Zarqawi's Death 'Serious Blow' to Al Qaeda in Iraq, General Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 8, 2006 - The death of al Qaeda's top operative in Iraq will hit the terrorist organization hard, a senior U.S. military officer said in Baghdad today.

Dead terrorist Abu Musab al Zarqawi is "no longer able to terrorize innocent Iraqi civilians," Army Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell told reporters at a press briefing.

Caldwell said Zarqawi was known to have masterminded myriad attacks against American, coalition and Iraqi security forces in Iraq. He was also responsible for bombings and other attacks that have killed hundreds of innocent Iraqi citizens, the general said.

Zarqawi's ardent desire, Caldwell said, was to incite a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites that would bring down the new democratic Iraqi government. However, "the elimination of Zarqawi has dealt a serious blow to al Qaeda in Iraq," Caldwell said.

Fingerprinting provided a positive identification of Zarqawi's body, Caldwell, the spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq, said. Testing results from samples of Zarqawi's DNA are pending, he said.

Two U.S. Air Force F-16 fighters attacked a safe house near the town of Baqubah yesterday, killing Zarqawi, his spiritual adviser, Sheik Abdul Rahman and four other persons, Caldwell said. The fighters dropped two 500-pound bombs on the building. Zarqawi was dead when Iraqi police and U.S. military forces arrived on the scene, he said.

The successful operation "was the product of painstaking intelligence-gathering from local sources and within Zarqawi's network," Caldwell said.

Intelligence sources believe that Zarqawi came to Iraq sometime in 2002, Caldwell said, noting he was a key target of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts in Iraq since December 2003. Caldwell said intelligence agents had obtained information about Rahman's comings and goings as well as interactions with Zarqawi.

Military officials were convinced that Zarqawi and Rahman were at the safe house before commencing the air strike, Caldwell said. During the briefing the general showed slide-projected photo of Zarqawi's face in death, as well as maps depicting the area of the attack.

Although the terrorist's demise will negatively impact al Qaeda operations in Iraq, Caldwell cautioned that this doesn't signal the end of the insurgency in Iraq. Zarqawi most likely designated a successor in the event of his capture or death, the general said.

Caldwell said al Qaeda in Iraq likely "will try to incite violence over the next few days to reassert themselves to show that they are still a viable insurgent organization."

However, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has vowed to make security his top priority, the general said, noting the Iraqi government today also announced the selection of the interior, defense and national security ministers.

Zarqawi's death marks "a stride in the direction of law and order in Iraq that is primed for the future by a government that respects the rights of all Iraqi citizens," Caldwell said.

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