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US Leaders Call Terrorist Leader's Death Major Victory

Top U.S. officials say the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaida's top leader in Iraq, is a major victory in the global war on terror.  They do not believe, however, that his death will end the bloodshed in Iraq.

President Bush says Zarqawi's death is a remarkable achievement for Coalition and Iraqi forces.

Mr. Bush says he believes that while sectarian violence will continue, the ideology of terror has lost one of its most visible and aggressive leaders.

"Zarqawi's death is a severe blow to al-Qaida," said Mr. Bush.  "It is a victory in the global war on terror, and it is an opportunity for Iraq's new government to turn the tide of this struggle."

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld calls Zarqawi's death enormously important, although he says it will not mean an end to violence in Iraq.

Rumsfeld says, in the last several years, no single person in the world has had the blood of more innocent men, women and children on his hands.

"He personified the dark, sadistic and evil vision of beheadings, suicide bombings, indiscriminate killings, a behavior pattern that has been rejected by the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people," said Mr. Rumsfeld.

Zarqawi personally beheaded American hostages and other civilians in Iraq.  He also was the mastermind behind the destruction of the United Nations' headquarters in Baghdad.

Zarqawi was wanted in connection with the assassination of an American diplomat in Jordan and for the bombing of three hotels in Amman that killed 60 people.

He also advocated sectarian violence against Shi'ite Muslims in Iraq.

The U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, says there is jubilation in Iraq, now that Zarqawi has been killed.

"We have seen pictures from the streets of Baghdad, policemen dancing," he said.  "There is a mood of almost a wedding, people shooting their rifles in the air.  So, yes, indeed, the Iraqi people are happy, but I think it would be a mistake on their part, or on our part, to assume violence is going to come to an end."

The Jordanian-born Zarqawi was active in making and posting video and statements by his terrorist group on the Internet. There was a U.S. offer of a $25 million reward for his capture.

Brian Jenkins is an authority on terrorism at the RAND corporation, a non-profit research and analysis institution.

Jenkins told VOA News Now that killing Zarqawi not only removes the head of al-Qaida in Iraq, but also eliminates the insurgency's best known leader and communicator.

"We shouldn't underestimate the fact that he was charismatic," he said.  "He was certainly someone who was able to attract a loyal following, keep it under his control. So, he did have some effect.  As I say, it won't end the insurgency, but it takes out their most prominent communicator."

U.S. analysts are already studying who might succeed Zarqawi as the new head of al-Qaida in Iraq.   U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell says an Egyptian-born man, identified as Abu al-Masri, will probably take over.   General Caldwell says al-Masri trained in Afghanistan, and is believed to have come to Iraq in 2002, probably helping to establish the first al-Qaida cell in Baghdad.

Mark Baillie, a British defense analyst at the Center for Defense and International Security Studies, says the death of Zarqawi is not likely to have a major short-term impact on the insurgency in Iraq.

"It is good news when a very bad guy gets killed, but it is not a strict hierarchy, where you can cut off the head, and the rest will be lost," he said.  "He was an important figure, but there is no reason to suppose he will not be replaced very quickly."

Despite the note of caution expressed by President Bush and others, the news of Zarqawi's death sparked celebrations in Iraq, where the news came as a boost to the country's efforts to end rampant sectarian violence.  Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who broke the news of Zarqawi's death, said it was a message to all those who embrace violence, and he vowed, "whenever there is a new Zarqawi, we will kill him."

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