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Al-Zarqawi video 'act of desperation'


Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
Acts of terror

(CNN) -- The appearance of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in a Web video is "an act of desperation," according to a U.S. military official.

Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, at his weekly press briefing on Thursday, said the military believes "that is indeed Zarqawi in his final hours."

"He knows the people of Iraq are on the verge of foming a national unity government and democracy equals failure for Zarqawi. So he's pulling out all stops."

Al-Zarqawi showed up Tuesday in a Web site video defending the insurgent fight, exhorting his followers to keep the faith, urging unity among fighters, and mocking the U.S.-led effort in Iraq.

Lynch said the al Qaeda in Iraq leader showed his face for the first time since March 2004. (Watch the rare video of al-Zarqawi -- 2:57)

In the Tuesday video, Lynch noted, al-Zarqawi said "you've got to stop the democratic progress. Anybody that enrolls or joins the police, the army, we've got to kill."

"So he is indeed on the verge of failure and the people of Iraq are on the verge of forming a national unity government."

The military official underscored progress in Iraq on both the political and military fronts.

He cited the latest political developments, the filling of top posts in the new government and the designation of Shiite Muslim politician Nuri al-Maliki as prime minister. He said al-Zarqawi and his allies have the most to lose as Iraq gets close to solidifying its government.

Al-Maliki is charged with putting together a new government by filling a slew of Cabinet positions and must present the list to parliament for its approval by around May 21.

Lynch said attacks like the string of car bombings on Monday in Baghdad are efforts by al-Zarqawi and his allies to "surge."

Coalition and Iraqi troops are making inroads in their battles, Lynch maintained.

There are 19,000 Iraqi troops conducting operations in Anbar province. In October 2004, there were none and in March 2005 there were just a few thousand operating in the vast province.

This is where U.S. and Iraqi forces have been fighting militants who have entered Iraq from Syria and created bases in Euphrates River valley towns.

Lynch mentioned Operation Scales of Justice, the beefed-up presence of forces in Baghdad that started in the middle of the last month.

More than 1,000 insurgent suspects and more than 100 weapons caches have been found during that time and the operation has led to decreased violence in Iraq.

He said troops were making progress finding and clearing improvised explosive devices because the more battle-hardened, savvy insurgents in this area were being arrested. More inexperienced personnel were attempting to make and place bombs.

'Pockets' of displaced people

Lynch also addressed a recent fear, the specter of a full-blown civil war.

Ever since the February bombing of a Shiite mosque in Samarra and resulting Sunni-Shiite violence, there have been fears that Iraq is entering or is in a civil war. The military has regularly disputed this notion.

"We don't see Iraq on the verge of a civil war," Lynch said.

On Thursday, he cited some indicators that the trend -- while real -- is on the downswing.

He said indicators show people are more likely to make decisions on what is good for Iraq, rather than their ethnic or religious identity. He cited the political development in parliament.

"Ethno-sectarian violence" tends to be isolated in the capital and not across the provinces, but even in Baghdad it is in a downswing, Lynch said.

He said the military is not seeing a "widespread activation of militias."

Also, he addressed reports of forced population movements -- people of one ethnic group fleeing a neighborhood where they are in a minority and seeking safety elsewhere.

He said there are only "pockets" and not large numbers of displaced people.

Iraq's most wanted

Al-Zarqawi -- the most-wanted man in Iraq -- has eluded U.S. and Iraqi authorities for years, and the United States has posted a $25 million bounty for him.

He and his followers have taken responsibility for -- or been accused of -- perpetrating or aiding suicide bombings, car bombings, beheadings and other acts of brutality.

In one videotaped posting, al-Zarqawi is suspected of being the masked man who beheads U.S. hostage Nicholas Berg as the victim lets out piercing screams.

In October 2004 al-Zarqawi pledged his allegiance to bin Laden and renamed his group al Qaeda in Iraq.

There were reports in recent weeks that al-Zarqawi had been replaced as a leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. However, U.S. military officials disputed those reports. Lynch said that al-Zarqawi has been and is the military's "primary target."

Counterterrorism and intelligence officials say al-Zarqawi has forged links with terrorist groups in other countries, including Jordan, where he admitted to organizing the November triple hotel bombings in Amman that killed 60 people and injured scores of others.

Jordanian courts have convicted and sentenced al-Zarqawi to death in absentia.

CNN's Saad Abedine, David Ensor and Henry Schuster contributed to this report.

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