Zarqawi Killed, Iraq PM Fills Key Cabinet Posts

The death of Jordanian-born al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in an air raid wasn't the only big news from Iraq on Thursday. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced that he has filled the important posts of interior and defense ministers in his new government. Madeleine Brand talks with Jamie Tarabay, reporting from Baghdad.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand. The terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is dead. In Baghdad today, the U.S. military briefed reporters on the detail surrounding his killing in a U.S. military air strike yesterday. NPR Correspondent Jamie Tarabay is with us now from Iraq. She was at that briefing. And Jamie, what did the American general in charge who was speaking at that briefing, what did he say about how this operation went down?

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

Major General Bill Caldwell showed a series of slides detailing the operation starting with the intelligence that the coalition forces had received that helped them track down Zarqawi to a safe house along an isolated road in the town of Baqubah which is just northeast of Baghdad. There was a series of strikes, two 500-pound bombs were dropped on this house and this was at 6:15 on Wednesday evening. And Zarqawi along with the person that they described as his spiritual advisor and four people, including a woman and a child were killed in this attack.

BRAND: How did the military track him down?

TARABAY: Well they won't give specifics. The military said that it relied heavily on intelligence and informants from Zarqawi's militant group and people who have connections with this group and people who have connections this man they Sheik Abdel Rahman, who they described as his spiritual advisor. They say that different bits of information all came together just in the time and place that Zarqawi was going to be at this particular house, and they say, Major General Caldwell said he was absolutely one hundred percent beyond the doubt sure that Zarqawi was in that house when the strike launched.

BRAND: Zarqawi was accused of being behind many of the kidnappings, beheadings in Iraq, a lot of the violence between Sunnis and Shiites. What's the reaction there in Iraq?

TARABAY: There's a lot of relief and people are incredibly happy here particularly in Shiite cities across the country. In his last communication, Zarqawi had urged Sunnis to kill Iraqi Shiites and he said that they were infidels and that this and - So the Shiites cities of Najaf and Basra, for example, people were shooting in the streets in celebration firing into the air. Women were outside ululating and in the Sadr - Sadr City which is a slum in Baghdad is a Shiite area - they're planning festivities for tomorrow as well.

BRAND: And another big news item today, three major positions filled in the Iraqi government. Tell us about those and who's in them?

TARABAY: It's taken Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki 20 days to finally get parliament approval for the defense, interior and national security advisor positions to be filled. The defense minister is actually a ground forces commander and he's a Sunni Arab and the interior minister is a Shiite who has absolutely no connection to the sectarian militia, which was the biggest concern by not just the other Iraqi political parties but the U.S. Administration as well. They wanted someone who was not affiliated with the militia, who wouldn't be accused of carrying out sectarian driven killings and detentions over Sunni Arabs for example.

BRAND: NPR Correspondent Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad. Thank you very much.

TARABAY: You're welcome.

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U.S. Air Raid Kills Terror Figure Zarqawi

Iraqis listen to the joint press conference of Iraqi PM al-Maliki, Gen. George Casey. i i

Iraqis listen to the joint press conference of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (L) and Gen. George W. Casey Jr, chief of the Multi-National Force in Iraq. Ali Al-Saadi/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Ali Al-Saadi/AFP/Getty Images
Iraqis listen to the joint press conference of Iraqi PM al-Maliki, Gen. George Casey.

Iraqis listen to the joint press conference of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (L) and Gen. George W. Casey Jr, chief of the Multi-National Force in Iraq.

Ali Al-Saadi/AFP/Getty Images
Map showing the location of Zarqawi's death. i i

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed along with five others Wednesday evening in a remote area 30 miles northeast of Baghdad, just east of the provincial capital of Baqouba. Melody Kokoszka, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Melody Kokoszka, NPR
Map showing the location of Zarqawi's death.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed along with five others Wednesday evening in a remote area 30 miles northeast of Baghdad, just east of the provincial capital of Baqouba.

Melody Kokoszka, NPR

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is dead. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced Zarqawi's killing today in Baghdad.

Zarqawi was the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq. He was responsible for numerous attacks, his signature being spectacular bombings of civilians.

That includes the destruction of a significant Shi'ite mosque in Samarra almost four months ago that set off a round of sectarian killings that is still raging. Zarqawi is also believed to have personally beheaded at least one American hostage.

U.S. forces had been following a man described as Zarqawi's spiritual adviser, whom they identified as Sheik Abdul Rahman, for weeks after being tipped off by someone within al-Qaida.

Last night in Iraq, Abdul Rahman was tracked to an isolated house a few miles outside the city of Baqouba, north of Baghdad.

A Predator drone loitered overhead, feeding live video of the house. Special Forces troops confirmed that Zarqawi was in the house and called in an air strike.

Two F-16s swooped in. The first dropped a 500-pound Joint Direct Attack Munition, a GPS-controlled bomb, on the house, followed quickly by the second F-16, which dropped another bomb.

Iraqi police were the first on the scene, followed quickly by a U.S. quick-reaction force from the 101st Airborne.

Six bodies were found, that of Zarqawi, Abdul Rahman and four others. Two of them were a woman and a child.

Zarqawi was quickly identified by his facial features, later confirmed by fingerprints. DNA analysis is underway. The U.S. military showed a picture of the slain Zarqawi today in Baghdad, with his eyes closed and spots of blood behind him.

President George W. Bush held a press conference in the Rose Garden this morning. He said Zarqawi's death is "a severe blow to al-Qaida, and it is a significant victory in the war on terror," though he did caution that there are still "tough days ahead" in Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki said, "Those who disrupt the course of life, like al-Zarqawi, will have a tragic end." He also warned the slain terrorist's followers that "whenever there is a new al-Zarqawi, we will kill him."

Zarqawi appeared on a video released recently, firing an automatic weapon into the air and then turning to the camera.

"I swear to God," he said, "America will be defeated in Iraq, God willing. And it will leave the land of the two rivers, defeated, humiliated, exhausted and disgraced."

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