Attack on Zarqawi Followed Weeks of Waiting Details are still emerging about the U.S. operation that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and five other people. U.S. military spokesman William Caldwell says the final phase of the hunt for Iraq's most wanted man began weeks ago. Caldwell added that Zarqawi is assumed to have named a successor.
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Attack on Zarqawi Followed Weeks of Waiting

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Attack on Zarqawi Followed Weeks of Waiting

Attack on Zarqawi Followed Weeks of Waiting

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

There have been some celebrations in Baghdad, but they've been sporadic and muted. And there's been praise for the U.S. forces who carried out the attack, but it's been tempered by warnings that the war will go on. The death of al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is where we begin this hour.

Coming up we'll have analysis of the military action, a look at reaction on Jihadist web sites and a discussion about Zarqawi's history and the future for the insurgency without him.

SIEGEL: We're going to begin in Baghdad, where the U.S. military briefed reporters on the airstrike that killed Zarqawi and five others. NPR's Jamie Tarabay has our report.

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

It was Zarqawi's own people who led coalition and Iraqi forces to his safe house, tucked away on a lonely, deserted road outside the town of Bakuba, northeast of Baghdad. U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell said most of the intelligence came from senior Zarqawi aides and focused on the comings and goings of a man known as Sheikh Abdul-Rahman.

Major General WILLIAM CALDWELL (U.S. Military Spokesman): He was the spiritual advisor to Zarqawi. He was brought to our attention by somebody from within the network of Zarqawi's. We had clear enough evidence about a month and a half ago that allowed us to start necking down to the point where we were able to prosecute the action last night against that safe house.

TARABAY: Caldwell then played a black-and-white video showing aerial footage of the house, surrounded by date palms, crosshairs at the center of the screen zeroing in on the two-story concrete building.

Major General CALDWELL: As you observe the target here, there was a flight of two F-16s from the United States Air Force. They have now been told where the target is. They have identified it. The lead aircraft is going to engage it here momentarily with a 500-pound bomb on the target.

TARABAY: A second bomb was dropped on the target. Iraqi police arrived on the scene soon after and they found Zarqawi, Abdul-Rahman and the still unidentified bodies of four others.

Major General CALDWELL: There's a woman in the group and a younger person, a child.

TARABAY: Caldwell then showed two large photographs of Zarqawi's face taken shortly after the airstrikes, his closed eyes swollen, his face pale and blotches of blood on his cheeks. Caldwell said Zarqawi's body was cleaned up before the photographs were taken.

Major General CALDWELL: The intent was to show you that he in fact had died in that explosion, but there are far worse graphic pictures that were very inappropriate, we felt, to share with anybody that were the result of the immediate strike.

TARABAY: Once Zarqawi was confirmed killed, security forces raided 17 suspected insurgent hideouts across Baghdad, places they couldn't touch previously because it could have compromised the operation to hunt down Zarqawi. Caldwell says the forces retrieved a treasure trove of documents to be used to find other militants.

Zarqawi was the most wanted man in Iraq and commanded the same reward as Osama bin Laden, $25 million. The State Department said it hasn't yet identified anyone eligible for the reward. As Iraqis celebrated Zarqawi's death, Caldwell warned that it didn't mean an automatic end to the violence.

Major General CALDWELL: Iraqis can rejoice today. They have earned it with their blood, their sweat, their tears. But tomorrow, tomorrow we must continue to march forward.

TARABAY: Caldwell says Zarqawi knew he'd be killed eventually and is assumed to have appointed a successor. An Egyptian who heads an al-Qaida cell in Baghdad is seen as the most likely. Members of Zarqawi's militant group posted a statement on an Islamist web site saying their leader had died a martyr and that their holy war would continue.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.

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