By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 5, 2006
BAGHDAD, May 4 -- Insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is seen puzzling over how to fire a machine gun and trotting around in tennis shoes in a video that the U.S. military released Thursday to mock his prowess as a field commander.
The footage, from outtakes of a Zarqawi video that was made public on April 25, shows the leader of the group al-Qaeda in Iraq apparently unable to clear a jam of his M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, a machine gun used by U.S. forces. Another man touches the gun's hot barrel after it has been fired and recoils in pain.
"He's wearing his black uniform and his New Balance tennis shoes as he moves to this white pickup," said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq. "And his close associates around him . . . do things like grab the hot barrel of the machine gun and burn themselves. It makes you wonder."
Lynch aired the clips during a news conference in which he described efforts to destroy Zarqawi's group. He said five raids in Iraq in the last month had killed 31 suspected foreign insurgents and that 161 al-Qaeda leaders had been killed or captured since January 2005.
Lynch said the latest raids had netted "lots of stuff," including printouts of Google Earth satellite images of certain areas -- such as the prison at Abu Ghraib -- and the unedited version of the Zarqawi video.
The briefing also focused on the larger issue of what U.S. strategists believe is Zarqawi's long-term goal: to overthrow the new Iraqi government by touching off a war between Shiite Muslims and Sunni Arabs and establish an Islamic theocracy.
"He is clearly trying to drive a wedge between the sectarian populations in Iraq," Lynch said of Zarqawi, a Sunni Arab from Jordan. "He knows that democracy equals failure -- he knows that the government is about to form."
To accomplish this, Lynch said, Zarqawi was funneling his resources -- men, money and weapons -- into Baghdad, in an effort to kill as many Shiites as possible. But U.S. forces are tracking him down, Lynch said.
U.S. commanders blame Zarqawi for many high-profile attacks in Iraq, including the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra on Feb. 22 that provoked a bloody wave of sectarian killing.
The hunt for Zarqawi sparked panic in Ramadi, the capital of the western province of Anbar, where residents believed that he filmed the video to bolster support for Iraq's insurgent movement and threaten its foes.
The rumor, based on background details in two scenes of the video, caused hundreds of people to flee east toward Baghdad, fearing that U.S. and Iraqi troops would level the city in order to kill or capture Zarqawi.
"About 170 families left Ramadi in the first four hours of the work day" after the video appeared, said Muhammed Rifat, the manager of the main bus station in the city. "It is like a tornado or a storm warning, and people are trying to avoid it and leave before it happens."
He said that he would leave, too, because he feared residents of Ramadi would face the same fate as those of Fallujah, a former headquarters for Zarqawi that was cordoned off and targeted during a massive U.S. offensive in 2004.
Residents said Zarqawi appeared to be consulting a map of Ramadi in one of the video's scenes. They also said they believed that the scene in which he is seen firing a machine gun shows a railroad track that runs near the city in the background.
"I've heard some conjecture of that type, but not through official channels," Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman, said when asked of the rumors. "We don't have any interest in pinpointing any areas in the video. Clearly, we do our own intelligence gathering."
U.S. commanders have not announced any major operations in the city, which lies 60 miles west of Baghdad, since the video appeared.
On Thursday, military authorities said that Marines in Ramadi who came under fire from machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades called in a strike from what the military said was a "ground-launched precision-guided munition," killing eight suspected insurgents.
A car bomb also exploded near a Baghdad courthouse on Thursday morning, killing at least 12 people and wounding more than 50, police Lt. Mahmoud Karim said. Gunmen and bombings killed at least six other Iraqis around the country, according to police.
Special correspondents Bassam Sebti, Saad al-Izzi and K.I. Ibrahim in Baghdad and Hassan Shammari in Baqubah contributed to this report.