AAM: Breaking News -- Zarqawi killed
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MILES O'BRIEN: The most wanted terrorist in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is dead following a U.S. airstrike. Happened about 19-1/2 hours ago, we are told. This occurred after about a two-week hunt in the general vicinity of Baquba and a safe house, ultimately, where Zarqawi and seven aides were found and killed in that U.S. airstrike.
The intelligence coming from Iraqi residents and perhaps some Iraqis who were part of the Abu Musab al-Zarqawi organization, al Qaeda in Iraq.
Joining us now on the line from Brisbane, Australia is Michael Ware with "Time" magazine, about to join CNN as a correspondent. He'll be in Baghdad for us before too long. Michael, you have spent a lot of time reporting on the insurgency. First of all, just give us a sense. Are you surprised, given all of the near misses and reports of his demise that turned out not to play out, are you surprised they finally got him?
MICHAEL WARE, JOURNALIST: Well, look, Zarqawi has been a formidable foe. I mean, I've spoken to men who hunt him, and one thing they say is that they always have regard for what they call his tradecraft, his ability to evade and to hide. He has been very successful at that.
Yet, nonetheless, it has only been a matter of time. Intelligence slowly had to be pieced together to point to something strong against him, and finally it has. Zarqawi has been playing a dangerous game. Unlike Osama bin Laden, another significant al-Qaeda leader, Zarqawi was a man in the field, leading from the front, so he was always at risk of great exposure, and it finally caught up with him.
M. O'BRIEN: It's interesting you should say that, Michael, about his tradecraft, how good he was at hiding, and yet what we're looking at right now on TV is video that was released in April, which a lot of people would have said was kind of a bit of hubris, a lot of arrogance there, as he was showing off and talking the terror talk and firing weapons in the desert. Had he become too arrogant, perhaps?
WARE: Well, there certainly is great debate, even among the jihad community itself, amongst these affiliated hard-line groups, about his ego and about whilst he is charismatic -- does he take it too far. So, that's always been perhaps his Achilles' heel, his desire to step out of himself, perhaps a bit too much. But, I mean, it's been a double-edged sword for him. Whilst dangerous, that's also been one of his greatest strengths. It's allowed him to play to his constituency, to show them that, "yes, I'm out there, I'm in the field. I'm taunting the Americans." But, as I said, as a matter of calculation eventually this all had to catch up with him at some point. Either he had to trip up or he had to be betrayed somewhere down the line.
M. O'BRIEN: Give us a sense, then, the insurgency, the homegrown insurgency in Iraq, certainly exists apart from Zarqawi in many respects. How does this impact the army, the troops on the ground, day to day?
WARE: Well, that's a good question, because you must bear in mind that Zarqawi's organization, whilst it was responsible for the most high profile and horrific attacks that always captured the headlines, the vast majority of the daily attacks that are just grinding away at U.S. and Iraqi forces -- the roadside bombs, the ambushes, the mortars, the rockets, -- that comes from the homegrown Iraqi insurgency, drawn from the ranks of Saddam's former military and intelligence apparatus, and local Iraqi Islamists. So in terms of the vast majority of the insurgency, this may in fact embolden them as they feel that they've now becoming stronger within the insurgency because Zarqawi always challenged their authority and perhaps they now feel that they can stand up and make their mark. But that may yet play well for America, too.
M. O'BRIEN: What do you mean by that?
WARE: Well, it's been this part of the insurgency -- the former military officers, Iraq's brand of West Pointer, if you will, who in many ways were allied with the U.S. military in the 80s, in the Iran-Iraq War -- that the U.S. military intelligence has been attempting to reach out to for the past 18 months, initially with the assistance of Jordanian intelligence. I mean, these men are fighting what they consider among themselves a military fight for political purpose. They've only been fighting to get to the negotiating table. Zarqawi stood in the way of that on ideological grounds, so this may allow the dialogue that's slowly developed between the American military and this nationalist insurgency to perhaps now slowly prosper.
M. O'BRIEN: I think a lot of our viewers, Michael, would be surprised to hear you talk about these terrorists ultimately wanting to go to a negotiating table. Do you think that's really a viable prospect?
WARE: Absolutely. I mean, there is more than one war that is being fought in Iraq right now. I mean, you have this civil unrest, which is akin to a civil war, which is one sect against another. You have a showdown between American might and Iranian might, with its puppets and allies in the country. Then you've also had a homegrown war, a war where the men fighting it see themselves as liberators, fighting to evict the foreign occupier. And then the smallest of these wars, yet the most lethal, was Zarqawi's terrorist war, which just saw Iraq as one part of a global holy war. So in fact there have been many, many wars that are being fought by many different participants for many reasons, and the American military has conducted dialogue with various elements of these fighting groups.
M. O'BRIEN: Is it possible, Michael, that there will be some sort of backlash within the insurgency in an attempt to rise -- to bring the level of violence to a higher crescendo in the wake of this?
WARE: Well, they may try to use it that way. I suspect that it will, for the time being, at least, disrupt the hard-line al-Qaeda Islamist element. They'll need to pull back, regroup and reconfigure. The test now will be to see who or what steps up in their place. One thing we've noticed over the last year is that while initially Zarqawi's al-Qaeda group was dominated by foreigners, these men have slowly, through the attrition of war, been captured or killed. Whilst some still remain, we've seen an Iraqification of Zarqawi's al-Qaeda as Iraqis have risen up the ranks. We'll now see if these men step forward or if they choose to move perhaps more towards the nationalist fight and adopt different kinds of means, as opposed to the suicide bombings plunged into queues of civilians lining up for gasoline or into marketplaces.
M. O'BRIEN: Michael, give us -- as I look through the list of atrocities and crimes that are linked to Zarqawi and his organization, it's a pretty amazing list, and you have to wonder if perhaps too much credit is given to him and his organization, because as I look at that list, I am seeing him unable to fire a machine gun in the desert without some help from an aide.
WARE: Well, listen, I remember back in the summer of 2003, in the early months of the occupation, I was there when Zarqawi declared his arrival in the war with the bombing of the Jordanian embassy. That was the first kind of event of that size and significance that had taken place. He then followed that up with the bombing of the UN and countless other sites since. We've now seen suicide bombings -- something that was unknown in Iraq in any kind of conflict -- become a daily phenomenon. I mean, we've seen Zarqawi's organization on one day in the capital city alone launch 11 suicide bombers. So, his role in the number of attacks -- I mean, we're averaging 70 or 80 attacks a day on coalition troops -- his men are responsible for only a small fraction of those, but in terms of the inspiration and spreading the terror, you cannot underestimate his impact. His impact has been beyond the deeds that his men have done, despite how many they claim, rightly or wrongly.
M. O'BRIEN: All right, let me ask you kind of a hard hypothetical here for a moment. If Zarqawi had not risen to such heights after the invasion by the US -- in other words, if he hadn't played his part in instigating the insurgency, how would the insurgency have played out? How would the violence have played out? Would it have been significantly different than what we are seeing?
WARE: I think it would have had a markedly different flavor, certainly an aspect of it. I mean, we wouldn't have seen that third tier of war, that al-Qaeda holy war, certainly not to the degree that Zarqawi took it. I mean, remember, we saw that intercepted letter from Zarqawi to Osama bin Laden back in early 2004. I mean, that was essentially Zarqawi sending Osama a business plan, saying, "here is this platform. It's the one we've been waiting for. This is how I plan to use it. Support me, let me make the jihad here, where it's never existed before." And, in fact, in that letter Zarqawi criticized the local Iraqi insurgency and said, "I am going to instill in them a true sense of jihad." Now, this was before Zarqawi even enjoined al-Qaeda. Before Iraq he was a marginal player. He turned Iraq into his own and he did that by adding his particularly sinister element to the war, which I think wouldn't have developed without him, and I think we would have seen the Ba'athists and the former Iraqi military of Saddam's era play a much greater role, and I think this battle would have evolved in a different way.
M. O'BRIEN: Michael Ware, formerly of "Time" magazine, joining us from Brisbane. Thank you very much, Michael.
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MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: These are scenes of joy as they fire guns in the air and offer a moment of celebration.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki saying very simply earlier today, "Today Zarqawi has been terminated." Abu Musab al-Zarqawi dead, killed in an airstrike by a precision weapon off of what we believe was a U.S. helicopter. We're going to get further details from the Pentagon very shortly.
In any case, as details come out about this hunt for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, we have word that the U.S. was pretty much hot on his trail within the past couple of weeks. There may have been another attempt at his life that failed about 10 days ago. But one of the keys might have come from Jordan.
Zarqawi, as you know, a Jordanian. And there was a key arrest in May which might have led to some intelligence, which ultimately led to this attack.
Joining us on the line right now from Brisbane, Australia, is Michael Ware -- oh, actually, live from Brisbane. Michael Ware, formerly with "TIME" magazine, soon to be with us. Michael, let's talk about the intelligence which led to this. We're told that an arrest of a Jordanian who might have had a close link to Zarqawi might have been an important part of this, and also there were tips that were coming from residents on the ground there in Iraq that were ultimately leading to Zarqawi. Those are significant points, the fact that he had developed enemies so close to him.
MICHAEL WARE, BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA: Oh, look, this has been building for quite some time. I mean, Zarqawi has been a lightning rod not just within the region, not just within Iraq and his home country of Jordan, but even within al-Qaeda and the broader jihad community. He'd been in the face of a lot of people. He was very defiant, and he was taking the global jihad and then al-Qaeda once he joined it to a new, much more violent, much more brutal threshold. We're now going to see this is one of the biggest tests of this new generation of al-Qaeda that has risen with him harder and meaner as a result of the Iraq theater, the platform where they came and blooded themselves.
The fact that there might be some Jordanian intelligence involvement, that shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Zarqawi started in Jordan. He found religion in a Jordanian prison. His mentor was a prominent Jordanian Islamist. His original group was primarily dedicated to the overthrow of the Jordanian regime. And when Zarqawi declared his arrival in the Iraq war in the summer of 2003, with a truck bombing of the Jordan embassy, that very much illustrated Jordan's stake in capturing Zarqawi. So that they may have helped really comes as no surprise. And we've also been seeing things turn against Zarqawi to some degree on the ground, even within the insurgency, as people have been challenging his role and his influence. I mean, we've seen that on Ramadi. As people started to turn against him on the street, he hit back hard with key assassinations of tribal leaders. So none of this is a surprise. A lot of things eventually had to catch up with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
M. O'BRIEN: To say he has blood on his hands is a bit of an understatement. Literally thousands of people dead attributed to he and his organization. I want to read to you a quote from Zalmay Khalilzad, who is the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. He said this, this morning at that announcement: "The godfather of sectarian killing and terror in Iraq is gone. This marks a great success for Iraq in the global war on terror." First, that first point, the godfather of sectarian violence and killing in Iraq, true statement?
WARE: Well, I can very much see where Ambassador Khalilzad is coming from on that. I mean, let's look back. From the very beginning, Zarqawi has made it a centerpiece of his strategy to divide the Sunni and the Shia sects, to inflame the great sectarian war. He saw that as a vehicle to advance his hard line.
M. O'BRIEN: Michael, I'm sorry. Michael, we're going to have to pick this up in just a moment. We have some breaking news.
M. O'BRIEN: Let's get back to Michael Ware in Brisbane. We were talking, Michael, about a comment from Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, where he said -- he called al-Zarqawi the godfather of sectarian killing in Iraq. And you were expounding on that. Why don't we -- why don't you pick up where we left off there. Oh, we just lost him. All right. We're going to take a break. We'll try to get Michael back. And we'll continue our coverage from all around the world to keep you up to date on the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
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MILES O'BRIEN: To Michael Ware, who was the Baghdad bureau chief for quite some time for "Time" magazine before joining CNN as a correspondent. And, Michael, I've been reading some of your work this morning in "Time," and looking at the history of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the way he intersected terror in Afghanistan, made his way out of Afghanistan into Iran and then ultimately into Iraq. He has been a player for quite some time, though not necessarily a household name here in the United States until fairly recently.
MICHAEL WARE, FMR. BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Yeah, Zarqawi has been around within the jihad community since the 1990s. But the irony is, until Iraq, he was a marginal player. It's he who went to Iraq and said this is the platform where we can give birth to a new generation of jihadis. And it's Iraq that made Zarqawi the international jihadi superfigure that he is. So he benefited enormously from Iraq, and he created a whole new generation of al-Qaeda. So this is the first test of that generation. How do they respond? How do they replenish? How do they move on? I think we're soon going to see Iraqis taking much more control of al-Qaeda in Iraq, something that many have called for for a long time.
M. O'BRIEN: You know, let's -- going back to talking about Zarqawi here -- and this is a ninth grade dropout, by all accounts a thug and a bully, who, somewhere along the way, was able to memorize the Koran in its entirety while spending some time in jail. There's a lot of contradictions in this character.
WARE: Absolutely. I mean, people said that he was a petty criminal. And it wasn't until he was put in jail in Jordan that he found Islam. However, we saw him pick up a Jordanian militant group, take it over. It was essentially given to him, and he then eventually turned it into what we now see as al-Qaeda in Iraq. But even his old mentor, who is still in those Jordanian prisons, has been telling him for years to tone it back, pull back the reins on some of these more horrific tactics. It's doing more damage than good. We then started seeing the old guard of al-Qaeda, Osama and al-Zawahiri, saying the same things. So he's divided al-Qaeda and the broader jihad community. And he's taken it to a whole new more brutal level. Well, now let's see what happens to those who have been inspired by Zarqawi.
M. O'BRIEN: To what extent was he inspired by Osama bin Laden? As I understand it, he didn't meet him until the year 2000, and he didn't at that time, in a formal sense, join al-Qaeda. As a matter of fact, he had his own operation running. Was there some sort of bad blood between the two that ultimately they -- and ultimately they linked over the subject of Iraq, or what happened?
WARE: Yeah, there's conflicting reports about this, but one thing that's very clear is that in Afghanistan, Zarqawi was operating his own Jordanian-based organization out of the western city of Herat. In terms of al-Qaeda itself, pure al-Qaeda, he was a marginal player. He was not formally a member of al-Qaeda. It wasn't until he went to Iraq and said, "here is the place that we make ourselves, and if you won't do it with me, I'll do it on my own." Eventually he became such an Internet superstar among the jihad faithful, among that constituency, that al-Qaeda was forced to a decision point: do we take this guy on or do we embrace him and bring him in? So in October 2004, that's what they did. They brought him into al-Qaeda. He essentially joined the chairman of directors. And what many suspect is that he was looking to take over ultimately. But he represented a whole new form of al-Qaeda.
M. O'BRIEN: In the sense that, what, that he was more of a hands-on leader? How was he a new form?
WARE: Well, he was certainly much more of a frontline leader than, say, Osama bin Laden. Zarqawi was there at the battlefront. Whether he was pulling triggers is one question. There's many stories that he, in fact, has done so. But there he is marshaling the troops and sending people out, very much involved there in the battle, unlike others. But also, he believed much more in the war against the Shia. Now, this is not something that Osama bin Laden himself has pushed near so far. He believes in this civil war in Iraq. He believes in making it spread. It's like Catholic and Protestant in Iraq. He really set out to inflame that. The other thing was his methods. He didn't mind if a busload of schoolchildren were killed, as long as he still achieved the end that he wanted, blowing up a few police officers or hitting an American convoy. For him civilian casualties were just part of the price. They would go to heaven with the rest of the martyrs, that will be OK. That was very divisive, not just among the Iraqi insurgency, but within al-Qaeda itself.
M. O'BRIEN: Michael, we -- I'm showing you a picture now. We have no audio whatsoever, unfortunately, from this briefing. Nobody is getting it. And we're watching it. What they just showed and just took off the easel there was a picture of what appeared to be Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, deceased in the wake of this attack. We're going to try to see if we can get this technical problem worked out with the pool -- figure coming in. There you see the tape that came just a few moments ago. That -- I guess, Michael, putting that picture out for the world is important, but at this point, al-Qaeda in Iraq has admitted on their own Web site that Zarqawi has died. So there's no debating that at this point.
WARE: Well, from what I've just been told, there's been at least two postings from his organization confirming his death, yet vowing to continue with the plan. So it does seem that not only is the U.S. military extremely confident -- and we've been down this road before, both with Zarqawi and previously with the killing of Saddam's two sons, Uday and Qusay. Identification is very important. This is a war of perception. Zarqawi knew that. He always played that masterfully. So the U.S. military in Iraq would have been very aware of that, and would make sure that it's on very sure ground before making this announcement. So, in many ways, it does seem that the debate over his identity has been removed, certainly at this early stage.
M. O'BRIEN: All right. Well, of course, it has been 22 hours since the strike. Michael Ware in Brisbane. We'll be back with you in a bit.