June 12th, 2006 12:01 EST
Terrorist's Demise Significant, but Will Not End Iraq's Violence By Jacquelyn S. Porth
Washington – A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, Iraq, says the elimination of the leading terrorist in Iraq is a big step forward, but will not end the ongoing violence there.
Major General William Caldwell, speaking to Pentagon reporters via videoconference from Iraq’s capital June 9, said the Iraqi people and coalition forces have “some tough times ahead.”
Still, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s death “is a victory for the Iraqi people,” according to Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes. Interviewed on NBC’s Today Show from Brussels, Belgium, June 9, she said his brutality was not confined to the Iraqis and coalition forces in Iraq, but was spread throughout the region.
With Zarqawi now out of the picture, she said, it is bound to affect al-Qaida “both operationally and psychologically.”
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also said this development “has to be a shock to the al-Qaida system, not just in Iraq, but elsewhere.”
Caldwell said U.S. forces are working to support the Iraqi government now that it has set many of the political and security conditions needed to establish better control. “We’re optimistic,” he said, now that the Iraqi Cabinet is complete with ministers of defense, national security and interior in place and a security plan for Baghdad is operational.
Reporters questioned Caldwell about the decision to go after Zarqawi by aerial strike rather than a ground assault. The commander on the scene in Iraq made that decision, he said.
STRIKE A PRODUCT OF COALITION, INTELLIGENCE PARTNERING
The effort that culminated in the airstrike occurred as a result of a tremendous amount of work by coalition forces, various intelligence agencies and partners in the global war on terrorism, Caldwell said.
He also confirmed that Zarqawi was alive for a brief period after Iraqi police found him and that the U.S. military sought to provide medical assistance when they arrived, but he died too quickly. Two other men, including Zarqawi’s adviser, Abd al-Rahman, and three women were dead when the police arrived, according to the briefing official. (See related article.)
Caldwell said U.S. military officials sent DNA for Rahman and Zarqawi to Washington for analysis; they are awaiting results.
A ZARQAWI SUCCESSOR?
Caldwell also was asked to provide details about the man expected to be Zarqawi’s successor, Abu Ayyub al-Masri. Caldwell said Masri was born in Egypt and arrived in Iraq sometime in 2003, setting up the first al-Qaida planning cell in Iraq.
Masri had met Zarqawi at the al-Faruq training camp in Afghanistan in 2001 or 2002. They remained in long-distance contact until Zarqawi arrived in Iraq, according to Caldwell.
In response to a reporter’s question, the general also confirmed that Masri has been in touch recently with Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Zawahiri released a videotape June 9 praising Zarqawi, but did not refer to his death.
The transcript of Caldwell’s video press conference is available