noted above, some of you might be interested in this post by Joe Cannon:

Also this more recent one which ties some blog notes together and references the excellent Atlantic article (which ummabdulla called our attention to above):

At least the Lieutenant Kije story gave us some good music!

But who knows how the storytellers will treat this fable in a few centuries when the pain and anger and grief have been dealt with? Robin Hood tweaking official noses or Rasputin the devil who would not die?

The saint-like images are going to contribute to how the legend is framed, not contain it.

I agree with the beheading-by-framing interpretation. I'm surprised they didn't actually cut his head off and then take a picture of it...That was clearly his biggest legacy.
But I don't see what all the fuss over inconsistency is about: we painted him as a bumbling fool a month ago and now we want to take credit for killing the biggest "terrorist" in Iraq. Yes its ironic, But if Zarqawi was primarily a PR terrorist himself isn't it kinda fitting?

hauksdottir, didn't he get the tattoos before he had become religious? You're right - it's very unlikely that he would have gotten them when he considered himself a Salafi.

For ummabdulla:

Zarqawi was not "indistinguishable" while stating his faith.

Zarqawi was "indistinguishable" because, he tried to use Che's famous statement when captured:

"Do not shoot! I am Zarqaqi and worth more to you alive than dead."

Since his English was "none to good", it sounded "indistinguishable".

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