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Tale of Two Terrorists

Hardly anyone was more surprised by Iraq's insurgency than Osama bin Laden. He had never foreseen its sudden, ferocious spread, and he was likewise unprepared for the abrupt rise of its most homicidal commander, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi. Bin Laden and his aides knew the Jordanian-born Palestinian from Zarqawi's Afghan days, but mostly as a short-tempered bully and a troublemaker. So in the late summer of 2003, unwilling to sit on the sidelines, bin Laden sent two of his most trusted men to assess the Iraqi resistance and carve out a leading role for Al Qaeda. "The resistance happened faster than we expected, and differently, so we were not prepared to assist and direct it," one of the two envoys later told a senior Taliban official. "The sheik sent me to see how we could help."

The Taliban man recently told the envoy's story to NEWSWEEK. He personally heard the account from the envoy, a top-ranking Qaeda member known as Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi, at a meeting last December in western Pakistan. The Taliban official, who uses the name Zabihullah, is a liaison between his group and Al Qaeda. Many of the account's details are borne out by interviews with other well-informed jihadis. U.S. intelligence sources, while refusing to discuss many of the story's specifics, have confirmed that its fundamentals are accurate.

The two bin Laden envoys traveled overland from Afghanistan separately. One never got to Iraq. Authorities in Iran later announced that they had apprehended the Egyptian-born Saif al-Adel, and he seems to be there still. Al-Iraqi did better. Those who know him say he fits in perfectly wherever he goes. Born in Iraqi Kurdistan about 1960, he rose to the rank of major in Saddam Hussein's Army before joining the jihad in Afghanistan in the late 1980s. He speaks not only Arabic but Urdu, Kurdish, the Waziri tribal dialect of Pashtu and a courtly form of Persian. In the palatial salons of the gulf states he has raised millions of dollars for Al Qaeda. But dressed for the part he can easily pass for a mountain tribesman. "He's just like any Afghan," says Zabihullah. "He doesn't have the arrogance and formality of other Arabs."

Al-Iraqi needed all the poise and charm he could muster for his mission to the insurgents. By the time he reached Iraq, in late 2003, Zarqawi had built a fearsome team of resistance fighters. The Jordanian considered himself to be the obvious choice for Al Qaeda's top man in Iraq. He was livid at the news that bin Laden had chosen al-Iraqi for the job. "I'm already here!" Zarqawi told al-Iraqi. "So why is the sheik sending someone else?"

No one but Zarqawi could see much mystery there. Zarqawi was widely disliked in Afghanistan. Even bin Laden was repulsed by reports of his vicious temper and gratuitous cruelty. In the late 1990s, commanding a unit of Arab irregulars near Afghanistan's Iranian border, the Jordanian terrorized local civilians and infuriated Taliban leaders. Mullah Mohammed Omar's men had just taken control of the area and were trying to win the trust of its mostly Shiite inhabitants. When Zarqawi wasn't busy persecuting Shiites, he wrangled with other Arabs and with the local Taliban chief.

Zarqawi had "a terrifying face," al-Iraqi recalled later. But the envoy said he knew at once that Zarqawi was exactly what Al Qaeda needed. "There is no doubt that he is the best man to lead foreign and Iraqi insurgents in Iraq," al-Iraqi told bin Laden when he got back to the caves, according to Zabihullah's account. "He deserves our support." The envoy has made three trips to Iraq since then. Just before the last, in September, a London-based Arabic-language daily quoted Zarqawi as repudiating bin Laden and Al Qaeda: "I have not sworn allegiance to the sheik and I am not working within the framework of his organization." But after meeting again with al-Iraqi, the Jordanian proclaimed his loyalty to bin Laden and announced a new name for his terrorist group: "Al Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers." "I'm a loyal soldier and ready to sacrifice myself to the sheik, who is our leader," he told al-Iraqi.

Bin Laden replied by issuing an audiotape that praised Zarqawi's exploits and called him the "prince of Al Qaeda in Iraq." The tape instructed all Qaeda supporters to follow Zarqawi's orders. Bin Laden had already made his wishes known to Zarqawi via al-Iraqi. "My greatest wish is for you to keep the resistance alive and growing, to increase the number of local insurgents and give the Iraqis more decision-making powers," Zarqawi was told. "Make it as much of an Iraqi organization as possible." Bin Laden also urged his prince to widen the war against America: "We have to expand our attacks on the enemy outside Iraq."

The envoy is proud of his work. "I'm the person who broke the silence and solved the difficulties between Zarqawi and the Al Qaeda leadership," he told Zabihullah. Donations to Al Qaeda's coffers had dried up as bin Laden's top men were killed or captured. Now private money is once again flooding in. Bin Laden himself is looking more confident and relaxed--maybe too relaxed, al-Iraqi said. When he visited the Qaeda leader in November, the envoy noticed fewer checkpoints than previously along the trail. "The sheik has a new mentality and is more healthy," he told Zabihullah. On his last visit to Iraq, the envoy got an offer from Zarqawi: if life got too risky in the mountains along Pakistan's border, bin Laden would be welcome to take refuge with him among the insurgents in Iraq. The envoy politely declined. At present, the Qaeda leader seems to be doing just fine where he is.

Global Buzz: That's What Friends Are For Edition

Brazil's Lula and Mexico's Fox learn enemies can be allies, China and India warm to each other. And nobody ever liked Burma's junta anyway. Brazil Lula was ditched by allies, leaving coalition in jeopardy. But temperamental Congress president is now pushing defectors back into his arms. India/China Beijing is watching Indo-U.S. warming trend warily. Good news: Jealousy may prompt China to resolve decades-old border dispute with India this month. Mexico Opposition has long stalled energy reforms. But they're eager for achievements before 2006 elex, and may now back Fox in opening up oil sector. S.E. Asia Malaysia may ask ASEAN to suspend Burma from chairmanship. A split between old guard and new is likely, but ASEAN's credibility stands to benefit.

Mexico Mess

Mexico's image as an emerging democracy suffered a blow on April 1 when a four-member congressional panel voted to strip Mexico City's popular mayor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, of immunity from prosecution. That opens the way for an indictment of Lopez Obrador for allegedly having disobeyed a judge's order to halt construction of a road running through private property, and by law he would be barred from running for president in next year's elections. Critics in both the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and President Vicente Fox's National Action Party say the populist mayor showed a blatant disregard for the law, and three congressmen from those parties cast the deciding ballots in favor of lifting Lopez Obrador's immunity. But his supporters see their vote as self-serving; Lopez Obrador tops opinion polls among likely candidates. "There will be political costs for both parties," says analyst Ana Maria Salazar. "It will be seen as a way to get rid of a viable political contender."

When Fox took office in 2000, he promised to consolidate the political reforms that enabled him to end the PRI's 71-year-long grip on power. Now he and his party will be accused of conniving with the PRI to deny Lopez Obrador a shot at the nation's top office. Some progress.

BUSINESS

A Dysfunctional Family

It was a storybook marriage--the 1997 merger of Morgan Stanley and Dean Witter combined Morgan's blue-chip investment-banking clients and Dean Witter's vast brokerage network. During the boom, its stock and profits soared, and CEO Philip Purcell, who came from Dean Witter, cemented his hold on the firm. When John Mack, the former Morgan CEO who accepted the No. 2 spot after the merger, challenged Purcell for the top job in 2001, Mack couldn't muster support from his old Morgan colleagues, and left.

But now Morgan looks more like a dysfunctional family than the Brady Bunch. Its stock is lagging, profits are off, and Morgan's top ranks are in turmoil. Purcell is squeezing out those he doesn't consider supporters, and giving his backers "retention bonuses'' of stock to stay (they have to sign confidentiality agreements in return).

Purcell's biggest threat: a revolt by eight former Morgan execs who collectively own 11 million shares. The Grumpy Old Men, as they call themselves, say Purcell has to go because, among other things, his imperious management style has destroyed Morgan's old culture of spirited debate. Says Robert Scott, a former Morgan president and part of the group, "He doesn't like people coming into his office with dissenting views. You need that to stay on top." There are other gripes, too. Scott complains that Purcell should have told Morgan directors to attend a memorial service last month for Richard Fisher, the former longtime Morgan CEO, out of respect. "What kind of message does that send to people at the firm?" says Scott. He adds that he made a mistake in supporting Purcell over Mack. "I gave Phil the benefit of the doubt." Purcell, through a Morgan spokesman, declined comment.

For his part, Mack is apparently taking some pleasure in seeing his former nemesis under pressure. An associate of Mack's says he recently compared the turmoil at Morgan to a "Fellini film." Mack declined to comment.

But Purcell's job seems safe, for now. After the Scott group issued a private ultimatum to the Morgan board in March, setting out their complaints and calling for Purcell's resignation, the board backed Purcell unanimously, and gave him the green light to further consolidate power. Still, even Purcell's supporters say he has to improve results to survive, and Scott and other members of his group are calling big Morgan shareholders, asking them for help pressuring the board.

Music: A Refugee Gone M.I.A.

She has the voice of a Jamaican dancehall singer and the looks of a Bollywood star, but the music M.I.A. (a.k.a. Maya Arulpragasam) makes is all her own. The 28-year-old's dance-savvy blend of bass-laden hip-hop, Caribbean raga and cut-and-paste politicism is so unusual, it's made her new CD, "Arular," one of the most talked-about debuts this year.

But it hasn't been an easy road for M.I.A.: she grew up poor during Sri Lanka's civil war, and her father abandoned the family to found a militant Tamil group. Her family relocated to London when she was 11. "I was too embarrassed to say I was a refugee," says Arulpragasam. "For 10 years I told everyone I was Trinidadian." She attended art school in London and became known for her guerrilla-style collages and fashion sense. Images of tanks, machine guns and grenades are pitted against bright tribal colors on the sleeve of "Arular"; onstage recently M.I.A wore a sequined track suit with a camouflage-graffiti T shirt.

Her music is equal mix house-party fun and freedom-fighter ire. "How can an artist not address politics?" says Arulpragasam. "The more we make it an out-of-reach subject, like it's just something for boring old men, the more we're f---ed." M.I.A. just signed to Interscope Records after a bidding war, a coup for such a genre-defying artist. She sees it as a way to drop more sonic bombs. "It's a big world, with lots of choices," she says. "Why sit in one place?"

Following Up a Hit

Sue Monk Kidd has a little trouble with success. Specifically, she still can't quite believe that her first novel, "The Secret Life of Bees," has sold 3i million copies since it appeared in 2002. Internationally acclaimed, it was recently translated into French, German and Spanish. "For a long time, I couldn't truly believe it had happened," she said in a recent interview at her home outside Charleston, South Carolina. Then, about a year ago, she was sitting in a Boston hotel room watching "Jeopardy!" when a contestant chose "Women Writers" for $600. "What popped on the screen was something like 'Sue Monk Kidd's debut novel is about the secret life of these insects.' I remember just sitting there, staring at the screen. And that was really almost the first time I got it."

Kidd may not be able to explain why "The Secret Life of Bees" became a spectacular favorite. But she's sure about one thing: the roughly "80,000 people who begged for a sequel to 'Bees' are going to be disappointed" by her second novel, "The Mermaid Chair." "I didn't want to write the first book again, and I didn't want to write another novel about an adolescent girl. I wanted to write something more complex, something more nuanced." So she wound up telling the story of a middle-aged woman who has a tempestuous affair with a monk. And she's quick to point out that there's nothing autobiographical in the story, "because people do tend to think I'm always writing about myself. I can't tell you how many people came up to me after reading 'Bees' and said, 'So, you had a terrible childhood.' I had to tell them, no, quite the opposite. My mother actually won a Mother of the Year Award." Glancing out toward the tidal creek behind her house, she says, "Maybe I write about things I haven't experienced." Her biggest talent is convincing readers that she has.

ARTS

Head to Head

Francis Bacon claimed his career truly began in the spring of 1927 after seeing the drawings of Pablo Picasso at a small exhibit in Paris. "Seeing Picasso's work gave me a shock," Bacon recalled in an interview before his death in 1992. "It made me want to be a painter." A new exhibition at Paris's Musee Picasso, "Bacon Picasso: The Life of Images," shows us that the shock never went away. It is a full-blown case of anxiety of influence, with the younger Bacon struggling to compete with his already legendary elder.

Seen side by side, the more than 100 paintings on display are hauntingly similar. Superficially, the artists were both fascinated by bullfighting and the Crucifixion (who's not?). But the British-born Bacon also stole--as great artists always do--Picasso's visual language. Early on in his work, Bacon transposed Picasso's impossibly distorted surrealist forms directly. (With its deformed star-shaped body, the figure in Bacon's 1934 pastel "Studio Interior" is clearly lifted from Picasso's 1929 painting "The Swimmer.") Bacon refined his thefts as his style matured, turning his later work into a near critique of Picasso's. His take on Picasso's giraffe-necked surrealist figures is raw and dark; his grotesquely magnificent "Crucifixion" series makes Picasso's "Crucifixion" look like child's play. Filled with gaping, fang-toothed mouths, and what look to be medieval torture devices, Bacon's art became the stuff of Picasso's nightmares. Head to head, we see how one great artist's groundbreaking vision became the dark inspiration for another's.

Q&A: Sandra Bullock

In "Miss Congeniality 2," Sandra Bullock is back as FBI agent Gracie Hart, who kicks butt and snorts when she laughs. She chatted with NEWSWEEK's Nicki Gostin.

You have no love interest in the sequel. Why?

Why do you need one? I don't understand why there needs to be a love interest to make women go see a film. I think society sort of makes us feel that way--that if you don't have a guy, you're worthless. I just read in the tabloids that you...

Oh, God, let's see how true this is.

... turned down "Million Dollar Baby"?

Rubbish. Have you noticed how, conveniently, things like that come out after such a wonderful ride for the people who made it? It's, like, no good deed goes unpunished. Even Clint Eastwood called me, saying, "I don't know what's happening."

You turned 40 this year. Did you freak out?

It's the press that makes it such a drama. I wouldn't go backwards if you paid me.

As far as I can tell, your face is not paralyzed by Botox.

Paralyzed by fear, maybe. I squint a lot; I'm very animated. I don't want to take that away.

Doesn't it creep you out, all these actresses getting Botox?

If it's overdone. I just want to go up to some people and say, "I'm sure there are doctors who do better. Let's go find them right now."

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