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.

Finding Zarqawi's location, near Baqubah, involved the help of "Jordanian assets," said Caldwell, after days of reports that Jordanian intelligence played a crucial role. "Jordan was extremely important and very informative in helping us establish and be able to prosecute this operation," he said.

Zarqawi, a native of Jordan, had asserted responsibility for three hotel bombings that killed 60 people, plus three bombers, in Amman, that country's capital. "Zarqawi was a wanted man in Jordan as he is wanted in Iraq," Jordanian government spokesman Nasir Judah said. "There was a continuous flow of information between Iraq and Jordan that has been ongoing for a while."

At Camp David, the president was joined by four nongovernment military experts who have generally supported the war in Iraq but have criticized different elements of U.S. efforts: author Robert Kaplan, Eliot A. Cohen of Johns Hopkins University, Frederick W. Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute and Michael Vickers of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

The four have in the past been critical of how the Bush administration has handled Iraq, though not necessarily from the same perspective. Vickers has argued that the United States ought to have a smaller, more effective presence in Iraq, with more emphasis on developing advisers for the nascent Iraqi security forces. Kagan, by contrast, recently wrote in the Weekly Standard that the United States should consider deploying more troops and prosecuting the battle against insurgents more aggressively. Cohen has also questioned the vigor with which the military has pursued the war, as well as the competence of the administration.

Bush appeared outside one of the cabins at the presidential retreat and told reporters that success in Iraq "will depend upon the capacity of the new government to provide for its people. . . . We're encouraged by the formation of a unity government, and we recognize our responsibilities to help that new government."

Bush and White House aides declined to offer many details of what had been discussed, although they indicated no imminent plan to reduce the level of U.S. ground troops in Iraq, now at about 130,000. "This is a process of getting to know . . . the Iraqi capabilities, particularly the command and control structure, and what we need to do to help them achieve victory," the president said.

Bush urged Iraq's neighbors to do more to speed the reconstruction of the country and said he and his advisers spent considerable time discussing how to boost oil production. "The government ought to use the oil as a way to unite the country and ought to think about having a tangible fund for the people, so the people have faith in central government," Bush said.

In Iraq, U.S.-led forces raided 140 locations in the past two days -- 11 of which emerged directly from intelligence gathered from the bomb site -- in an attempt to further dismantle al-Qaeda in Iraq's network, officials announced. American forces killed 32 insurgents, detained 178 people and captured a "high value" individual who had a $50,000 bounty on his head, Caldwell said.

During one operation in Baqubah, U.S. forces came under gunfire from a rooftop and responded by killing nine people including two young boys, military officials said. Caldwell said seven were insurgents and offered his "deepest condolences" for the boys, one less than a year old and the other about 4 years old.

The nine dead were all members of a well-known family in the village of Arab Nazzal who began shooting to repel American forces they mistook for insurgents, said Warrant Officer Zaidan Salem of the 2nd Battalion of the Iraqi army.

Elsewhere, 31 people were killed in violence across the country, according to Iraqi police officials. Two car bombs exploded in quick succession in downtown Balad, north of Baghdad, about 6:30 p.m., said 1st Lt. Raeid Abdul Mahdi of the Balad police. The two explosions, within five minutes of each other, killed six people and injured 50 others, said Zagid Hussein, a physician in the emergency room at Balad General Hospital.

Ten Oil Ministry employees were killed and 12 more wounded when men ambushed their bus with rocket-propelled grenades as it drove to an oil refinery in the Dora area in Baghdad, Gen. Saad al-Dulaimi said from the Interior Ministry operations room. A third car bomb detonated near a Shiite mosque in Baghdad's Shula neighborhood about 9 a.m., killing six people and wounding five others, he said.

In Amarah, a Shiite city in the south, British forces clashed with armed protesters for one hour, Dulaimi said, leaving eight civilians dead and 20 wounded.

A U.S. soldier from the 34th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team was killed Friday night by a roadside bomb while on patrol near Diwaniyah, the military said in a statement yesterday. The soldier's name was being withheld pending notification of his next of kin.

The trial of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein also continued Monday with four defense witnesses who admitted they had lied on the stand. One witness, who worked in Hussein's security services, said one of the defense attorneys, Khalil al-Dulaimi, and one of Hussein's former bodyguards said they would give him a permanent job in Syria if he testified in Hussein's defense and would kill his family if he didn't, according to the witness's statement, which was read in court. The witness said he was paid $500.

"They made me defend Saddam in my testimony," he said.

Hussein responded that the four witnesses had been investigated in "an atmosphere of threats" and that there were too many conspiracies in Iraq.

Abramowitz reported from Washington. Staff writer Bradley Graham and researcher Julie Tate in Washington, special correspondents Yasmin Mousa in Amman, Omar Fekeiki in Baghdad and Hasan Shammari in Baqubah, and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company