Iraqi Reaction to Zarqawi's Death: A Guarded Hope
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
To Baghdad now, and reaction to the news of Zarqawi's death there from inside the fortified Green Zone and out on the street. Here's NPR's Philip Reeves.
PHILIP REEVES reporting:
This is a sound you don't often hear in Baghdad.
(Soundbite of cheering)
REEVES: Iraq's capital city has had very little to applaud in the last three years. But when at a press conference today Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced Zarqawi was finally dead, the assembled Iraqi journalists made no attempt to hide their approval. Nor did the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad.
Mr. ZALMAY KHALILZAD (U.S. Ambassador to Iraq): Zarqawi was the godfather of sectarian killing and terror in Iraq. He declared a civil war within Islam and a global war on civilization.
REEVES: On the city streets the reaction was more guarded. Suicide bombs, assignations and sectarian bloodletting have become part of daily life here. More than 6,000 bodies, many of them executed, have been delivered to the city morgue so far this year. 26-year-old Mustafur Jawad Kareem(ph) found it hard to digest the news that Iraq's most violent insurgent is gone forever.
Mr. MUSTAFUR JAWAD KAREEM (Resident, Baghdad): (Through translator) If this thing is true, it will bring happiness because of the miserable life they have brought for the Iraqis. If there was someone called Zarqawi.
REEVES: When Zarqawi first cropped up in Iraq after the U.S. invasion in 2003, Iraqis often claimed he was a figment of the U.S.'s imagination. Some, like Mustafur, still seem unconvinced. Yet for most, the gruesome videotapes of beheadings, the suicide bombings and kidnappings made Zarqawi's existence impossible to deny. This woman, who's too fearful to give her name, has no trouble believing in Zarqawi, but she finds it harder to believe he's actually dead.
Unidentified Woman: (Through translator) We want security, whether he is dead or not. We want security in this country. I don't think that his killing affects the security crisis. There are other gangsters besides Zarqawi.
REEVES: In some Shiite areas of Iraq, news of Zarqawi's death was greeted with open celebrations. In the southern city of Basra, people fired Kalashnikovs into the air and sounded their car horns.
REEVES: And this audiotape explains why.
Mr. ABU MUSAB AL-ZARQAWI (Dead insurgent leader): (Speaking foreign language)
REEVES: In it, Zarqawi calls for a sectarian war, appealing to Sunni Arabs to attack the Shiia.
In Sunni areas there was relief too. Standing outside a Baghdad mosque during evening prayers, Khalil Ibrahim(ph) said Zarqawi's death was an opportunity for the country to come together.
Mr. KHALIL IMBRAHIM (Resident, Baghdad): (Through translator) Now the government has to take the initiative. In public life if you get an opportunity you have to seize it, so the government has a golden opportunity now.
REEVES: That sentiment was echoed within Iraq's government itself.
Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)
Iraq's parliamentarians gathered today shortly after news of Zarqawi's death was announced. They've been bickering for three weeks over two of the most critical posts in the government. Today they settled their differences.
A Sunni Arab, General Abdul Kadir Mohammed Jasim(ph), was sworn in as Defense Minister and a Shiite, Juwad al-Bolani(ph), as Interior Minister. For Mithal al-Alousi, a Sunni parliamentarian, filling those two key posts is more important that Zarqawi's death.
Mr. MTIHAL AL-ALOUSI (Iraq Parliament): I am very optimistic that we will build the new Iraq and the political forces will go in the right direction.
REEVES: With Iraq's government finally coming together, today some Iraqi's dared to hope, but they've been disappointed many times before and the violence shows no sign of abating. In the 24 hours after Zarqawi's death, more than 40 people died in bombings and that was just in Baghdad.
Phillip Reeves, NPR News, Baghdad.
NORRIS: And we'll have more on the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi later in the program and our coverage continues online as well. You'll find a profile of the man as well as analysis and reaction from around the world. All that at NPR.org.
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