Insurgent Leader Al-Zarqawi Killed in Iraq

By Ellen Knickmeyer and Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, June 8, 2006; 5:57 PM

BAGHDAD, June 8 --Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the mastermind behind hundreds of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings in Iraq, was killed early Wednesday by an airstrike --north of Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Thursday.

Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born high-school dropout whose leadership of the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq made him the most wanted man in Iraq, was killed along with several other people near the city of Baqubah, the officials said.

U.S. warplanes dropped two 500-pound bombs on a house in which Zarqawi was meeting with other insurgent leaders. A U.S. military spokesman said coalition forces pinpointed Zarqawi's location after weeks of tracking the movements of his spiritual adviser, Sheik Abdul Rahman, who also was killed in the blast.

Following the attack, coalition forces raided 17 locations in and around Baghdad, seizing a "treasure trove" of information about terror operations in the country, U.S. Army Major Gen. William B. Caldwell IV told reporters at a military briefing here. Some of the raids focused on targets the United States had been using to monitor Zarqawi's location, Caldwell said.

The stated aim of Zarqawi, 39, in addition to ousting foreign forces from Iraq, was to foment bloody sectarian strife between his fellow Sunni Muslims and members of Iraq's Shiite majority, a prospect that has become a grim reality during the past several months.

His killing is the most significant public triumph for the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq since the 2003 capture of Saddam Hussein, although analysts warned that Zarqawi's death may not stem the tide of insurgency and violence any more than Hussein's capture did. Copying Osama bin Laden's leadership strategy, Zarqawi set up numerous semi-autonomous terrorist cells across Iraq, many of which could continue operating after his death.

Underscoring the threat of continued violence, an explosion ripped through a busy outdoor market in Baghdad just a few hours after Zarqawi's death was announced. The blast, in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood, killed at least 19 people and wounded more than 40, the Associated Press reported. It was followed by several other bombings around the city, which according to news reports killed several people.

"Today Zarqawi was defeated," said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, appearing at a news conference with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. military commander in Iraq. "This is a message to all those who use violence killing and devastation to disrupt life in Iraq to rethink within themselves before it is too late."

Speaking from the Rose Garden several hours later, President Bush praised the U.S.-led coalition for continuing to pursue Zarqawi through "years of near-misses and false leads."

"Through his every action, he sought to defeat America and our coalition partners and turn Iraq into a safe haven from which al-Qaeda could wage its war," Bush said. ". . . Now Zarqawi has met his end, and this violent man will never murder again."

The president said he will meet with his Cabinet and national security team at Camp David on Monday to discuss the "way forward" in Iraq. On Tuesday, the group will be joined by Iraq's new ambassador to the United States, Bush said, and will speak by teleconference with Maliki and his recently formed cabinet.

Bush echoed Iraqi and U.S. military leaders in cautioning that Zarqawi's death would not in itself halt the bloodshed in Iraq.

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