Abu Musab al-Zarqawi Killed (Video Photo)
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is dead, finally killed in one of the air strikes sent in to do the job.
[Unless otherwise noted, all boldface emphases mine.]
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaida’s leader in Iraq who led a bloody campaign of suicide bombings and kidnappings, has been killed in an air strike, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Thursday, adding that his identity was confirmed by fingerprints and a look at his face. It was a major victory in the U.S.-led war in Iraq and the broader war on terror. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said al-Zarqawi was killed along with seven aides Wednesday evening in a remote area 30 miles northeast of Baghdad in the volatile province of Diyala, just east of the provincial capital of Baqouba, al-Maliki said.
Loud applause broke out as al-Maliki, flanked by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and U.S. Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told reporters at a news conference that “al-Zarqawi was eliminated.”
In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said al-Zarqawi’s death “was very good news because a blow against al-Qaida in Iraq was a blow against al-Qaida everywhere.”
The announcement came six days after the Jordanian-born terror leader issued an audiotape on the Internet, railing against Shiites in Iraq and saying militias were raping women and killing Sunnis and the community must fight back.
Al-Maliki said the air strike was the result of intelligence reports provided to Iraqi security forces by residents in the area, and U.S. forces acted on the information. A Jordanian official said that Jordan also provided the U.S. military with information that helped in tracking al-Zarqawi down. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was addressing intelligence issues, would not elaborate, but Jordan is known to have intelligence agents operating in Iraq to hunt down Islamic militants. Some of the information came from Jordan’s sources inside Iraq and led the U.S. military to the area of Baqouba, the official said.
“Those who disrupt the course of life, like al-Zarqawi, will have a tragic end,” al-Maliki said. He also warned those who would follow the militant’s lead that “whenever there is a new al-Zarqawi, we will kill him.” “This is a message for all those who embrace violence, killing and destruction to stop and to (retreat) before it’s too late,” he said. “It is an open battle with all those who incite sectarianism.” Khalilzad added that “the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a huge success for Iraq and the international war on terror.” He also gave a thumbs up and said it was a good day for America.
Casey said the hunt for al-Zarqawi began in the area two weeks ago, and al-Zarqawi’s body was identified by fingerprints and facial recognition. Al-Zarqawi, who is believed to have personally beheaded at least two American hostages, became Iraq’s most wanted militant — as notorious as Osama bin Laden, to whom he swore allegiance in 2004. The United States put a $25 million bounty on al-Zarqawi, the same as bin Laden.
U.S. forces in Iraq said the killing was a major victory. “We killed him, and it’s always great when you can remove someone that has caused this much harm,” said Maj. Frank Garcia, public affairs officer for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division. “We’re one step closer to providing stability to the region.”
Iraqis had mixed reactions. Thamir Abdulhussein, a college student in Baghdad, said he hopes the killing of al-Zarqawi will promote reconciliation between Iraq’s fractured ethnic and sectarian groups. “If it’s true al-Zarqawi was killed, that will be a big happiness for all the Iraqis,” he said. “He was behind all the killings of Sunni and Shiites. Iraqis should now move toward reconciliation. They should stop the violence.” Amir Muhammed Ali, a 45-year-old stock broker in Baghdad, was skeptical that al-Zarqawi’s death would end the unrelenting violence in the country, saying he was a foreigner but the Iraqi resistance to U.S.-led forces would likely continue. “He didn’t represent the resistance, someone will replace him and the operations will go on,” he said.
Not much doubt about that. But killing the charismatic head of an organization tends to be quite disruptive. In the short term, though, I suspect we’ll see an increase in violence, as al Qaeda tries to demonstrate that it’s unbowed.
If true, the news that the intelligence that led to Zarqawi’s death came from the people among whom he was hiding, bolstered by help from a friendly Arab regime, is especially welcome.
Details are still emerging of the operation against the self-proclaimed leader of al Qaeda in Iraq who pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden. But the killing of al-Zarqawi, who had a $25 million bounty on his head, is a major coup for the embattled coalition forces. “Today is a good day,” U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad told a news conference soon after cheers and applause broke out when Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced: “Zarqawi has been killed.” Khalilzad called al-Zarqawi “the godfather of sectarian killing and terror in Iraq” — and said the death “marks a great success for Iraq and the global war on terror.” “His organization has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians in Iraq and abroad.”
Analysts warned that his death did not mean the insurgency in Iraq would subside – and that there might even be an explosion of revenge by his followers.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was not a global mastermind like al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, says the BBC’s security correspondent, Frank Gardner. Instead he was a bloodthirsty and violent thug, who made enemies and several mistakes that might have contributed to his downfall. These included featuring in a video that appeared earlier this year, and ordering a triple suicide bombing against hotels in Amman, Jordan, last November, that killed 60 people, our correspondent says.
BBC also provides a separate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi obituary.
WaPo’s Ellen Knickmeyer and Jonathan Finer add:
The statement was met by applause among Iraqi reporters assembled in a briefing room. The announcement, which was confirmed by a Website linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq, was also met by celebratory gunfire in the streets of Baghdad.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which had recently rebranded itself as part of a coalition of insurgent groups called the Mujahideen Al-Shura Council, had claimed responsibility for hundreds of attacks in the past three years, including many of the deadliest. The group’s focus had recently begun to shift from attacks on military forces to the targeting of civilians, most of them Shiites. In an audio statement last week he called for the killing of revered Grand Ayatullah Ali al-Sistani, the country’s most revered Shiite cleric.
U.S. forces had placed a $25 million bounty on Zarqawi, the organization’s leader and most public face. He was last seen publicly in a video that aired in early May, after widespread reports that U.S. and Iraqi forces had stepped up efforts to capture him. His killing is the most significant public triumph for the U.S.-led coalition since the 2003 capture of Saddam Hussein.
I had the same reaction although I would modify it to say “most significant military triumph.” Surely, the elections were much more significant public triumphs.
StrategyPage had a prescient report yesterday entitled “Zarqawi Scheduled for Martyrdom.”
Given that Zarqawi has become a loose cannon and that his actions are handicapping Al Qaeda’s efforts, it seems reasonable to expect that an accident may befall him at some point in the near future. If handled right it can be made to look like he went out in a blaze of glory fighting American troops or that he was foully murdered. Either way, al Qaeda gets rid of a problem and gains another “martyr.”
Unless al Qaeda was behind the tip-off, we at least get the psychic rewards that come from doing the job ourselves.
- Michelle Malkin has video of Al-Maliki’s announcement and ensuing applause.
- WaPo/AP does too but make you watch an ad first.
- CNN has video explaining how Zarqawi’s body was identified.
- YouTube has all manner of Zarqawi parody videos.
Andrew Cochran has a superb link roundup of Counterterrorism Blog backgrounders.
C.S. Scott has a superb roundup of leader and expert reactions, including this:
One pressing question is who might step into Zarqawi’s role as head of al Qaeda in Iraq. Terorrism expert Rohan Gunaratna from the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies said “Zarqawi didn’t have a number two. I can’t think of any single person who would succeed Zarqawi…In terms of effectiveness, there was no single leader in Iraq who could match his ruthlessness and his determination.” Gunaratna also noted that the killing of Zarqawi “is the most significant victory in the fight against terrorism. He was certainly the most active terrorist in Iraq. More than that, he was using Iraq to mount operations in the neighborhood, for instance the Jordan attacks (last year) were by his group…He had an extensive network overseas, in Europe and in the Middle East, and he was expanding this network.”
This is excellent news, indeed. Surely it’s no silver bullet. The jihadists will continue (and the jihadists, of course, are not the only source of viiolence) and tragically this comes after the jihadists have had too much success in their strategy of sparking sectarian violence.
But it’s not to be downplayed, either. In a war of images and propaganda, you can’t say enough for striking a blow against someone who had made himself so prominent, a veritable poster-boy for the jihadist cause. This is the kind of thing that can sharply shift momentum over to the good guys for a good long while — it’s something to build on, to be sure.
Surely, this will give a big boost to Maliki’s bon fides. Maybe it will get Haditha off the front pages (at least for a while) and increase the U.S. public’s support for the war (as it provides hope that there’s light at the end of the tunnel). Obviously, this is the best news in a long, long time. May Zarqawi rest in hell. Where will bin Laden and Zawahiri get money now? What will #1 and #2 say now?
Froggy at BlackFive is exuberant:
“Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is currently backstroking in The Lake of Fire. Good riddance, bitch! . . . Wake up with a smile America, Zarqawi ate a 500lb bomb in Baquba yesterday and this is confirmed. . . . Ding Dong the witch is dead. HOOYAH!!!
Ed Morrissey is getting a little carried away:
The elimination of Zarqawi and his henchmen will kneecap the foreign insurgency. Although the network will still exist, the loss of leadership and political connections will guarantee its rapid decline. What little command and control existed will disappear, and the funding channels that Zarqawi controlled with go with them. Cells will operate without any coordination at all, a problem already with the successes the Coalition and Iraq have achieved against the network. They will act all at once in response to this attack, but then should run out of gas quickly.
Daniel Rubin has an excellent roundup of early reax and describes the deceased as “puppet master of the deadly insurgency that has plagued coalition forces and citizens alike, the terrorist who personally beheaded Nicholas Berg.”
Laura Rosen: “A great victory for the forces of civilization.”
Democrat Taylor Marsh: “This is a psychological lift, but reality remains terribly grim in Iraq. Al-Zarqawi’s killing doesn’t dent the insurgency reality.”
Chris at AmericaBlog: “I suppose in the coming months that we will find out if he was behind all of the troubles or just a piece of the big puzzle. He’s been demonized (clearly he was a bad guy) as the central figure in the problems over there so it will be interesting to see the actual impact of his death.”
Alexandra von Maltzan has a funny image.
Mark in Mexico: “All in all, probably a bigger day for the Iraqi people than the day Saddam was captured or the day that his two maniac sons were killed.”
blogenlust: “It won’t come as a surprise to those of you who’ve been following my Zarqawi posts that I’m skeptical of his role in the insurgency, and now, his death.”
Cassandra at VC: “Al-Zarqawi Not Just Merely, But Quite Severely Dead.”
Steven Taylor agrees with me, demonstrating his keen judgment.
Tom Maguire: “Well, capturing Saddam had less impact than expected. But today is a good day.”
Omar at ITM: “CONGRATULATIONS TO IRAQ, CONGRATULATIONS TO THE WHOLE WORLD ON THIS VICTORY.”
Sean Hackbarth adds his touch to a famous Zarqawi photo.
Tim Worstall has a Nightcap Syndication exclusive from “our correspondent in Baghdad.”
UPDATE: Photo added to top, via YahooNews.
UPDATE: John Robb has an excellent post summarizing Zarqawi’s impact from a purely strategic standpoint. He rates him quite highly:
If we put Zarqawi within a historical context, he was able to do what Che hoped to do with a foco insurgency (for more on this, read the brief on “Iraq and Foco Insurgency”). In essence, he proved that within a modern context (open source warfare and systems disruption), it is possible to seed the collapse of a state.
Hopefully, there’s still time to reverse that damage.
UPDATE: YouTube has the CENTCOM video of the strike with President Bush’s speech on the Zarqawi strike as a voiceover, plus rap music and Toby Keith.
Gotta love American ingenuity.