Officials Detail Zarqawi's Last Hour

By Joshua Partlow and Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 13, 2006

BAGHDAD, June 12 -- Insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi lived for 52 minutes, in and out of consciousness, before he succumbed to massive internal injuries caused by the concussive blasts from two 500-pound bombs dropped by a U.S. fighter jet, U.S. military officials in Baghdad said Monday.

In an attempt to end speculation on the circumstances of Zarqawi's death last Wednesday, the U.S. military provided charts, skeleton diagrams and descriptions by forensic pathologists of his autopsy to explain the last hour of Zarqawi's violent life.

At the same time, President Bush opened a two-day retreat at Camp David aimed at assessing where the United States stands in Iraq and how to bolster the new government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Bush and his top advisers, including Vice President Cheney, were briefed in the morning by video conference from Baghdad by Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. John P. Abizaid, the head of U.S. Central Command, and Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

The president was joined in the afternoon by members of his cabinet to discuss other challenges in Iraq, such as how to do a better job providing electricity and protecting the country's oil infrastructure, administration officials said.

On Zarqawi's death, Col. Stephen Jones, command surgeon for multinational forces in Iraq, said the shock waves from the bombs, ricocheting inside the hideout north of Baghdad, burst Zarqawi's blood vessels in his lungs and ears. When an American medic cleared his airway, blood flowed from Zarqawi's mouth.

Zarqawi died because his lungs failed to take in oxygen, military pathologists said. His broken right leg and scratches and cuts "were likely due to flying debris or Zarqawi being thrown against a hard object by the force of the blast," Jones said.

"No evidence of beating and no evidence of any firearm injuries," said a forensic pathologist who took part in the autopsy and spoke to reporters by phone from the United States, on condition he not be identified. A team of five people performed the autopsy Saturday; it involved body X-rays, toxicology tests and internal organ exams.

A statement on a Web site used by the organization al-Qaeda in Iraq claimed Monday to name Zarqawi's successor, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, and pledged to carry on his violent legacy. Muhajer is the fourth highest-ranking member of al-Qaeda in Iraq and oversees the religious court that sentences those captured by the organization, said another al-Qaeda in Iraq official, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Jihad.

Two women, a girl and two other men, including Zarqawi's spiritual adviser, Sheik Abdel Rahman, were also killed in the bombing. Rahman's skull was broken in the left temporal area, and several ribs and his left arm were broken, as if he had been thrown against the wall, Jones said. "Death was instantaneous," he said.

After the 6:12 p.m. airstrike, Iraqi police were the first to arrive, followed by U.S. forces at about 6:40 p.m., said Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the senior American spokesman in Iraq. He would not reveal which military unit was the first to respond. He said Zarqawi's body was treated with respect.

"He was treated better in death than he treated others in life," Caldwell said.

The results of DNA tests performed by the FBI confirmed that Zarqawi died from the bombing, Caldwell said.

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