Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki confirmed the death of the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, on Thursday morning. Believed to be Osama bin Laden's top deputy in Iraq, Zarqawi was killed in a US air strike in the town of Bakuba north of Baghdad. Maliki said that Iraqi security forces had assisted the Americans in planning the attack. General George Casey, commander of the US troops in Iraq, also confirmed that Zarqawi's body had been identified. The hunt for the terrorist leader in the Bakuba region began two weeks ago, but officials did not release any further details.
Speaking in Baghdad, US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad described Zarqawi's death as a "huge success for Iraq and the international war on terror." Nevertheless, he warned that it did not mean the recent spell of insurgent violence in Iraq would stop anytime soon.
Bakuba, which is located about 60 kilometers northeast of Baghdad, is considered a stronghold of insurgents and terrorists. In recent days, police in the city found a number of heads of people who had been decapitated by terrorists and left in bags on the street.
Zarqawi has long been at the top of the list of Washington's most-wanted terrorists in Iraq. Prior to his death, the Jordanian and his followers claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks and kidnappings. His organization also said it was responsible for bombings of hotels in Amman, Jordan, in which 60 people died. The Jordanian had a fast and furious career as an international terrorist -- making a name for himself with his shocking cruelty. One video is believed to depict a hooded Zarqawi personally decapitating American hostage Nicholas Berg with his own hands. Al-Qaida released the video with the title: "Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi slaughters an American."
The terrorist's stated aim was to transform Iraq into an fundamentalist Islamic state. His group threatened to murder any Iraqis who sought to participate in the country's democratic elections. And although Zarqawi was the most sought-after killer in Iraq, the 39-year-old managed time and time again to evade his pursuers. Throughout his rein of terror, Zarqawi sought to destabilize Iraq's new democratic course and its alignment with the West.
On Thursday, radical Islamic Web sites reacted to Zarqawi's apparent death casually. "Even if it's true," one site stated, "the death of a leader won't mean the end of the jihad."
Zarqawi was born in Jordan as Ahmed Nazal al-Khalayleh, the son of a Palestinian refugee. He took his terrorist name from his home town of Zarka. In Jordan, he had been convicted and sentenced to death in absentia for his participation in terrorist attacks. He also stood at the top of the most-wanted list in Washington, which had put a $25 million bounty on his head.
In his most recent recording, posted on the Internet last Friday, Zarqawi called on his fellow Sunni Muslims to revolt against Iraq's Shiite majority. He called on Sunnis to ignore calls for national unity and to arm themselves for the coming battle with the "Shiite snakes." The terrorist leader alleged that the Shiites had a long history of collaborating with Iraq's invaders. It was the first message from Zarqawi since late April.
Last week, Iraqi soldiers arrested Kassim al-Ani, considered a close colleague of Zarqawi, during a raid in Baghdad. The Iraqi government in Baghdad considered Ani to be second in command of al-Qaida's operations in Iraq.