U.S. finds al-Zarqawi through his adviser | VailDaily.com
YOUR AD HERE »

U.S. finds al-Zarqawi through his adviser

BAGHDAD, Iraq – In the hours after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s death was announced, two things happened in Iraq.The prime minister named three key security ministers, ending a monthslong political stalemate, and insurgents killed dozens more people, including the brother of Mosul’s governor.The developments seemed to encapsulate the state of Iraq three years into the U.S.-led invasion, caught between a glimmer of political hope and a fear that the death of Iraq’s most-wanted terrorist – always more myth than master insurgent in the view of some – would do little to end the bloodshed on the streets.The killing of al-Zarqawi, the insurgent leader known for beheading American hostages Nicholas Berg and Eugene Armstrong, was a triumph for U.S. and Iraqi officials in a year that has seen hundreds of bombings, kidnappings and murders.It was portrayed by U.S. military chiefs as a precision cloak-and-dagger job. Al-Zarqawi was pinpointed by tracking the movements of his spiritual adviser to a safe house outside Baqouba. Then U.S. officials called in two patrolling F-16 fighters to drop a pair of 500-pound bombs that flattened the building, killing al-Zarqawi, adviser Abu Abdul-Rahman al-Iraqi, and four others, including a woman and a child.Intelligence officials had identified al-Iraqi several weeks earlier with help from “somebody inside the al-Zarqawi network,” U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said.Adding an ironic touch was the place where al-Zarqawi, the Islamic jihadist, met his end – a village named Hibhib that produces anise-flavored arak, one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in the Middle East.Al-Zarqawi, who had pledged fealty to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, was identified by fingerprints, tattoos and known scars, according to White House spokesman Tony Snow.The Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi was known for extraordinary brutality as the leader of the largely Sunni Muslim insurgency in Iraq. His insurgent followers were believed responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iraqis, mainly in roadside bombings and suicide attacks.Iraqis celebrated with gunfire as the battered face of the country’s most feared terrorist was broadcast around the world. It was a long-sought victory for U.S. forces, but officials cautioned of violence ahead – and a string of blasts proved that prediction almost immediately.”This popular front and national unity is our guarantee to fighting all challenges,” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told a Baghdad news conference. But, he warned, “whenever there is a new al-Zarqawi, we will kill him.”President Bush and U.S. military leaders cautioned that the death of the 39-year-old militant was not likely to end the bloodshed – just as the capture of Saddam Hussein and the killings of his two sons failed to dampen the insurgency. A rash of bombings that killed nearly 40 people in Baghdad on Thursday confirmed that assessment.”We have tough days ahead of us in Iraq that will require the continuing patience of the American people,” Bush said.Nevertheless, the president called the killing “a severe blow to al-Qaida, and it is a significant victory in the war on terror.”Al-Maliki told al-Arabiya television the $25 million bounty the U.S. put on al-Zarqawi’s head would be honored, saying “we will meet our promise.”Al-Zarqawi was killed at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday after an intense two-week hunt that U.S. officials said first led to the terror leader’s spiritual adviser and then to him.Loud applause broke out as al-Maliki, flanked by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and U.S. Gen. George Casey, announced at the news conference that “al-Zarqawi was eliminated.”Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said the American airstrike targeted “an identified, isolated safe house.”Al-Qaida confirmed al-Zarqawi’s death in a statement Thursday and vowed to continue its “holy war.” Curiously, the announcement was signed by al-Iraqi, who was identified as deputy “emir” of the group, perhaps in an attempt to spread confusion over whether he was killed.The U.S. military released a picture of al-Zarqawi’s face after the airstrike, with his eyes closed and spots of blood behind him, an image reminiscent of photos of Saddam’s dead sons.”We had absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Zarqawi was in the house,” Caldwell said.U.S. and Iraqi intelligence found al-Zarqawi by following al-Iraqi, who was seen going into the house shortly before American jets were ordered into action in the skies 30 miles northeast of Baghdad.Intelligence officials had identified al-Iraqi several weeks ago with help from “somebody inside the al-Zarqawi network,” Caldwell said.”Through a painstaking intelligence effort, we were able to start tracking him, monitor his movements and establish when he was doing his link-up with al-Zarqawi,” he said.Air Force Lt. Gen. Gary L. North, who commands U.S. and coalition air operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, said al-Zarqawi’s meeting in the house gave commanders time to gather exact coordinates and redirect the fighters.”We knew exactly where he was and we chose the right moment,” North told The Associated Press.In the final two weeks of the manhunt for al-Zarqawi, Caldwell indicated U.S. and Iraqi forces had pinpointed the location of many other key al-Qaida figures but had held off on attacking them for fear of spooking their boss. Immediately after al-Zarqawi was killed, U.S. and Iraqi forces carried out 17 raids in the Baghdad region, he said.What may have partly enabled the success now after so long was Khalilzad’s efforts to patch up relations with Sunnis.At the same time, the Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi, who was sensitive to U.S.-encouraged derision of a foreigner killing Iraqis, began cozying up to Sunni insurgents. It was probably the move that led to his undoing, said Ed O’Connell, a retired Air Force intelligence officer who led manhunts for Osama bin Laden and others in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen.”Once that happened, all we needed was a guy inside the insurgency to tell us where he was and, bam, we got him,” he said.In the past year, al-Zarqawi moved his campaign beyond Iraq’s borders, claiming to have carried out a triple suicide bombing against hotels in Amman, Jordan, that killed 60 people, as well as other attacks in his homeland and even a rocket attack from Lebanon into northern Israel.Caldwell said Egyptian-born Abu al-Masri would likely take the reins of al-Qaida in Iraq. He said al-Masri trained in Afghanistan and arrived in Iraq in 2002 in a bid to establish an al-Qaida cell in the country.Buoyed by his announcement of al-Zarqawi’s death, al-Maliki won parliamentary approval for three important ministers – ending a three-week stalemate that many blamed for the outburst of violence.The new defense minister is Army Gen. Abdul-Qader Mohammed Jassim al-Mifarji, a Sunni Arab, while Shiite Jawad al-Bolani took over the Interior post. The new minister of state for national security, Sherwan al-Waili, who will advise the prime minister, also is a Shiite.Iraqi police in Baghdad’s Shiite enclave of Sadr City greeted news of al-Zarqawi’s death by firing their weapons into the air and chanting in elation.But al-Zarqawi was mourned in Anbar province, the heart of the Sunni-led insurgency.”This is a black day in Ramadi (the provincial capital). This a great loss for all the Sunnis,” 40-year-old worker Abid al-Duleimi said. “If they killed al-Zarqawi, more than one al-Zarqawi will replace him.”


Support Local Journalism