How U.S. Forces Found Iraq's Most-Wanted Man

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By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 9, 2006

BAGHDAD, June 8 -- To kill Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, U.S. forces first found his spiritual adviser. Then they had to wait. They tracked the adviser for weeks, until he met Iraq's most-wanted man Wednesday night in a village north of Baghdad. As the two huddled in a farmhouse, an F-16 warplane blasted it with two 500-pound bombs, killing them and at least four other people.

Facial recognition, fingerprints, tattoos and scars allowed intelligence officials to identify the battered body of Zarqawi, who directed some of the bloodiest attacks of the three-year-old insurgency and became its public face.

A long-sought victory for President Bush, the U.S.-led military forces and their Iraqi allies, Zarqawi's death was the most significant public triumph since the capture of former president Saddam Hussein in late 2003.

Zarqawi "will never murder again," Bush said in a statement in the White House Rose Garden.

The successful strike on Zarqawi came at a time of dwindling support for the Iraq war in the United States and intense scrutiny of alleged killings of unarmed civilians by U.S. Marines.

In a deeply divided Iraq, the killing of the Jordanian-born insurgent leader -- whom the government painted as a foreign invader -- was hailed with varying degrees of enthusiasm by leaders of all mainstream political factions: Sunni and Shiite Muslim Arabs and ethnic Kurds. But across the country, there were few raucous celebrations, and some Iraqis said they were saddened by the loss of the most visible symbol of resistance to Iraq's new order brought on by the American invasion.

U.S. and Iraqi officials cautioned Thursday that insurgents had prepared for life without Zarqawi and would continue the fight without him. But they expressed hope that his removal would ultimately help tame the fighting and bring stability to Iraq.

"Today Zarqawi was defeated," said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who won a double dose of positive news Thursday when he also named top security ministers, completing his cabinet lineup after weeks of wrangling. Parliament endorsed the members in a vote held minutes after the announcement of Zarqawi's death.

"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," Maliki said, as Iraqi reporters broke into hearty applause and chanted an Islamic prayer in unison.

President Bush congratulated Maliki by telephone on the day's events, officials said. Speaking from the Rose Garden several hours later, Bush praised the U.S.-led forces for pursuing 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 of Zarqawi.

A high school dropout and longtime criminal, Zarqawi had been implicated in a string of terror attacks across the Muslim world since 2002, including bombings in Morocco and Turkey and the killing of an American diplomat in Jordan.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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