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Zarqawi Did Not Die Instantly, U.S. General Says
Zarqawi, 39, had become the most visible and feared face of the bloody Iraqi insurgency.
A $25 million bounty had been placed on his head, after several previous attempts to locate and kill him had failed.
Yesterday, hours after the bombing, Caldwell told reporters that Zarqawi had died instantly, saying "he was dead when we got there.''
But police and witnesses at the scene in the rural village of Hib Hib told The Washington Post that Zarqawi was wounded and whisked away by U.S. forces, dying in their custody.
In this morning's briefing, Caldwell told reporters he was still receiving debriefing reports from military units who had been on the scene. "As with any confrontation that ever occurs, first reports are never 100 percent correct," he said.
Also this morning, another military coalition spokesman gave more detail on how the air strike was conducted.
Lt. Gen. Gary North told Fox News that two F-16s were conducting routine surveillance of roadways in the area, searching for evidence of roadside bombs or other potentially lethal ambushes, when they were told there was a "high-value target" nearby.
One of the jets was connected to a tanker plane in an aerial refueling operation at the time, so the other F-16 carried out the attack, Caldwell said.
The jet used laser technology to pinpoint the location and guide the bombs, North said.
Caldwell said today that no single tipster gave away Zarqawi's location and indicated that no decisions have been made on whether or how to distribute the $25 million bounty. He said analysts pulled together information from a variety of sources in order to locate Zarqawi.
In the news briefing at Camp David, Bush said, "I am so proud of our troops and intelligence officers who brought him to justice. This man had a lot of blood on his hands. He killed a lot of people. And it's a big deal to have brought him to justice."
Referring to the insurgents in Iraq, he added, "The problem we have in this war is that all they got to do is kill some innocent people by a car bomb and it looks like they're winning, see? It takes a major event like an election or the death of Zarqawi to understand that we're making progress. And so one of the things I'm trying to be is realistic with the American people and say, There's still going to be tough days ahead because the enemy has got the capacity to get on our TV screens with death and destruction."
Asked about the possible impact of Zarqawi's death, Bush said, "If al-Qaeda was a part of -- not the sole source, but a part of -- the violence inside of Baghdad, it helps to get rid of their commander." He said that "the upper management of al-Qaeda was counting on Zarqawi to help implement their vision beyond Iraq." Part of that strategy, Bush said, "is to create turmoil in moderate Muslim nations" and overthrow their governments.
"Zarqawi was the implementer of that strategy, and he can no longer implement," Bush said. "And that is helpful in winning the war on terror."