Make no mistake: The killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a big deal, and for reasons beyond justice, vengeance, and crossing out another top mug on the al-Qaida most-wanted chart.
Just how big a deal it is will depend on what the new Iraqi government does as a follow-up—or, more to the point, what it can do, and there are still severe limits on that.
Still, one piece of good news is that there is a new Iraqi government, and this seems to be in part a direct outcome of the airstrike that hit Zarqawi and his entourage. Right after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced the news, the parliament confirmed his appointments to the Cabinet's final three, most crucial slots: the defense, interior, and national-security ministries. The nominees—a Sunni and two Shiites, respectively—had been subjects of rancorous sectarian debate, which ended instantly upon the demise of Iraqi sectarianism's chief instigator…
…There were already signs that Zarqawi's operation was unraveling. Many Sunni Arabs bitterly protested his strategy of splitting Iraq's Muslims, especially his attacks on Shiites and their mosques. Juan Cole reports that, just this week, some of Zarqawi's fighters mounted an assault on a Fallujah police station—and were staved off by young Sunni tribesmen. Initial accounts of Zarqawi's death reported that "area residents" gave his location away. Later stories said the information came from insiders. Either way, it's good news. The former would mean that, for at least some Iraqis, their impatience with Zarqawi's violence outweighed their fear of his wrath. The latter would mean that his organization is about to splinter still further—with, ultimately, the same result.
So, is there a window of opportunity? Maybe so. Shiites were elated. Some Sunni’s were sullen, but they clearly now have some more maneuvering room. Whether Zarqawi was turned in because our intelligence is getting better, or because the Sunni’s were fed up with him, or even if the insurgents figured he was worth more to them dead than alive, there should be a chance now.
If there's any legitimacy to the new Iraqi government, now's the time it might take traction. If it can't take hold now, it might not ever.
"Might" seems too weak a qualifier.