White House Reacts to News of Zarqawi's Death

The death of Jordanian-born al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in an air raid in Iraq was a rare moment of good news from Iraq for the Bush administration. Madeleine Brand speaks with NPR White House correspondent David Greene about the White House response to the news, which was confirmed early Thursday.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

President Bush was informed of Zarqawi's death by his National Security Advisor yesterday. This morning the president spoke from the Rose Garden.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We have tough days ahead of us in Iraq that will require the continued patience of the American people. If the developments of the last 24 hours give us renewed confidence in the final outcome of this struggle.

BRAND: Joining me is NPR's White House Correspondent David Greene. And David, you just got back from a press briefing at the White House and are there any new details from that?

DAVID GREENE reporting:

The briefing did just happen; it was Tony Snow the new Press Secretary managing probably the biggest news story of his short career of White House Press Secretary so far. The White House seems pretty happy to be talking about a very concrete example of success in Iraq.

Tony Snow went through how the president learned of Zarqawi's death yesterday. He was holding a meeting with members of Congress in the afternoon and one funny moment came when Republican Ray LaHood apparently told the president and the whole group, you know it would be really good if you got Zarqawi. And the reaction of the whole group was well yeah, obviously.

And then right after that meeting the president learned that there was the attack and the military thought that they nabbed him and, and, and then killed him. And then he got final confirmation last night just after nine o'clock p.m. the president learned. I think officials here are being pretty careful about how they respond.

They want to show satisfaction with these developments but they're being careful to show restraint. You recall the president learning a lesson on an aircraft carrier about the political risks in declaring victory early and they want to make sure not to do that before they see what happens.

BRAND: Mm. But so privately are they, are they pretty happy?

GREENE: They seem pretty happy and you can see some of the aides walking out into the Rose Garden including Karl Rove. Walking with a bit of, perhaps a bit more confidence than on normal days.

BRAND: Now in that briefing White House Press Secretary Tony Snow spoke a lot about how insurgent groups have been able to manipulate the airwaves, that's what he said. What did he mean by that?

GREENE: Yeah, he made a pretty strong statement. He said that in fact the U.S. military is really crushing the opposition in Iraq and - strong statement given the images that Americans see every day. But he said that insurgents and terrorists are getting their incidents on television and really winning the war on airwaves and Snow's point was that here's a day when there's blanket coverage of a U.S. and Coalition success that Americans are seeing and perhaps this is a day or in coming days if there's coverage of that where the U.S. might be winning the, the airwaves war. I think the White House is being cautious to see where the polls go and how Americans respond. They're hoping to give some momentum to the new government Iraq - in Iraq. Zarqawi had been criticizing the new government and the president - President Bush had been talking up the new government and saying that he's looking forward to some positive developments in coming weeks and now the guy who was criticizing the government is gone. But as, as we've seen good developments in Iraq are often followed by a new wave of violence and that's one reason that the White House is being very very careful.

BRAND: The president is summoning military and intelligence leaders to a meeting at Camp David on Monday. What is that about?

GREENE: Well, it's a two-day, they're calling it a summit. It's been planned for a while. They said this was not coming out of the Zarqawi death today that they were planning this for some weeks to correspond with the new, the new government getting together in Iraq.

The president at Camp David on Monday is going to be bringing his National Security team, a big group. And he often goes to Camp David to hold meetings like this to send an image that he's the commander in chief. He's huddling with advisors and doing some, some serious war planning.

They say no big announcement of troop levels is likely to come out of that meeting. But some discussions about security and then on Tuesday the president is going to be having a conference call from Camp David with a lot of the Iraqi leaders and in addition, a bit unusual, they're going to be bringing in some outside experts to see what advice they can give the Iraqi leadership and what advice they can give the Bush administration on how to proceed.

BRAND: NPR White House Correspondent David Greene, thank you very much.

GREENE: My pleasure.

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Text of Bush Remarks on Zarqawi

Associated Press — Text of President Bush's statement in the Rose Garden on Thursday on the death of al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, as transcribed by the White House:

Good morning. Last night in Iraq, United States military forces killed the terrorist al-Zarqawi. At 6:15 p.m. Baghdad time, special operation forces, acting on tips and intelligence from Iraqis, confirmed Zarqawi's location, and delivered justice to the most wanted terrorist in Iraq.

Zarqawi was the operational commander of the terrorist movement in Iraq. He led a campaign of car bombings, assassinations and suicide attacks that has taken the lives of many American forces and thousands of innocent Iraqis. Osama bin Laden called this Jordanian terrorist "the prince of al-Qaida in Iraq." He called on the terrorists around the world to listen to him and obey him.

Zarqawi personally beheaded American hostages and other civilians in Iraq. He masterminded the destruction of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad. He was responsible for the assassination of an American diplomat in Jordan, and the bombing of a hotel in Amman.

Through his every action, he sought to defeat America and our coalition partners, and turn Iraq into a safe haven from which al-Qaida could wage its war on free nations. To achieve these ends, he worked to divide Iraqis and incite civil war. And only last week he released an audio tape attacking Iraq's elected leaders, and denouncing those advocating the end of sectarianism.

Now Zarqawi has met his end, and this violent man will never murder again. Iraqis can be justly proud of their new government and its early steps to improve their security. And Americans can be enormously proud of the men and women of our armed forces, who worked tirelessly with their Iraqi counterparts to track down this brutal terrorist and put him out of business.

The operation against Zarqawi was conducted with courage and professionalism by the finest military in the world. Coalition and Iraqi forces persevered through years of near misses and false leads, and they never gave up. Last night their persistence and determination were rewarded. On behalf of all Americans, I congratulate our troops on this remarkable achievement.

Zarqawi is dead, but the difficult and necessary mission in Iraq continues. We can expect the terrorists and insurgents to carry on without him. We can expect the sectarian violence to continue. Yet the ideology of terror has lost one of its most visible and aggressive leaders.

Zarqawi's death is a severe blow to al-Qaida. It's a victory in the global war on terror, and it is an opportunity for Iraq's new government to turn the tide of this struggle. A few minutes ago I spoke to Prime Minister Maliki. I congratulated him on close collaboration between coalition and Iraqi forces that helped make this day possible. Iraq's freely elected Prime Minister is determined to defeat our common enemies and bring security and the rule of law to all its people.

Earlier this morning he announced the completion of his Cabinet appointments, with the naming of a new minister of defense, a new minister of the interior, and a new minister of state for national security. These new ministers are part of a democratic government that represents all Iraqis. They will play a vital role as the Iraqi government addresses its top priorities — reconciliation and reconstruction and putting an end to the kidnappings and beheadings and suicide bombings that plague the Iraqi people. I assured Prime Minister Maliki that he will have the full support of the United States of America.

On Monday I will meet with my national security team and other key members of my Cabinet at Camp David to discuss the way forward in Iraq. Our top diplomats and military commanders in Iraq will give me an assessment of recent changes in the political and economic and security situation on the ground. On Tuesday, Iraq's new ambassador to the United States will join us, and we will have a teleconference discussion with the prime minister and members of his cabinet. Together we will discuss how to best deploy America's resources in Iraq and achieve our shared goal of an Iraq that can govern itself, defend itself and sustain itself.

We have tough days ahead of us in Iraq that will require the continued patience of the American people. Yet the developments of the last 24 hours give us renewed confidence in the final outcome of this struggle: the defeat of terrorism threats, and a more peaceful world for our children and grandchildren.

May God bless the Iraqi people and may God continue to bless America.

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