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Iraqi, US Officials Say Al-Zarqawi Killed in Airstrike


Terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is dead. Iraqi and U.S. officials say al-Qaida's leader in Iraq was killed in an airstrike on a safehouse near Baquba.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki made the announcement.

Iraqi reporters erupted into cheers as he said, "Today, al-Zarqawi has been eliminated."

Mr. Maliki said intelligence information led U.S. and Iraqi forces to a safe house near Baquba, 65 kilometers north of Baghdad, where Zarqawi was meeting with colleagues on Wednesday evening. He said a U.S. airstrike on the building was followed by a joint raid. Television footage taken at the scene Thursday showed the building flattened to rubble.

"This is a message to all those who embrace violence, killing and destruction, to stop before it is too late," said Mr. Maliki.

The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, General George Casey, said Zarqawi and seven of his associates were killed in the airstrike on the isolated building. He said Zarqawi's body has been positively identified, using fingerprints and what he called "facial recognition."

General Casey called Zarqawi's death a "significant blow to al-Qaida," but cautioned that it would not end the violence.

"Although the designated leader of al-Qaida in Iraq is now dead, the terrorist organization still poses a threat, as its member will try to terrorize the Iraqi people and destabilize their government, as it moves toward stability and prosperity," he said.

Al-Qaida in Iraq issued a statement on the Internet confirming Zarqawi's death, and vowing to fight on.

The Jordanian-born militant had become Iraq's most wanted fugitive, with a $25 million bounty on his head. U.S. and Iraqi officials have blamed him for a campaign of suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of people. He is believed to have personally beheaded two American hostages.

He also claimed credit for the triple hotel bombings in Amman, Jordan, last year, and for a series of other attacks in his home country.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is not his real name. He adopted it as a nom de guerre in honor of the Jordanian town where he grew up. He has been a shadowy figure, rarely seen in photographs until recently. Some in the Arab world doubted that he really existed.

His brutal tactics and targeting of Iraqi civilians were believed to have alienated some other members of his group. There were reports recently that he was being sidelined, and Iraqis were taking over the political leadership of al-Qaida in Iraq.

Zarqawi then began making more public statements, and releasing videotapes that reinforced his claims to leadership. His last videotape appeared about two weeks ago, and some reports indicate that details from that tape helped identify his whereabouts.

Despite all the excitement over the death of Zarqawi, the questions that Iraqi reporters posed to Prime Minister Maliki quickly turned to the key vacancies in the Iraqi Cabinet.

Not long after the announcement, Mr. Maliki proposed to parliament his nominees for the ministers of interior and defense. Lawmakers quickly approved his choices.

The new interior minister is Jawad al-Bolani, a Shi'ite. The new defense minister is a Sunni Arab general, Abdel Qader Jassim. Another Shi'ite, Sherwan al-Waili, will be head of national security.

The security posts had been vacant during a three-week dispute among Mr. Maliki's coalition partners.

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