Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had the highest profile among the militants fighting the United States-led occupation of Iraq. He assiduously projected his image by periodically releasing video footage of his most gruesome deeds and playing up a rather nebulous link with Osama bin Laden. Washington contributed to the myth-building exercise since it was desperate to show that the insurgency was the handiwork of a transnational terrorist network. So it was natural that U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and the commander of the occupation forces, General George Casey, lined up alongside Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to announce that the militant had been killed in an air strike. Mr. Khalilzad connected with reality when he observed that the militancy would not end with Zarqawi's death. It will no longer be possible to pretend that the vast majority of the insurgents are not home-grown Iraqis. While the Jordanian-born Zarqawi professed a vaguely Salafist strain of militant Islam, the indigenous resistance includes people belonging to diverse ideological persuasions. Most of the active Sunni fighters, in fact, appear to have turned against the foreign jihadists who gave a sectarian orientation to the resistance. The hope that all sections of the Iraqi people would join the resistance was destroyed when Zarqawi and others of his ilk began to murder Shias en masse. With the majority community, which exercised constructive restraint for many months, beginning to retaliate, Iraq is a bitterly divided and in-feuding society.

If the attacks on the U.S.-led forces have gone a long way towards undermining the occupation, the sectarian strife threatens to disrupt efforts to recover lost ground. The policy Washington seeks to implement is one of driving militants out of pockets of territory and holding these areas until infrastructure can be rebuilt. The calculation is that the hearts and minds of ordinary Iraqis cannot be won when they lack water, power, hospitals, and schools. This plan is unlikely to take off. A process of ethnic cleansing is under way in parts of Iraq with Shia and Sunni families moving out of localities controlled by the other community. Administrators and technicians are not likely to volunteer for work in areas where they might be killed because of their sectarian religious identity. These conditions are unlikely to change although Mr. Maliki has finally been able to appoint Defence and Interior Ministers. The police forces in many parts of the country are indistinguishable from the Shia militias that have abducted and murdered Sunnis. The Interior Minister might not be able to control his forces unless he is a leading figure in one of the militias; but if he is that, he might not have the inclination to perform his official duties in a fair manner. The occupiers know that the elimination of one terrorlord will not help them escape from a quagmire.