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Coalition Military Forces and Iraqi Government Leaders Look Ahead

After the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi last week, U.S. and Iraqi military personnel conducted multiple raids on al-Qaida operations, based on intelligence information gathered from the house where he was located. But U.S. President George W. Bush said Friday the significance of al-Zarqawi's death would not lead to an early departure of American troops. VOA's Melinda Smith looks at what's next after the notorious terrorist's violent end.

During a visit to the United States by the Danish Prime Minister, Mr. Bush said a withdrawal of Coalition troops could only come after the Iraqi government is on a more stable footing.

"I would like to get our troops out as soon as possible, but the definition of 'as soon as possible' is depending on victory in Iraq, and victory in Iraq means a country which can sustain itself, govern itself and defend itself."

A review of the new Iraqi government's political and security strategies by the Bush administration had been planned before the dramatic news of al-Zarqawi's demise. But there is no doubt among American and Iraqi military advisors that the 'treasure trove' of information found after his hiding place was bombed has shed more light on al-Qaida's operations.

Military and intelligence analyst Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. says Zarqawi and his al-Qaida group had not been popular among a majority of the Iraqis and that many of the foreign insurgents who were part of the movement have already been killed. Still, he says, it's much too early to predict a successor to Zarqawi or what direction al-Qaida will now take.

"It's always been able to find new cells and new leaders. But I think everyone needs to understand it will be at least several weeks and perhaps months before we fully understand what the overall structure of this operation has accomplished."

Mr. Cordesman is among those analysts who say this is a critical moment for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Thursday Mr. Maliki appointed new Ministers of Defense, Interior and National Security. In addition, the Prime Minister has called for the disbanding of Shi'ite hard-line militias, which have disrupted his attempts toward improving relations between Sunnis and Shi'ites.

There has also been an effort by U.S. and Iraqi leaders to reorganize and retrain Iraqi police.

The Iraqi leadership has also begun its own investigation of alleged U.S. fraud and abuse of civilians. In the long run, Anthony Cordesman believes this could help establish some trust between Iraqis and Coalition forces stationed in Iraq:

"It is absolutely vital that the Iraqis investigate what in most cases is going to turn out to be legitimate uses of force ... charges that are false ... things that are taken out of context."

Mr. Cordesman says these changes will take as much as a year or longer to achieve, and the insurgents will continue to regroup and continue instigating more violence. In the meantime, the family of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has said it wants to bury him at home in his native country of Jordan and honor his memory as a martyr to his cause.