Across the U.S., Zarqawi's Death Hailed as Victory

By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 8, 2006; 6:00 PM

When President Bush was first informed at 4:35 p.m. yesterday that a U.S. airstrike may have killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, he reacted more with relief than jubilation at the demise of a man who had come to symbolize terrorist violence in Iraq.

"That would be a good thing," a reserved Bush told national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley after receiving the news, according to White House spokesman Tony Snow. Snow said Bush "was pleased by the news" but was more concerned with ascertaining the facts and getting details of the operation that resulted in the death of Zarqawi in a safe house north of Baghdad.

Confirmation that the Jordanian leader of the group al-Qaeda in Iraq had been killed in the airstrike was delivered to Bush at about 9:20 p.m. Eastern time last night after the U.S. military in Iraq determined that fingerprints, tattoos and scars on the body of a man found in the rubble of the bombed safe house matched those of Zarqawi, Snow said. But Bush decided to hold off making an announcement, preferring to let Iraq's new prime minister break the news on Iraqi soil, he said.

Around Washington and across the nation, Zarqawi's death was widely hailed as an important victory for U.S. forces battling Iraqi insurgents and radical Muslim foreign fighters in Iraq. But administration officials and lawmakers cautioned that the violence is far from over, and it was unclear whether the death would have an effect on the U.S. public's mounting opposition to the war or on Bush's own low job-approval ratings.

In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair called the development "very good news because a blow to al-Qaeda in Iraq is a blow against al-Qaeda everywhere."

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters in Brussels that the killing of Zarqawi eliminated "the leading terrorist in Iraq and one of the three senior al-Qaeda leaders worldwide."

In a news conference after a NATO meeting, he said: "I think arguably over the last several years no single person on this planet has had the blood of more innocent men, women and children on his hands than Zarqawi. He personified the dark, sadistic and medieval vision of the future of beheadings and suicide bombings and indiscriminate killings, a behavior pattern that has been rejected by the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people . . . and certainly by the overwhelming majority of Muslims worldwide."

Rumsfeld said it was "appropriate" that Zarqawi was killed on the same day that Iraq's new prime minister selected a new defense minister, interior minister and top national security official, completing the long process of forming a new government after elections in December. Rumsfeld said Zarqawi had repeatedly tried and failed to stop a succession of votes and the formation of a new government.

At the United Nations, Secretary General Kofi Annan said Iraqis "will all be relieved that he is gone," although "we cannot pretend that that will mean the end of the violence." He told reporters it was "a relief that such a heinous and dangerous man who has caused so much harm to the Iraqis is no longer around to continue his work." Zarqawi's group was believed responsible for the August 2003 truck bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, an attack that killed 22 U.N. employees including Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N. special representative to Iraq.

On an al-Qaeda-affiliated Internet forum, however, a writer identified as an ideologist for the terrorist network posted a "eulogy" for Zarqawi, asking Allah to accept him as a "martyr" and to "compensate" Muslims for his loss, according to a translation by the Washington-based SITE Institute.

The ideologist, who calls himself Lewis Attiya Allah, said the death of Zarqawi was a "victory" for the doctrine of Tawhid, or monotheism, and condemned those he described as enemies of Allah, including the "malicious Crusaders," the "cursed Jews" and the "straying Shiites."

Addressing them, Attiya Allah wrote: "You are losers and failures and Allah left you with what will hurt you." He concluded: "We are all al-Zarqawi."

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company