The leader of al Qaida in Iraq, puppet master of the deadly insurgency that has plagued coalition forces and citizens alike, the terrorist who personally beheaded Nicholas Berg, has been killed in a bombing raid north of Baghdad.
U.S. officials says they confirmed the identity of the Jordanian-born Abu Masab al-Zarqawi through fingerprints and facial recognition. At a news conference today in Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Zarqawi was killed along with seven associates Wednesday evening in a house 30 miles northeast of Baghdad.
Residents of the area had reported his whereabouts to Iraqi security forces, who told U.S. officials, Miliki said. Helicopter gunships headed for the house before sundown.
CIA analysts believe it was Zarqawi who held the knife in the May 2004 video that showed the decapitation of Berg, 26, a West Chester, Pa., businessman captured by al Qaida operatives as he was seeking telecommunications work in Iraq.
His father, Michael Berg, told Reuters this morning that he found no solace in the news of Zarqawi's death. He said by phone, "I have no sense of relief, just sadness that another human being had to die."
Michael Berg, running for a Congressional seat on Delaware's Green Party ticket, told the Associated Press: "I see more death coming out of al-Zarqawi's death." He said he would have preferred Zarqawi receiving "restorative justice" -- such as being sentenced to work in a hospital for maimed children.
At a news conference in Iraq, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad described Zarqawi as "the godfather of sectarian killing and terror in Iraq."
Blogs of all political stripes have begun weighing in.
The conservative PoliPundit:
It is very clear that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi represented the Center of Gravity for al-Qaida in Iraq. This is a major victory for the United States, Coalition Forces and the People of Iraq.
This will be seen as a very significant moment in the fight against the insurgency, early in the life of Nouri al-Malikis government.
Lefty talk-show host Taylor Marsh:
This is a psychological lift, but reality remains terribly grim in Iraq. Al-Zarqawi's killing doesn't dent the insurgency reality.
Nickle, a diarist at The Daily Kos:
The United States needs to stop acting like this is a one man show. Word is that the man was hated on the street, and a terrible leader. And we all know that much of the violence is not masterminded plots of terrorism. Instead it is the result of sectarian violence and general resistance.
Chris at AmericaBlog:
I suppose in the coming months that we will find out if he was behind all of the trouble of just a piece of the big puzzle. He's been demonized (clearly he was a bad guy) as the central figure in the problems over there so it will be interesting to see the actual impact of his death.
Phares, writing in the Counterterrorism Blog , on the way local pundits are pitching the news:
Reacting to the killing of Abu Mus'ab al Zarqawi in Iraq, pro-Jihadi commentators on al Jazeera rushed to assert that the "death of Zarqawi won't weaken al Qaida but will actually unify the organization." Abdelbari Atwan, the editor of al Quds al Arabi accused Jordanian and US intelligence of penetrating the inner circles of Zarqawi and were successful in getting to him." He added that the killing of Zarqawi was coordinated with the appointment of the ministers of defense and interior in Baghdad.
Projecting further terror, Atwan said the "Jihadists will increase their operations in Iraq. For the more the organization is repressed the more it will produce Jihadists." He stated that in any event, Zarqawi was isolated inside the organization and restrained to military operations." Other commentators also stated that the near future will show that al Qaida is a movement not a group of supporters to one man.
But Iraqi leaders, including the speaker of the Kurdish Parliament, responded on al Jazeera that "the Iraqi people has memorized the names of all those who were involved in Terror against civilians, and will continue the struggle."
Who was Zarqawi? A BBC feature calls him "Iraq's most notorious insurgent -- a shadowy figure associated with spectacular bombings, assassinations and the beheading of foreign hostages."
"He ran with a fast crowd, fought easily and covered his skin with tatooes:" a Los Angeles Times profile from July 2, 2004.
The BBC's news package includes Zarqawi at his own words.
The Glittering Eye has been collecting reactions from Iraqi bloggers. One, Thoughts From Baghdad, writes:
Iraqis have been suffering for decades now, going from war to war to war to sanctions to war (Iraq-Iran War, Kuwaiti invasion, Gulf War 91, sanctions, invasion). They are tired. They want to move on. They are not happy that their country has been invaded, and much less so that the situation has only deteriorated after this invasion in terms of security and peace.
Zarqawi and his operatives added to this mess. Perhaps they meant to fight the occupation, but their fight did not discriminate between Iraqi and non-Iraqi, occupier and occupied. Their roadside bombs, car bombs, mortars, etc killed more Iraqis than they did Americans. Their kidnappings and public beheadings hurt the image of Islam in the West.
I can safely say that most Iraqis are happy, even ecstatic, with this news, but skeptical. Zarqawi was not a lone worker. He had a following, and they can continue their work without him. Iraqis will remain wary in their daily life, and aware that anything can happen. In fact, I would not be surprised if his followers decided to prove a point tomorrow and in the coming days, with some major bombings.