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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi Killed in Airstrike near Baquba; Iraqi Defense, Interior Ministry Positions Have Been Filled
Aired June 8, 2006 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Morning, everybody. Welcome to a special edition of AMERICAN MORNING. We've got breaking news to begin with.
The most wanted man in Iraq is dead. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi killed last night in a coalition airstrike near Baquba. His death was confirmed just over two hours ago by the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki and also the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey.
Welcome, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Miles O'Brien. A special edition of AMERICAN MORNING this morning.
The announcement of al-Zarqawi's death greeted by cheers just a short time ago, a news conference held by Iraq's prime minister, as well as the general in charge of U.S. forces there. As they made that announcement that after a couple of weeks of very intensive hunting, acting on some tips from Iraqis, perhaps those who were a part of the Abu Musab al-Zarqawi organization, al Qaeda, in Iraq, they were able to pinpoint this location, a so-called safe house, although, obviously, not so safe, near Baquba, about 30 miles northeast of Baghdad.
Precision weapon fired, perhaps from a helicopter. We're still trying to get some details on that. About an hour or so we'll hear from the military and hopefully get further details.
In the meantime, lots of questions this morning about what this does to the insurgency in Iraq. And perhaps an answer in some respects from the terrorists, a bombing on the eastern part of Baghdad to report to you just a short time ago. A dozen dead, 28 at least injured.
CNN's John Vause in Baghdad watching all of these events unfold for us.
And, John, also buried in all of this, the announcement by the government there, a very significant announcement, perhaps really in the long run the lead story here, that an interior minister and a defense minister have been named. I'll let you pick where you want to start.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a lot of news to get through this morning, Miles. Let's start with the announcement by all the defense and the interior ministries. This is very important for this new Iraqi government, for this new Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. He'd been struggling to find two candidates who were suitable to both Sunnis and Shiites. He's managed to fill both those positions. That's a very important step towards actually running the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi police. So that's good news on the security front, good news for this new Iraqi prime minister.
Very interesting what happened as far as the announcement of these two candidates to the Parliament. We received word here last night that al-Maliki would in fact nominate these two men at a parliamentary session.
Word for that came through around the same time as the attack was being launched, the airstrike was being launched on that safe house just north of Baghdad, near the city of Baquba, where Zarqawi was sitting down to hold a meeting with seven of his closest aides. We understand that meeting was only about 10 minutes under way when the airstrike was launched. And killed in that raid, Zarqawi, one of his close lieutenants his men described as his spiritual aide.
Now, as Jamie McIntyre for the Pentagon was reporting earlier, possibly helicopters were used, helicopter gunships were used in that airstrike on that safe house. First on the scene, the Iraqi police, and then multinational forces from the northern part of Iraq were close behind. And then Zarqawi was identified through his fingerprints, through facial recognition and also through known scars -- Miles.
M. O'BRIEN: John, let's talk about the attempts to get Zarqawi in the past. There have been several opportunities, including one case where Zarqawi was actually held by coalition forces. They didn't know who he was. A lot of people have been saying, including the foreign minister who we spoke with just a little while ago, that that videotape, which was released in April, might have been a significant lead for those that were pursuing Zarqawi.
VAUSE: Well, by looking at that videotape, we understand from Jordanian officials that they managed to piece together precisely where Zarqawi may have been hiding. And from there, that led to intelligence and tips from the local residents. And they pieced all of this together, managed to work out that Zarqawi was in this one particular area of Baghdad. A lot of that information, as we heard from the foreign minister on AMERICAN MORNING just a short time ago, a lot of that information, a lot of clues coming from that particular videotape.
It -- at the time, some suggested that Zarqawi was getting overconfident, that this was reckless. Others suggested that because he lost so many close aides that he was on the run, that the coalition forces had him up against the ropes, that he really had to release this video, had to show his face, show him in all those poses with the automatic weapons and looking like some kind of military commander pointing at maps and that kind of thing, he needed to do that to bolster his image to win more support. But it appears now that that could have been in fact that video which led to his downfall.
And don't forget when multinational forces raided a home several days after that video was released, they found what's been known as the blooper tape. It shows Zarqawi unable to load an AK-47, touching a hot barrel of a machinegun after it's just discharged a round of fire, wearing tennis sneakers, that kind of thing.
So in many ways, that video has obviously backfired in a major way for Zarqawi. In many ways that, obviously, he never could have anticipated -- Miles.
M. O'BRIEN: And you're right in many ways.
Speaking of backfiring here, Zarqawi's methods, and we talked to Michael Ware a little while ago on how Zarqawi introducing the suicide attacks in some respects to Iraq and changing the whole nature of the insurgency. That had the possibility, at least, of creating a backlash among Iraqis. Have you seen much evidence of that? Was there wherever you come down in politically or religious -- on a religious front, was there a sense that Zarqawi had taken tactics to a level that was unacceptable to rank and file Iraqis?
VAUSE: Well, on a couple of levels. If you look at what Zarqawi represented, he was -- first of all, he wasn't Iraqi, he was Jordanian. He was a foreign fighter fostering an insurgency in a country which was not his. So that had a lot of Iraqis offside to begin with.
Just on Friday, he released an audio tape on the Internet calling for Sunnis to rise up against Shiites. And this is coming from a foreigner of this country. So that didn't rest well, obviously, with a lot of Iraqis. To say nothing of these gruesome tactics, these beheadings and these car bombings and suicide bombings which he either ordered, inspired or planned or whatever. A lot of middle class Iraqis who had grown very tired of this ongoing violence, obviously had turned against these tactics, and that's where some of these intelligence tips were coming from.
To say nothing of problems that he was having with the al Qaeda head office. There was that letter which was intercepted last year from the al Qaeda leader saying you've got to stop these attacks on Iraqis, on civilians, you're losing support. He did for a while, but then he turned around and blew up three hotels in Amman, Jordan, in November last year, killing 60 people. So, yes, his tactics certainly did not help his cause. He, in fact, may have turned so many people against him.
M. O'BRIEN: John Vause in Baghdad, stay close to the line, we'll be back with you shortly.
Let's get to Soledad now.
S. O'BRIEN: Let's get to some of the details of the military operation that took place that resulted in the death of Abu Musab al- Zarqawi.
Let's get right to Barbara Starr. She's at the Pentagon for us.
Barbara, what more do we know about what exactly happened?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Soledad, we don't know very much more at this point other than what has officially been released by the U.S. military in Baghdad. We certainly do expect briefings this morning throughout the day from military officials offering more details. They may be very close hold on some of it, though, in terms of the tactics and techniques that they used to preserve their ongoing intelligence capabilities in Iraq.
One question, will someone get the $25 million reward for Zarqawi? Our initial information is probably not, that that may not be likely that the information developed was less of a tip from a single person and more interrogation and intelligence developed over the last many days. But we will see how all of that sorts out.
One of the things that was quite interesting in the statement put out by the military a couple of hours ago is that they said -- quote -- "tips and intelligence from Iraqi senior leaders from his network, from Zarqawi's network, played a key role in developing the information that led to this air raid that led to Zarqawi's death."
That's quite interesting, Soledad, key tips from Iraqi leaders inside Zarqawi's network. A clear indication that Zarqawi was no longer able to rely on foreign fighters that his organization had recruited and brought into Iraq, that he was now relying on Iraqis. And that, perhaps, made him more vulnerable. Iraqis who may not have maintained their loyalty to him, people he may not have directly known what their loyalty was.
The question of course is what now? And as my colleagues have reported throughout the morning, one of the key questions for this insurgency is where it will go, whether the new Iraqi government, the interior ministry can -- the defense ministry can really get a handle on the militia movements, on the sectarian violence that has been plaguing Iraq? Mush of the violence having nothing to do with Zarqawi directly. Certainly this is an excellent step for trying to reduce the violence, but most military officials already saying still a very long way to go -- Soledad.
S. O'BRIEN: A couple of things we heard early on was really, Barbara, an emphasis on the role that the Iraqi military took. First on the ground, I think those were the words that were used after the U.S. airstrike, and also the role of Jordanian intelligence. In a scene where we're actually not getting a lot of information and a lot of detail, those things have been highlighted and repeated.
STARR: Right. Let's -- you know there's a few things we ourselves can sort of decipher by already looking at the statements that have officially come out. And one of the things they say is that Zarqawi was able to be identified by fingerprint verification, facial recognition and known scars.
Fingerprint verification. Let's look at that first. The most likely scenario is whatever fingerprints they had on Zarqawi may have indeed come from his time in Jordan. And we know firsthand that the Jordanian government, King Abdullah, the Royal Family, was very determined to see Zarqawi brought to justice after those hotel bombings in Amman, Jordan, that he took credit for, because, of course, the Jordanian people totally outraged by those bombings.
So the Jordanian government, certainly Jordanian security services wanting to deliver all the help that they could to both Iraq and U.S. officials in terms of getting Zarqawi. That was very important to the Jordanian government.
Also, facial recognition and known scars. That would be an indicator that there is, let's be clear, a body left in tact that is recognizable. And that could lead to a very logical conclusion, Soledad, we may see video later today, we may see pictures, some sort of piece of direct identification to the world of Zarqawi's death -- Soledad.
S. O'BRIEN: Barbara, let me just update everybody. We're expecting now that this briefing that we told everybody we were expecting in about an hour or so is actually moved back. It's now 8:00 in the morning Eastern Time. That's Maj. Gen. Bill Caldwell, the Multi-National Force in Iraq. He's going to make a statement on the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. We were expecting to get more of the details that Barbara was just talking about moments ago.
Barbara, at the end of the day the question is, does he ignite the insurgency even more, does he diminish the insurgency by his death?
STARR: You know it's such a difficult thing for military officials to analyze and predict. And pretty much I can tell you I think they're going to stay out of the prediction business.
Here is the key question, over the last many months, so many of these violent, vicious attacks have been attributed to Zarqawi. He has claimed responsibility for them, the suicide bombings, the beheadings, this miserable business that his group has been conducting across Iraq.
But the question, Soledad, is, is the insurgency in Iraq now shifting to have fundamentally a different base, sectarian violence, Shia verses Sunni, the militia movements that are rampant throughout southern Iraq especially? We know all of that is out there and it will be a question of whether the new Iraqi government can really get a handle and control some of that -- Soledad.
S. O'BRIEN: And when you speak of the new Iraqi government, of course you're talking about, I mean, the incredible timing -- excuse me, Barbara, -- in a lot of ways the announcements of the minister of defense and the interior minister being announced this morning. I mean the timing -- excuse me -- really couldn't be better morale-wise, I would imagine, for them.
STARR: Well that's right. And the announcement of those two positions is something that the U.S. military, the Pentagon, the Bush administration had been adamant that the Iraqis had to do. Getting a defense minister in place, getting an interior minister in place in that country is seen as a major sign of progress.
What it really means is now the Iraqi security forces out in the field have an organization, have something there that they can pledge their loyalty to, something there that will develop, they hope, into a command and control structure, something that will make this all a viable Iraqi security organization. But whether it all works and how long it will take still remains to be seen -- Soledad.
S. O'BRIEN: The old $64,000 question as we talk about, Barbara.
Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us.
Barbara, thanks. We'll continue to check in with you throughout the morning -- Miles.
M. O'BRIEN: As we've been telling you, in just about an hour's time, we're going to get a briefing from the U.S. military. And we expect they will provide some further details for us on precisely what happened and what led to the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and at least seven associates.
We are getting some reports on some of the wire services that there was a failed attempt as recently as 10 days ago to kill him. But all of those details will be forthcoming.
Best we know right now, though, based on what we've been able to piece together from our sources so far, including Iraq's foreign minister, is that that videotape we saw in April was a key piece of evidence which led to the unraveling of Zarqawi and his key aides. That information in that tape gave them some geographic clues and put them on the hunt in a very concerted way.
We're told they coupled that with some information from some residents in some cases it is attributed to. And in some cases Iraqis who were part of Zarqawi's inner circle perhaps might have tipped off the U.S. forces and it led to that raid on that safe house, although not so safe, obviously, not too far from Baquba.
We're getting some reports maybe that briefing will occur as late as 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time. Whenever it happens, you'll see it here, obviously.
Let's get to CNN's Ed Henry who is at the White House right now.
I suspect somewhere along the way we'll be hearing from the president. What do we know about that, -- Ed?
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: CNN just learning, in fact, the president, as you know, his first public event would be 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time here in Washington, the Hispanic prayer breakfast.
We're now getting guidance that in fact he will be making a public statement here at the White House 7:30 Eastern Time in the Rose Garden. Obviously the president wanting to jump on this good news. This White House has been desperately searching for good news specifically out of Iraq. The latest CNN poll in mid-May showing only 34 percent of the American people supporting the president's handling of Iraq, 62 percent disapproving.
And what cannot be lost in all of this, as you've just been noting with Barbara Starr, is the fact that Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki also made another very important announcement just in the last few hours, which is the fact that he has now named these defense and interior ministers in his Cabinet. You'll recall about two weeks ago President Bush, here at the White House and in some other speeches, was really touting a formation of this new Iraqi government, a new Cabinet, the new prime minister. But a lot of tough questions for this White House about why those two key posts had not been filled. They have now been filled -- Miles.
M. O'BRIEN: Ed Henry at the White House.
We will of course be tuned in to you and to the White House for the Rose Garden 7:30 Eastern, a little more than an hour from now. And then apparently 8:00 Eastern for the military briefing. So stay tuned to CNN all throughout the morning as we tell you more about the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- Soledad.
S. O'BRIEN: Let's now take a closer look at just who Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was. Thirty-nine years old, born on October 30, 1966 in Zarqa, Jordan. Al-Zarqawi was al Qaeda's top commander in Iraq. And he was also allegedly involved in the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad in 2003. You'll recall that 23 people were killed in that attack and at least 100 more were injured.
He's also suspected of being the masked man in the videotape who was shown beheading the kidnapped American Nick Berg.
In July of 2004, the U.S. raised the bounty on al-Zarqawi from $10 million to $25 million. And then in October of that year, he was quoted on an Islamic Web site pledging his allegiance to the al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
There were rumors that he was wounded at least once before. That's according to several postings on several militant Web sites in May of last year. Those reports never verified.
And just a few months ago, Iraqi security forces told CNN they actually had al-Zarqawi in custody and then let him go because they did not know who he was at the time.
Octavia Nasr is CNN's senior editor for Arab affairs. She is live from Paris this morning.
Octavia, good morning. First reaction on the Internet on all the sites that you monitor all the time.
OCTAVIA NASR, CNN SENIOR EDITOR ARAB AFFAIRS: You know it's very interesting to watch the general Arab media reaction to this. And to summarize, I can tell you that there's more jubilation than sorrow. But experts are talking about the death of Zarqawi not changing much on the ground in Iraq.
You talk about those Islamist Web sites. First of all, they're a bit in disbelief at this point, saying that they want to see proof that he is dead. But that immediately talking about a replacement to Zarqawi. Saying that if Zarqawi is dead, there will be 1,000 Zarqawis. As a matter of fact, one Web site, Islamist Web site, is quoting what they're calling the leader of al Qaeda in Baquba as saying that there will be 1,000 Zarqawis ready to go and the death of Zarqawi is not going to change much.
S. O'BRIEN: How -- percentage-wise, how big, what's the scope of al Qaeda in Iraq? You know we've heard about it a lot, certainly, and Zarqawi is certainly the most notorious, and yet I'm curious about what percentage of the insurgency was he actually responsible for?
NASR: You know that's a very good question, Soledad. Not many people have an answer to. As a matter of fact, experts that we listen to and talk to all the time, they tell us to be very careful with the way we describe al Qaeda in Iraq. They say that they are the ones that get the most attention, especially from the U.S. media, the Western media.
But they tell us that there are many small insurgency groups in Iraq that are more powerful than al Qaeda and the Zarqawi group. They tell us that there is a resistance in Iraq that is a bit different from the terror groups, like Zarqawi's group. So percentage-wise, I don't think anyone can put a number on that. But definitely the experts tell us that this is not a lone group in Iraq, there are many thousands more like it.
S. O'BRIEN: So even if al Zarqawi is not technically the leader of some of this insurgency, his death, does it help them, does it spur them along into further action or do you think it sort of cuts them off at the knees and diminishes what they can do?
NASR: You know what experts are saying right now, they're saying this is definitely a blow to al Qaeda in Iraq. There is no doubt about that. But what they're saying is that this could go either way. It could, one, encourage more to step forward and basically pick up where Zarqawi left off. And the other way is that Iraqis will take charge of the situation, because many Iraqis, we've heard many reports of late talking about Iraqis being very dissatisfied with Zarqawi's ways and his group's actions in Iraq. And basically they've been asking for all those foreigners to leave Iraq. So it could go either way.
Some people will say it will enrage the insurgency. Others will say it will hurt it pretty bad. But you know if you think about the different groups in Iraq, you have to think that Zarqawi's death is not going to be a big deal for them also.
S. O'BRIEN: Octavia Nasr is in Paris this morning.
Octavia, thank you, as always -- Miles.
M. O'BRIEN: Abu Musab Zarqawi linked to so many attacks, so many car bombings, so many suicide attacks and, frankly, some beheadings, which he might have done on videotape himself. A very different brand of terrorist from Osama bin Laden, in some respects, who was not necessarily seen on the front lines through all of this. A matter of fact, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in that latest videotape doing everything he can to show himself as a hands-on warrior may, in some sense, been part of his undoing.
Let's go to David Ensor in Washington who's been talking to some of his intelligence sources.
I was very interested, David, listening to the foreign minister of Iraq talking about how that videotape was so crucial for them in identifying where he was. To those of us looking at that, that would look like any piece of desert anywhere. But clearly there are experts who can look at these things and make some conclusions.
DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well this is just one shot of him. There were quite a few others on that videotape, Miles. Certainly this was what intelligence officials call a trade craft error to allow himself to be seen in a setting like that.
The real pros, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, gave up doing that years ago. They generally are seen in front of a blank background or a piece of burlap or something that reveals nothing about their whereabouts.
The whole business of analyzing these tapes has come a long way in the last few years. And Iraqis can identify things in those pictures that perhaps you and I cannot. So it may well be, as you have Iraqi officials today saying, that this tape was part of his undoing.
It's also clear that there were Iraqis in his organization, at least according to the U.S. military, who were helpful in trying to find him. U.S. intelligence officials reached this morning are calling this a devastating blow for al Qaeda, both in Iraq and globally. But they are stressing, as others have this morning, that this does not end the insurgency. There are plenty of other groups who had, who are Iraqi only, who had no loyalty to this Jordanian terrorist. No doubt the insurgency will continue.
But there's a tremendous symbolic value to killing this iconic terrorist, a man who started as a thug in Jordan but who built himself up into the kind of iconic terrorist that he has become. He liked to be photographed in latter days and that may have led to his undoing.
M. O'BRIEN: Well I'm curious, you know we call it iconic. And to what extent did we play into that, and I say that we collectively in the media, and sort of inflate his importance beyond what is the reality on the ground there or is he as significant as has been reported all along?
ENSOR: You know I don't know about how much we did. We've certainly -- we like pictures. And when we have them, we use them. But the U.S. military has frequently blamed Zarqawi for most of the suicide bombings in Iraq. What will be interesting to see now, Miles, is do they stop, do they wind down some or has he been blamed for too much of the violence? Is the violence really more an Iraqi nationalist-based affair? We're going to see how this plays out in the coming days and weeks.
M. O'BRIEN: Well perhaps an answer has come already. Within the past hour or so, we've heard a report in eastern Baghdad of yet another bombing attack, upwards of a dozen people killed, perhaps as many as 30 injured. Of course some would say that's just another day in Baghdad, as we look at some of the pictures from the market where this occurred just a short time ago. Clearly the insurgency goes on here, it's just a question of at what level -- David?
ENSOR: You know absolutely. And who's involved? How many foreigners are involved? Is there now going to be a new leader who will emerge? Rohan Gunaratna, a respected terrorist expert speaking this morning, is pointing out that Zarqawi has no known number two. Others of course saying hundreds will rise to the occasion. No doubt there are at least scores of foreign would-be terrorists in Iraq. So this group is probably going to continue the al Qaeda movement in Iraq, but it has suffered a body blow today, no question.
M. O'BRIEN: David, all right, thank you. David Ensor in Washington, thank you very much -- Soledad.
S. O'BRIEN: In just about an hour or so, we're expecting to hear from President Bush in the Rose Garden making some official comments on the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Let's get right to Ed Henry. He's at the White House for us this morning with some new information on the president.
Ed, good morning.
HENRY: That's right.
Good morning, Soledad.
And we're hearing that while the president will be making that statement at 7:30 a.m. Eastern Time, he has known that al-Zarqawi was dead or likely to be dead for over 24 hours now. Hearing from a senior administration official that late yesterday afternoon, after meeting with several members of Congress who had just come back from various official trips to Iraq, getting briefings about the situation there on the ground.
After those meetings wrapped up, almost about 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time here at the White House, the president was informed by senior officials that they had good reason to believe that al-Zarqawi was in fact dead, but they were being cautious. They wanted to go through the fingerprinting process, the meticulous process that Barbara Starr has been reporting on.
It wasn't until officially about 9:20 p.m. Eastern Time last night that it was fully confirmed to the president directly by officials here al-Zarqawi was in fact dead. Though over the course of those few hours, of course officials here did believe that this was different than other false alarms that they had gotten before. They felt strongly that this one -- that this in fact was a match. Finally, a little bit of guidance from a senior official about exactly what the president will be saying, that it will not just be saying -- the president will not just say this is a significant development in the war on terror, you know a key victory, but also will note of course that there are significant challenges ahead.
The White House mindful of not getting overly optimistic here, a major development. You know they're noting, obviously, this was a key player in all of the terrorism, not just against innocent Iraqis, but against U.S. troops in Iraq. But also wanting to note there will be significant challenges ahead in Iraq -- Soledad.
S. O'BRIEN: Yes, I think really trying to keep a measured approach to how this information is dispersed. As we've heard from our experts and our correspondents all morning, what does it really mean for the day-to-day insurgency?
Ed, we're obviously going to get back to you in just a little bit when we hear from the president at the White House at 7:30 in the Rose Garden.
We have correspondents around the globe today, at the White House, obviously, and in Baghdad, in London, in Paris, in Washington, D.C. and analysts from around the globe right here on a special edition of AMERICAN MORNING.
Got to take a short break. We're back in a moment.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody.
You're looking at pictures from a busy marketplace destroyed by a roadside bomb that exploded at that marketplace. Twelve people reported dead, 28 reported injured. It took place at 10:30 a.m. local time, a time obviously when that marketplace would be very busy.
It was the second bombing in that same neighborhood. Earlier, 30 minutes earlier, another bombing had taken place. It's just one of the developments we're following this morning.
Also, of course, word that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the most wanted man, the most notorious terrorist, really, in Iraq is dead. That has been confirmed by DNA tests, and also, he has been identified, we are told, by scars and facial recognition as well.
And then, more word out of Iraq. Those cabinet positions that parliament had been struggling to fill have now been filled. All this brings us right to CNN's Christiane Amanpour, who's standing by for us.
Hey, Christiane. Good morning.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. You mentioned the cabinet positions, and do you know that's incredibly important, because, really, the test now of whether Iraq is going to be a success or not is whether this new government, Iraq's first fully democratically elected government for a long period of time now, for the next several years, it will be in power. It now has a defense minister and an interior minister. It's taken more than five months to get this government off the ground.
Why is it important? Because the only way Iraq is going to emerge from this sectarian low-level civil war is if this government can now persuade its security forces, its various ethnic and political forces that government is the contract that they have to belong to, and not individual ethnic political sectarian militias or political groups. And that is going to be the key test.
And if they can do that, it may be able to trickle down into the military, the security, and all the forces that are an required to keep Iraq in a state of security in which it is very much not right now. So it's a very important step.
S. O'BRIEN: Christiane, the timing, the killing of Abu Musab al- Zarqawi, at the same time that we're getting word of these cabinet positions, I mean, all that must help the new government when, realistically, at the same time, he's not responsible for all the insurgency in Iraq, by no stretch of the imagination.
AMANPOUR: Right. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was the first face of this insurgency that's now been going on since very shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. A successful invasion, the deposing of Saddam Hussein has turned into a grueling, no-end-in-sight counterinsurgency war which the U.S., the British and some other international troops are trying to fight.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is responsible for the most vile manifestation of this insurgency. The public, in terms of publicly broadcast beheadings, the wave of kidnappings, and the suicide car bombings, which have been the main feature of this war, the roadside bombs and the suicide car bombings which kill masses and masses of mostly innocent civilians, as well as U.S. soldiers and others out there, he is the one who has done his utmost and been the personification of the sectarian strife.
He has called over and over again for Sunnis to rise up against Shiites, and he has been responsible and has claimed responsibility for the mass bombings of many of the Shiite mosques, holy sites, and all sorts of neighborhoods and the other. And so this is an important moment that he, the face of Al Qaeda in Iraq, has been, in the words of the new Iraqi prime minister, "terminated."
Does it mean it's an end to the insurgency? Not even the prime minister, nor his foreign minister, nor the American ambassador, nor the top American general in Iraq today have even ventured close to hinting that. They've said just the opposite, that a counterinsurgency could take something up to 11 years.
It's vital to deny these insurgents the space that they have to operate in terms of support from the public, in terms of being able to hide and conduct their operations either by support from the public or by terrorizing the public into not giving them away. So, if indeed it was Iraqis who gave up Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, it's an important development.
S. O'BRIEN: Let's talk a little bit more about the significance of that. We're going to get details when we hear from the military briefing at 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time. But it's significant because -- on several facts.
I mean, clearly, the foreign fighters have been killed, or even just sort of removed, to a large degree, from his support network. So he had to turn to Iraqis, which then made him more vulnerable. And also the fact that he's targeted Iraqi civilians. At some point, that's got to be wearing not only to the general populous, but to that Iraqi leadership that's now been sort of pushed up into his ranks, right?
AMANPOUR: Well, yes. I mean, I think that he still is the inspiration for the foreign jihadis who come in. His Web sites are still the recruiting areas. And Iraq, as long as there are Americans there, will still be the sort of symbolic center of global jihad. That's what all the Islamic militants are rushing to Iraq to do right now, to gain their stripes, their battle medals, their scars fighting Americans on the ground.
It was Afghanistan fighting the Soviets back in the '80s. Today it's Iraq fighting the Americans. So that is not necessarily going to change.
What has turned a lot of people against Zarqawi and his methods, as you say, is the wholesale slaughter of Iraqi civilians. What turned them against his methods was the wholesale slaughter of innocent civilians when he transported, exported his terrorism to Jordan back in November of last year, bombing those three hotels, wedding parties, killing 60 people. It's caused a lot of revulsion amongst those who might otherwise support the insurgency.
But we must remember that he was never the head of the entire insurgency. He controlled and was operational and a spiritual head of a certain type, which was, to the largest extent, the foreign fighters in Iraq. But there is a very entrenched and very able, constantly adapting homegrown Iraqi insurgency, whether people call them former Saddam loyalists, they call them Fedayeen, whether they're people who have motivated by revenge from whether their own families have been killed during, you know, the American invasion and the subsequent months. These people are still entrenched.
And what's worse now is that not only do we have an insurgency here on the Sunni side of the spectrum, but on the Shiite side of the spectrum, you have multiple militias which, by and large, are now in many areas conducting revenge attacks, conducting death squads, going out and taking the law vigilante style into their own hands. So you've got a double security problem here in Iraq now.
Sunni insurgents, Shiite militias and death squads, and that is what's really causing this cauldron there to boil, potentially out of control. But the new government really has now its work cut out for it, and now is the moment for it to be able to try to drew at least its side, at least the Shiites, and as many Sunnis as possible into a national operation rather than an ethnic religious splintered militia and political party operation which is going on right now.
S. O'BRIEN: It's why we're hearing from Ed Henry at the White House that in the hour or so when we hear from the president, he's going to very much caution about people taking too much -- reading too much into what's going to happen with the insurgency now that this news has come out about the killing of Zarqawi.
Christiane Amanpour, CNN's senior international correspondent.
Christiane, thanks, as always.
Let's get right to Miles.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We've got some fresh pictures coming in. These are scenes from Iraq, and these are scenes of joy as they fire guns in the air and offer a moment of celebration.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki saying very simply earlier today, "Today Zarqawi has been terminated." Abu Musab al-Zarqawi dead, killed in an airstrike by a precision weapon off of what we believe was a U.S. helicopter. We're going to get further details from the Pentagon very shortly.
In any case, as details come out about this hunt for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, we have word that the U.S. was pretty much hot on his trail within the past couple of weeks. There may have been another attempt at his life that failed about 10 days ago. But one of the keys might have come from Jordan.
Zarqawi, as you know, a Jordanian. And there was a key arrest in May which might have led to some intelligence, which ultimately led to this attack.
Joining us on the line right now from Brisbane, Australia, is Michael Ware -- oh, actually, live from Brisbane. Michael Ware, formerly with "TIME" magazine, soon to be with us.
Michael, let's talk about the intelligence which led to this. We're told that an arrest of a Jordanian who might have had a close link to Zarqawi might have been an important part of this, and also there were tips that were coming from residents on the ground there in Iraq that were ultimately leading to Zarqawi. Those are significant points, the fact that he had developed enemies so close to him.
MICHAEL WARE, BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA: Oh, look, this has been building for quite some time. I mean, Zarqawi has been a lightning rod not just within the region, not just within Iraq and his home country of Jordan, but even within al Qaeda and the broader jihad community.
He had been in the face of a lot of people. He was very defiant, and he was taking the global jihad and then al Qaeda once he joined it to a new, much more violent, much more brutal threshold.
We're now going to see this is one of the biggest tests of this new generation of al Qaeda that has risen with him harder and meaner as a result of the Iraq theater, the platform where they came and bloodied themselves. The fact that there might be some Jordanian intelligence involvement, that shouldn't come as much of a surprise.
Zarqawi started in Jordan. He found religion in a Jordanian prison. His mentor was a prominent Jordanian Islamist.
His original group was primarily dedicated to the overthrow of the Jordanian regime. And when Zarqawi declared his arrival in the Iraq war in the summer of 2003, with a truck bombing of the Jordan embassy, that very much illustrated Jordan's stake in capturing Zarqawi. So that they may have helped really comes as no surprise.
And we've also been seeing things turn against Zarqawi to some degree on the ground, even within the insurgency, as people have been challenging his role and his influence. I mean, we've seen that on Ramadi. As people started to turn against him on the street, he hit back hard with key assassinations on tribal leaders.
So none of this is a surprise. A lot of things eventually had to catch up with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
M. O'BRIEN: To say he has blood on his hands is a bit of an understatement. Literally thousands of people dead attributed to he and his organization.
I want to read to you a quote from Zalmay Khalilzad, who is the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. He said this, this morning at that announcement: "The godfather of sectarian killing and terror in Iraq is gone. This marks a great success for Iraq in the global war on terror."
First, that first point, the godfather of sectarian violence and killing in Iraq, true statement?
WARE: Well, I can very much see where Ambassador Khalilzad is coming from on that. I mean, let's look back.
From the very beginning, Zarqawi has made it a centerpiece of his strategy to divide the Sunni and the Shia sects, to inflame the great sectarian war. He saw that as a vehicle to advance his hard line.
M. O'BRIEN: Michael, I'm sorry. Michael, we're going to have to pick this up in just a moment. We have some breaking news -- Soledad.
S. O'BRIEN: All right. Let's get right to Ed Henry. He's at the White House. He's just had a briefing with other reporters from Tony Snow, the advisor at the White House.
Let's get right to Ed.
Ed, good morning.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.
I just spoke to Tony Snow, as you mentioned. He had a little gaggle with a few reporters on the record, giving us a lot more detail about how the president learned about this dramatic development.
It turns out, rather amazing, the president was in a meeting with various lawmakers in both parties yesterday afternoon, who as I mentioned a little while ago had just come back from Iraq. And amazingly, Republican Congressman Ray LaHood of Illinois at one point said to the president, "You know what you guys need to do" -- this is according to Tony Snow -- "you need to get al-Zarqawi."
The president assured Ray LaHood and other lawmakers in the room that the United States government was doing all they could to get al- Zarqawi. Then we're told that the national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, noted that his phone had been going off and he was getting all kinds of calls from Iraq.
So he left this meeting with the president, went out about 3:45 p.m. Eastern Time yesterday. And Stephen Hadley spoke to our ambassador in Iraq, Mr. Khalilzad, by phone, in which he was first informed it appeared that we, in fact, had gotten al-Zarqawi.
Now, at 4:20 p.m., we're told Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called in from overseas, called in to the White House. The president is still in this meeting with lawmakers, and Secretary Rumsfeld said again the U.S. government believes they had gotten al-Zarqawi.
Then we're told the president finally got out of the meeting with lawmakers about 4:35 p.m. The president, the vice president, the secretary of state, the chief of staff, Josh Bolten, and Stephen Hadley were in the Oval Office about 4:35 p.m. Eastern Time. They were told more detail about the raid and they were told that, in fact, the government believed al-Zarqawi was, in fact, dead.
We're told the president's first reaction was, "That would be a good thing." According to Josh Bolten, the president was clearly pleased, but also noted there was a lot more work ahead. And the president expressed admiration for the work that special forces had been doing for so long to try to get al-Zarqawi.
Then, as I noted a little earlier, once again, at 9:20 p.m. last night, after a few hours of caution, the fingerprinting process, et cetera, Stephen Hadley called the president again and said, "Yes, it's a match. In fact, al-Zarqawi is dead."
We are cautioned, though, by White House Press Secretary Tony Snow that they believe it will be another 24 hours before the DNA evidence is in. But they do believe this is al-Zarqawi. We're also told the president, as we've been noting, will be in the Rose Garden at 7:30 -- precisely it will be 7:31:30 that the president will be in the Rose Garden, and he will be touching on Iraq, obviously al- Zarqawi, but also these new cabinet ministers, another big development in Iraq.
The prime minister, Maliki, noting that they now have defense and interior ministers, another development.
And then a tantalizing tease from Tony Snow. He said, "There may be more." He would not go any further, but Tony Snow said basically stay tuned.
So, on that note, Soledad, back to you.
S. O'BRIEN: All right. Well, we'll stay tuned, 7:31:30, as you point out. And you know he's actually going to hit that time.
HENRY: Oh, yes.
S. O'BRIEN: Fairly promptly.
Ed Henry at the White House for us.
HENRY: Thank you.
S. O'BRIEN: Miles.
M. O'BRIEN: Let's get back to Michael Ware in Brisbane.
We were talking, Michael, about a comment from Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, where he said -- he called al-Zarqawi the godfather of sectarian killing in Iraq. And you were expounding on that.
Why don't we -- why don't you pick up where we left off there.
Oh, we just lost him. All right.
We're going to take a break. We'll try to get Michael back. And we'll continue our coverage from all around the world as we to keep you up to date on the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. An announcement from the president 7:31:30.
The military will brief at 8:00 a.m. Eastern. You'll see it all here live on CNN.
Stay with us.
S. O'BRIEN: Expecting to hear from President Bush this morning. He's going to make a statement on our breaking news, the death of al- Zarqawi. He's going to be speaking from the Rose Garden at 7:30 a.m. Eastern Time. CNN is going to carry that for you live, of course.
The death of al-Zarqawi was reported pretty much as the parliament finally came to a decision on two key critical posts for the parliament, the defense minister post and also the defense ministry post.
Aneesh Raman has been reporting for us from Baghdad of late, very much focusing on a lot of these negotiations, negotiations going on over filling these parliament posts.
Let's get right to Aneesh. He joins us by phone from Boston.
Aneesh, good morning. It must be a big morale booster for the new government as they fill these two posts and then have this word of Zarqawi's death.
ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.
The news of today, as you've mentioned, if Zarqawi had not been killed, it would be that they had finally filled the post of interior and defense ministries. There you see Iraq's prime minister, al- Maliki, who has just taken over. And now, if nothing else, the impact will be a psychological blow to the insurgency.
It will take some time, of course, to see what practical import this has in any decline in the violence, but this is a day of political possibility. The first time in a long time that Iraqi politicians, perhaps since the first elections in January of 2005, can start to really rebuild confidence among the Iraqi people.
I've been there for a year and seen confidence dramatically erode between the Iraqi people and the Iraqi politicians. They bickered over who would get what post.
And we've seen that take place in this new government. But now, on a day where both Zarqawi, who has been really the sole face of the insurgency, a big point to make, is that the insurgency is a faceless killer, by and large. Roadside bombs that kill U.S. troops, suicide bombers that kill Iraqis, but Zarqawi has been the face of it all.
And so for him to now be killed, and for these two important security posts to be filled, there is momentum for the first time in a long time for this government. The key question will be whether they seize upon this moment and bring some sense of unity among differing factions, the Kurds, the Shias, and the Sunnis, that have found reason to find difference more than they have to find similarity in political negotiations up until now -- Soledad.
S. O'BRIEN: Yes. I mean, the question is, can they leverage that momentum?
You talk about confidence eroding and what you've noticed as you've been reporting from Baghdad. But essentially, what happens on the ground is what builds confidence and what erodes confidence. And we've already seen videotape of this new bombing this morning, a roadside bomb blasting through a marketplace, killing a dozen people, injuring 28 other people, Aneesh.
Al-Zarqawi really realistically not responsible for all the insurgency. There's a huge homegrown insurgency in Iraq. Realistically, what kind of an impact can his death have?
RAMAN: Yes, a huge homegrown insurgency, homegrown insurgency that is behind the vast number of attacks that we see on a near daily basis. You see the video here. We are so familiar to see these images, and sitting on this side of the screen rather than here in Baghdad, you become more aware of how often Americans see these images. And they all tend to run together.
But Zarqawi has been linked and is behind the biggest attacks, those that received the most important coverage, if you will, out of Iraq. And so I think the immediate sense is that this will deal a psychological blow to the insurgency, provide some sense of psychological confidence among the Iraqi people.
But Iraqis, by and large, it's hard to get them to get too excited about any moment, whether it was the number of elections that they went to the polls over, whether it was the fact that Saddam Hussein was facing trial. They are a people who have suffered and endured not just a dictator for decades, but an insurgency for years now.
And so, for the first time in a while, they perhaps will give this government a second chance, will give it a second look, will wait to see now that there has been some movement in security, if there is, as you say, a continued movement on the ground that is a palpable -- that makes a palpable difference in the violence. But these are not a people that will dramatically change their tone on their faith in this government based upon today's actions.
But this does for the first time in a long time provide the Iraqi government with a chance. And it is incumbent upon them to seize upon it -- Soledad.
S. O'BRIEN: How significant is it, Aneesh, that it looks as if Iraqi -- Iraqis -- Iraqi leadership within al-Zarqawi's own little network turned on him, betrayed him, turned him in?
RAMAN: Yes, very significant. I can recall coming on this show some weeks ago talking about a senior al Qaeda in Iraq leader that had been captured and how the U.S. military were saying they were hoping to turn intelligence as to where Zarqawi himself was. And we've said that any number of times before with any number of, as they've been described, senior Al Qaeda in Iraq leaders that have been captured.
So, what we saw, it seems, is senior Iraqi -- and as you mentioned, that's significant in and of itself, because Al Qaeda in Iraq largely, initially was foreign fighters, but had to really draw upon Iraqis as it progressed. Senior Iraqi leaders within that network turned against him.
We've seen them on the civilian population as well, Iraqis providing better intelligence in certain areas. And that has been the key from U.S. military officials all along.
Embeds that I've been on, when you speak to the soldiers who are on the ground, on the front line, trying to interact with Iraqis, the key is building confidence, not just in Iraqi security forces, but in the notion that the insurgency can and will end. And when that confidence exists, Iraqis start to give information about people they know to be linked to the insurgency, attacks they know to be pending.
So this does perhaps give further confidence to Iraqis who might have been teetering about whether they will provide information. But we should all, as we will today, caveat that Iraq faces huge difficulties ahead, politically, security-wise, and this does provide some hope. But it does not cure all of the issues that Iraq has ahead of it.
And it will be a good step to see if Iraq's government can really seize upon it. And it will be disturbing if it is incapable of doing so, because this is perhaps the best chance they have gotten up until now, since those first elections, and perhaps the best chance they will get to get momentum and try and change the situation on the ground -- Soledad.
S. O'BRIEN: Certainly leaders in Iraq and leaders here in the U.S. will be hoping that there will be a little bit of a domino effect, that this, in fact, it does provide the momentum for the next big step forward.
Aneesh Raman joining us by phone.
He spent a lot of time obviously in Baghdad focusing on the new parliament and some of the decisions they've been struggling with -- Miles.
M. O'BRIEN: Well, what are the chances this particular killing will be that domino or the straw to break the camel's back, or at least the beginning of the end of the insurgency? As Aneesh was just talking about, those who are teetering one way or the other, if there is a perception the insurgency is on the run or on the ropes, that could have very significant implications in the war in Iraq.
Let's go now to one of our experts who we call upon for insight into these matters. Peter Bergen joining us live on the line from Zurich.
Peter, just your initial sense of how big a blow this is to the insurgency, first of all, just inside Iraq.
PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I think we need to make a distinction here, Miles, between the two insurgencies that are going on. One is the very large insurgency, which is all Iraqi, and is obviously doing a lot of damage. And the other one is the foreign fighter insurgency led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The reason the foreign fighter insurgency is so important is they're the people who are conducting almost all of the suicide operations. And it's the suicide operations that are the spectacular attacks that have really created the civil war, with the attack, for instance, in Samarra on the shrine. It got the United Nations to withdraw early on. It got the Jordanian diplomats to pull out.
And so the foreign fighters who are doing something like 90 percent of the suicide attacks -- many of them, are, in fact, Saudi. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, of course, a Jordanian himself. These are the things that are actually driving forward much of what's happening strategically in Iraq. So taking out al-Zarqawi, the leader of this, is important.
That being said, you know, we've seen many supposed milestones that were going to change the insurgency, whether it was the killing of Saddam's sons, the arrest of Saddam, the so-called deck of cards. So many of those people were arrested. As those things happened, the insurgency actually gathered steam.
So, while this is very important, you know, as many people have said earlier in the day, it's not -- the insurgency inside Iraq is not going to collapse overnight as a result of this.
M. O'BRIEN: I'd like to get your thoughts on the differences -- you've had the opportunity to meet and interview Osama bin Laden -- the differences in style between these two terrorists who are linked, but linked in a very loose way, I gather.
BERGEN: Well, as you know, Zarqawi was sort of a street thug who kind of found Islam in jail and went to Afghanistan in 1999, set up a training camp really aimed at overthrowing the Jordanian government. At that time he had no interest in attacking the United States. And that training camp was hundreds of miles away from al Qaeda's central headquarters in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
At that time, bin Laden and Zarqawi, I think, were as much in competition as cooperation with each other. As the war in Iraq proceeded, bin Laden -- Zarqawi actually changed the name of his organization in 2004 to Al Qaeda in Iraq and pledged allegiance to bin Laden very publicly.
I think the differences between these two guys -- if bin Laden was killed today, I think we would be in a different situation. Zarqawi will have no ideological legacy. I think that's important.
He really only had one idea, let's create a Sunni-Shia civil war, which, of course, he's had some success in doing. But bin Laden has had a larger ideological legacy which will survive him whether he's captured or killed, whenever that is, which is basically, you know, getting the United States entirely out of the Middle East, destroying Israel, getting India out of Kashmir, getting the Russians out of Chechnya.
You know, it's a much larger ideological thing. Bin Laden is a brighter guy. Zarqawi, you know, obviously must have had some street smarts. But I think that's the difference between the two.
I don't think there will be a Zarqawi ideological legacy. I think if we have this conversation six months from now, I think Zarqawi will sort of have faded from memory, to a large degree.
M. O'BRIEN: Peter Bergen, our terrorism analyst, back with you in a little while as we continue to put this all together.
Zarqawi dead. And we're talking about the implications of all this, all this morning -- Soledad.
S. O'BRIEN: The 7:00 a.m. hour of AMERICAN MORNING begins with breaking news out of Iraq to tell you about. The most wanted man, the most wanted terrorist in Iraq is dead, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's killed in a coalition airstrike near Baqubah. His death was confirmed just a few hours ago by both Iraq's prime minister and also the U.S. military's top commander in Iraq, General George Casey.
Here's what we've learned. Al Zarqawi was identified by both fingerprints and by facial recognition as well.
Welcome back, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien.
M. O'BRIEN: And I'm Miles O'Brien. The president will speak at 7:30 Eastern Time from the Rose Garden. We'll bring those comments to you live. He'll be, obviously, talking about Zarqawi's death, and we're expecting remarks as well from the British prime minister, Tony Blair.
Let's listen to him right now, live in London.
TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Welcome to the (INAUDIBLE) press conference.
I was going to start by giving you a detailed exposition of the national health services reform, but for obvious reasons, two important things have happened. First of all, the death of al-Zarqawi and also the Iraqi prime minister's decision to nominate his defense and interior ministers as to so complete his government, the first ever fully elected government of Iraq.
I would like to start by paying tribute to the new Iraqi government and to its prime minister, to the U.S., U.K., and other allied forces, including those of Iraq and to the intelligence services that are working so hard to allow the Iraq people what they so clearly want and have voted for, democracy and the chance to prosper in the future, to escape both from the past legacy of Saddam and the present evil of terrorism.
Every day, we hear of the death toll through the fomenting of civil strikes, a campaign of murder, and kidnappings and brutality. All of it designed to stifle Iraqi democracy at birth. And al-Zarqawi was its most vicious prosecutor. The death of al Zarqawi is a strike against al Qaeda in Iraq, and therefore a strike against al Qaeda everywhere.
But we should have no illusions, we know that they will continue to kill. We know there are many, many obstacles to overcome. But they also know that our determination to defeat them is total. Their methods, their ideas, their extremism that seeks to infect the overwhelming desire of the overwhelming majority of people, whatever their religion and whatever their nation, to live together in peace and harmony.
So I do not minimize the enormous challenges that remain in Iraq and elsewhere, but the election of the new government and its full formation today shows a new spirit to succeed. And our task, obviously, is to turn that spirit, that willingness and desire to succeed into effective action.
If we are able to do so, then we will have accomplished something that goes far beyond the borders of Iraq.
I've long argued, as you know, that whatever the debate over the original decision to remove Saddam, for the past three years since his removal, a struggle of a different nature has taken shape. In Iraq and in Afghanistan, al Qaeda has taken a stand. They know that if progress and democracy take root in those two previously failed and terrorized states, then their values of violence and hatred against those who disagree with them will, in turn, be uprooted.
That's why they fought and why they will continue to fight very hard. But it's also why we should fight back, and do so as a unified, international community, putting behind us the divisions of the past and uniting under the U.N. mandate in both Iraq and Afghanistan. For three years, al Qaeda have sought to murder innocent people, promote sectarian killing and wreck the Democratic process in Iraq.
M. O'BRIEN: Prime Minister Tony Blair from London. You're looking now at the first pictures we've gotten in of the scene of this attack. This is the result of that precision bombing of that so- called safehouse near Baquba, where Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and at least seven of his associates were having a meeting based on intelligence derived from inside his organization, perhaps. Perhaps a Jordanian who had been recently arrested, combination of that along with information gleaned from the videotape Zarqawi released in April, U.S. forces were able to act and aim that weapon at that site. And as you can see, it was a devastating blow.
Zarqawi killed in the mist of all this, identified by fingerprints. They're conducting further analysis. Ultimately, we'll have some DNA results. But in the meantime, corroborating the fingerprints, along with scars and other marks that were known to be on al-Zarqawi.
So Zarqawi is dead. The question now for the U.S. and for the Iraqis is how this impacts the ongoing violence there, fueled by the insurgency. It's described by the U.S. ambassador to Iraq as the godfather of sectarian violence in Iraq. He is by no means the sole proprietor of it.
We'll continue that coverage. As we get some more pictures from the scene, we'll bring them to you -- Soledad.
S. O'BRIEN: All right, let's, in fact, get to John Vause. He's in Baghdad.
John, we're taking a look, as we mentioned, at this breaking news and the new pictures of this attack, the scene from the raid that killed al-Zarqawi. It's the first pictures that we're getting in and really seeing the extent of the damage. Earlier, we heard that they were still looking through the rubble, trying to confirm the numbers of dead who were killed along with Zarqawi. Do we have an update on that figure, John?
JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this stage, Soledad, what we are being told is that Zarqawi was killed, his top lieutenant, a spiritual adviser was killed, so, too, six others. They're still searching the rubble to find out if anyone else may have been in the house at that time. This was described as a high-level meeting of al Qaeda in Iraq, underway just north of the city of Baquba. If there was any doubt that Zarqawi was killed, Soledad, the Reuters News Agency is now quoting the al Qaeda in Iraq Web site saying that -- claiming that Zarqawi has been killed. So obviously little doubt that Zarqawi is among the dead.
The final toll, I guess, is still up in the air.
S. O'BRIEN: There have been reports, John, that the last 10 days, it seemed as if maybe U.S. and Iraqi forces were beginning to really hone in on him. I saw one report that said that there had been several attempts on his life in the last 10 days alone. Do you know about that?
VAUSE: Well, the prime minister, in his statement to the media when he actually announced this, the killing of Zarqawi, said that there was an attempt to kill Zarqawi about 10 days ago. They had intelligence. There was this attempted assassination of Zarqawi, but he escaped. Obviously, he had no such luck this time. But coalition forces and the Iraqi forces had been moving in slowly against Zarqawi for a while. At one point, he was arrested, but he got away because the coalition forces didn't realize they actually had arrested Zarqawi.
And also over the last couple of months, they had started to arrest a number of his senior aides, those were very close to him. We heard about the Jordanian officials arresting a senior member from al Qaeda in Iraq on May 22nd, saying that a lot of information for locating Zarqawi and to deliver this airstrike may have, in fact, come from that senior member of al Qaeda in Iraq, giving some crucial information to the coalition forces -- Soledad.
S. O'BRIEN: John, a couple of things we're expecting in the next 20 minutes or so. The president's going to come out and talk a little bit more about the death of al-Zarqawi. Also, at the top of the next hour, we're going to here from the military, as well. And I think that's going to be critical to figure out exactly how they knew to target that safehouse, what was involved. Was Zarqawi alive or dead by the time the Iraqi troops on the ground got to him, things like that. Do we know any more details about this particular safehouse where he was hiding and who exactly turned him in?
VAUSE: Yes, at this stage, that's all up in the air. We're hoping for more specific details from General Casey at that press briefing.
What we know at this stage is that they launched the attack on that safehouse around 6:15 local time. That's getting on to about 21 hours ago now when that airstrike was launched. Judging by the video that we've seen from the site, it was a very destructive airstrike which was carried out. They certainly didn't take any chances that anyone was going to get out of that house alive.
As for the information, there is information coming from the prime minister that they received intelligence and tips from the local community and a lot of information came from that video which Zarqawi released back in April, which showed him firing machine guns, and pointing at maps, and looking like some kind of military commander. A lot of people at the time speculated that Zarqawi was on the ropes and he needed to bolster his support, which is why he put out that videotape and really showed himself for the first time, because up until that video was released, there wasn't a lot of images of Zarqawi around, some fleeting video, a couple of photographs showing him in various sort of disguises if you like, looking like an accountant with an beard in other cases.
So that video really put out his facial image out there. Some say that could have been one of the main factors which led to his downfall, led to this intelligence tipoff today -- Soledad.
And as you're talking, John, we're taking a look at this videotape coming to us. This is was what was left of the safehouse, where al Zarqawi was hiding or having a meeting just outside of Baquba. And you can see, you're absolutely right, John, pummeled to make sure that -- you know, that's just rubble, there's nothing left -- to make sure that nobody outside of that house was going to be coming out alive anytime soon.
S. O'BRIEN: John Vause for us in Baghdad. John, thanks -- Miles.
M. O'BRIEN: As we look at that video, clearly there was plenty of ordinance that was applied to the target, to borrow some military terms. Let's go to Barbara Starr at the Pentagon where we're trying to piece together exactly what happened militarily from here. We've got a Pentagon briefing in about 50 minutes time after we hear from the president, about 20 minutes from now. Barbara, what do we know? Do we, know first of all, did it come off of a helicopter or one of those unmanned predator drones?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, very interestingly, Miles, we are now being told of the third option. According to sources we've just spoken to, it was actually two 500- pound bombs dropped from an aircraft flying overhead that conducted this raid. We do want know yet if those were Air Force aircraft or Navy aircraft, but two 500-pound precision bombs. And the kind of destruction you're seeing on this video that we're showing on our air right now is quite consistent with that. What will be interesting to determine is, really, the condition of Zarqawi's body, because according to the statement put out by U.S. officials, the identification came through facial recognition, scars and fingerprints. So to be very cold about this, there were certainly body parts left after this blast, after this raid of two 500-pound bombs, sufficient body parts of Zarqawi to make that identification.
It will be interesting to see how all this sort of out, as we say. Not everybody is completely obliterated, frankly, into dust when a 500-pound bomb is dropped. He may have died of some sort of concussion blast. He may have died of blunt-force trauma. We do not know. We have no information that he died immediately, that they found a dead body, if you will, at that point. But certainly, enough of him left after these two 500-pound bombs were dropped. That's an indication that this raid was conducted, of course, by conventional forces in terms of delivering the ordinance on target. We're also told there were helicopter gunships in the area, indications of special forces that certainly would have been there when they went after this meeting of top-level al Qaeda officials. One of the questions, Miles, that will have to be asked is, did they know ahead of time Zarqawi himself was in this house, or were they simply going after an al Qaeda meeting? All questions we're going to get answers to.
M. O'BRIEN: And in the rules of engagement, clearly, if it had just been a high-level al Qaeda in Iraq meeting, that would have been fair game?
STARR: You know, absolutely. Given all the controversy about civilian casualties, they certainly are making every effort when they conduct these type of airstrikes to make sure they know exactly who they're going after, and that is another key as to what is unfolding today, because we are learning that it was over the last two weeks that they were developing the intelligence, the information, we believe through a number of interrogations of people that they had captured that this was a place that they wanted to go after.
So far, we have no indication at this hour that there was one sudden lucky tip. You know, Zarqawi is at point X. We don't have that indication at this point. What we have is an indication of the constant tightening of the vice around him. The intelligence, the information being developed over the last couple of weeks, and then U.S. forces moving in -- Miles.
M. O'BRIEN: Barbara, I don't want to get too deep into the defense capability minutiae here, but do we know if it was a laser- guided bomb, which might imply those special forces on the ground were illuminating that target with a laser beam in order to guide the bomb in, or was it GPS? In other words, that would give us a sense of how close physically troops were to that location.
STARR: We don't. Let me be very honest, we do not know the answer. I would say that from a military point of view, probably the overwhelming chances at this point was that it was some sort of GPS- guided bomb. And to explain to our viewers, that means satellite- precision guided; satellite location, satellite points that are very precise that allow the aircraft to drop the bomb exactly where it is targeted to. That is probably the overwhelming likelihood, I would say, but we do not know the answer, to be fair -- Miles.
M. O'BRIEN: All right, Barbara Starr, we'll wait and hear from the officer as they brief us in a little while, and we'll be in touch with you. Back with you in just a little bit -- Soledad.
S. O'BRIEN: Zarqawi was suspected in many of the major terrorist attacks in Iraqi in recent years. Sajjan Gohel is a terrorism analyst. He's also the director of the International Security at Asia Pacific Foundation. He's in London this morning.
Sajjan, always nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us.
Assess now for me the risk of terror in Iraq with the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
SAJJAN GOHEL, TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, Soledad, it's a significant development. Al-Zarqawi brought in the fear factor in Iraq. He raised the level of violence. He was behind a lot of the suicide attacks that we saw, the attacks on the U.N. building, on the Jordanian embassy. He was also behind attacks beyond Iraq, including the killing of U.S. Lawrence Foley, as well as the Amman bombing last year.
And of course the most disturbing dimension is that he would abduct foreigners and behead them on video, including Nicholas Berg. The fact that he has been eliminated is important, it is significant, but we've got to put it into perspective. He is one man in charge of one group. Iraq has multiple different insurgent outfits, independent, and they have the means of capability of carrying on without al-Zarqawi. So this is an important litmus test for Iraq's future. If al-Zarqawi's significance is going to be there, it will have a blown on the insurgent movement. If it doesn't, I fear for Iraq's future.
S. O'BRIEN: So what you're saying is this is a critical moment. At the same time that we have seen these two positions now nominated, that they've really been bickering over for quite a while, the defense ministry position and the interior ministry position, sort of all kind of happening at the same exact time. What's the significance of that, Sajjan?
GOHEL: It's very significant. In fact, it's no coincidence that both the defense and interior ministries portfolio were announced today, on the day al-Zarqawi was killed because they were the most controversial positions. They involved Iraq's security operators. They involved how the country's going to evolve, how this situation with the Iraqi armed forces and police services will take place, because there's been a lot of sectarian conflict developing between the Shias and Sunnis, which al-Zarqawi very cleverly was stoking up. The fact that he's now been eliminated does suggests to the Iraqi government that they may be able to curtail that situation, but we'll have to wait and see.
The defense and interior ministry portfolios are absolutely vital for Iraq's future. And if there's some stability in both those departments, then it's important for Iraq.
S. O'BRIEN: But what about the Iraqi people? Will they be cheering in the streets today, because this is perceived as a victory? Is this just one tiny minuscule step, and as you point out, you know, the road can sort of go either direction at this point. What's the reaction going to be on the ground there?
GOHEL: I think it will depend on who you actually ask, because there are different ethnicities inside Iraq. If you talk to the Shia Muslims, will be very happy with what happened today, because we know that al Zarqawi's terrorist launched a number of attacks, specifically against them.
Also, the Kurdish population had no love for him, either. Where al-Zarqawi got his support and where his constituency was based was amongst the Sunni Muslims in the Sunni heartland in places like Falluja and Baquba. We know that he had support there.
What is also important is what the impact will be in Jordan, where al-al-Zarqawi is from. His town of Zarqa is known as a hot bed for militancy. But Jordan has no love for him either. Let's not forget that he was behind the attacks in Amman last year, which the most number of casualties were Jordanian Muslims. So he won't be missed. But certainly his legacy will have an impact, and what we'll be worrying now is how al Qaeda will use him as the new recruitment tool to attract new future individuals to join the terrorist groups throughout the world, and particularly in Iraq.
S. O'BRIEN: So his biggest misstep attacking Iraqis and Jordanians, sort of losing the battle of the hearts and minds? Was his biggest misstep making a videotape where he showed his face and sort of put himself out there? And are these mistakes that the other insurgent groups will learn from and not do?
GOHEL: Well, al-Zarqawi thought that was very much the hardcore of hardcore terrorists. There were no rules for him. He would launch all kinds of attacks. Anybody was his victim. He made no exception. The fact that he appeared on a video in April was him suggesting that he's very much active, he's alive, that he's going to launch new attacks. He did very much expose himself, because there were rumors circulating last year that he'd been wounded, that there was infighting amongst his own group. I think he was trying to suggest that he's not disappearing, that he's going to be there, that he's going to launch new attacks. He did give away a lot of his own secrecy, as it were.
What's interesting is that one of his cohorts was arrested in Jordan last week, and it's largely believed that that he provided vital, key intelligence to the Jordanian authorities, who then passed on to the coalition in Iraq, which then probably resulted in al Zarqawi's timely death today.
S. O'BRIEN: We're going to hear more details about how the whole thing unraveled actually as we hear from the president in just about 10, 11 minutes or so. And then of course the military briefing that we're expecting at 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time. Sajjan Gohel joining us, terrorism expert with the Asian Pacific Destination. Thanks, Sajjan. Appreciate it -- Miles.
M. O'BRIEN: The top general in Iraq, George Casey, part of that announcement this morning, along with Iraqis who were announcing the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He's saying at the time, General Casey is saying, just one man and part of a process, one step in the process of ending the insurgency in Iraq.
Joining us now for a little bit of military perspective on this is General James "Spyder" Marks, who is an analyst for us and weighs in on military issues.
First of all, let's talk about what General Casey had to say about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. A significant player, indeed, but just part of a whole process here.
GEN. JAMES "SPYDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Miles, I need to tell you that this is great news. There's no way other than to look at this in a very, very positive light. But George Casey's absolutely correct. There is no lack of volunteers raising their hands right now, young men who want to take Zarqawi's place. They're looking for some form of martyrdom which, gladly, he did not achieve, since he was killed at the hands of the coalition forces.
But this really is great news. And the arrest of one of his key lieutenants in Jordan speaks volumes to the human intelligence network that's in place, the sharing that's in place. The Jordanians stepped forward, made a great effort on their -- great effort on their part, shared with the coalition forces, shared with the Iraqis. And it speaks to the ability to act upon intelligence.
Intelligence by itself is irrelevant. What you need to be able to do with it, you've got to make it actionable, you've got to be able to do something about it. And what the coalition forces could do today was provide a presence that was able to strike very precisely. And I think Barbara Starr's initial report is very, very accurate, and very incisive. It probably was GPS satellite-guided, very pointed, very directed and accomplished a task. So it speaks to a great network that worked, and it also speaks to the challenges that the al Qaeda in Iraq has.
M. O'BRIEN: You know, human intelligence has been a fundamental problem all throughout, really including the run-up to this invasion. At this juncture, U.S. military and U.S. forces there, did they have -- do you feel, have they really made a significant inroads in cultivating those human sources on the ground that can give us this key kind of information, that can shift the balance in the battle?
MARKS: Miles, great question. The short answer is yes. Bear in mind, we've been there now, the coalition forces have been there now, three years. So those networks, those relationships, are in place. The lines to share and to work sources, to identify sources, to vet them and to make sure that you can direct that activity very, very precisely, those networks are in place and that mechanism is in place.
Now, bear in mind, you know, the run up to the war, we had not had a physical presence in Iraq. We had not had any form of real deep diplomacy. And the only presence that we had had in Iraq was covert. And it was probably through third parties. So we have a presence and we have a sense of the ground that we've achieved over the course of the last few years. So it's very significant and it speaks highly to the effort that's ongoing to improve human intelligence.
M. O'BRIEN: Give us a sense, then -- you know, good intelligence kind of leads to further good intelligence. Because people talk. They're motivated by money, for one thing, but they also talk if they feel as if the person they're about to rat out is on the ropes, as well. And so there's a lot of perceptions of which way the battle is going and the way things are shifting. Could this -- could we look back on this moment, do you think, and see this as a kind of pivot point that will -- you know, a key domino for the U.S. military?
MARKS: Yes. I think absolutely, that's correct. This is a tipping point. What it speaks to, you know, the aggregate evidence over the course of last few months was that Zarqawi probably had a challenge within his ranks. He perceived himself as weakening, having a weakening position. Bear in mind that also, operations, insurgent operations, suicide bombings, take a while to get in place.
So in the near term, there may be some that will be quick to judge and evaluate that there will be no difference. And frankly, we may not see a difference on the ground in the very short-term, Miles, because these operations are extant. They're in various stages of preparation. They're getting ready to execute operations right now. And they exist on their own timelines, their own milestones. People are going to pull the trigger and things that are bad are going to happen. We've seen that today.
But you need to understand that in context, and I know you do, that with the loss of Zarqawi, what that potentially does -- and we're hopeful that it will -- it dries up the pipeline. It gives others a pause, a sense that maybe this is not where we want to go. And it also speaks to the lack of security that exists within that network and the fact that the Iraqi people, the Iraqi families, are tiring of this type of violence in their country, and they're willing to take risks to unveil it.
M. O'BRIEN: You know, it's interesting, General Marks. We've been talking to you for some days and, really, for weeks, there hasn't been a lot of good news for the U.S. military. We've been talking about alleged atrocities by soldiers and marines. This is the kind of thing that can turn morale around for the troops on the ground.
MARKS: It absolutely will. I mean, what you don't want to do -- and you caution soldiers all the time and marines all the time -- all these great service members that are involved in this fight will, for a moment, feel great about this and will move forward. But they need to maintain focus, and they will. And they'll maintain focus and discipline, because they have great, young non-commissioned officers and young officers that will make sure that the discipline stays in the ranks.
You can't afford yourself a high-five moment on the objective and not watch your back and not be vigilant at every moment. So I would -- the message is, the service members that are involved in this fight will remain vigilant. They certainly feel good about this effort that took place. It validates a network of intelligence-driven operations. And they'll continue to improve on that.
M. O'BRIEN: General James "Spyder" Marks, who is a CNN military analyst. Thanks for your time -- Soledad.
MARKS: Thank you, Miles. S. O'BRIEN: Let's get right back to Barbara Starr. She's at the Pentagon this morning. We heard from Barbara just a moment ago. It was two 500-pound bombs. And I'm sure you heard the general there, Barbara, saying that your description of the GPS-guided was most likely to be accurate. What more information do we know about what I'm sure are going to be just fascinating details about how exactly they were able to track al-Zarqawi to this safe house?
STARR: Well, Soledad, bits and pieces, as you might expect, now coming out from our sources here in the Pentagon and throughout the U.S. military. What we are know learning is a very interesting detail. It was actually the spiritual adviser to Zarqawi, a man named Sheik Abd-al-Raman, that the U.S. had started tracking. U.S. Special Forces had information that this sheik was going to this safe house, that there would be an al Qaeda meeting. So it was actually him that intelligence had developed information on in this early hours, that this man, this spiritual adviser, was going to be at this safe house.
But then part two of the equation, there had been information that Raman Zarqawi were most likely to be together, that they were either traveling together or that they would be at this safe house location. That led special forces to really ratchet up the effort, believing that if they new Raman was there, according to our sources, that Zarqawi would most likely be with him.
So when they dropped the two 500-pound bombs, it's not just clear yet whether they had ironclad information and intelligence that Zarqawi was actually there or if they simply had the intelligence, they believed that he would be traveling with Raman. Sources, again, confirming that U.S. Special Forces were on the ground near this safe house, keeping their eyes on it, watching it very carefully as the mission unfolded and as these al Qaeda leaders gathered for this fatal meeting -- Soledad.
S. O'BRIEN: More details trickling out. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us. Barbara, thanks. We'll get back to you in a little bit -- Miles.
M. O'BRIEN: President Bush is going to make a statement. We expect to hear that in just a couple of minutes. In advance of that, let's check in with our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, joining us from Washington. Tremendous political implications for this, Candy.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It will be interesting to see it play out. I think one of the things the president has to watch is sort of overselling this. What is the one thing that we heard really since the 2000 campaign on, and it has been, we can't believe him anymore. He's too rosy of a scenario. They keep telling us things are going well, and they're not going well. So this is a very fine line for this president to walk. This is obviously good news, along with the filling of those key cabinet posts in Iraq.
So, you know, he has to go out there and say, this is a positive step, but it's going to be tough, because from all of the analysis we've heard this morning on CNN and elsewhere, clearly, this is an opportunity. This may be a break point of some sort, but we won't know for some time. It could get worse before it gets better. So the president is walking a very fine line.
And I think in terms of -- you know, if you want to compare it to say, when Saddam Hussein was captured, the president did get a boost, but that have two-and-a-half years ago. We've had good news from Iraq since then. It then, you know, went back into a lot of bloodshed, a lot of killing of young Americans. So I would be cautious about thinking there would be a big boost for the president. I think the American people and this president have gotten considerably more cautious about good news from Iraq.
M. O'BRIEN: We're inside two minutes from hearing from the president. He'll be speaking to the nation from the Rose Garden. We'll, of course, bring it to you the moment it happens. But in the meantime, Candy, as -- we see the Oval Office there, a quick picture there of what's going on in there right now -- one of the things that is potentially difficult, a little bit of a political tightrope here, is it does remind folks that Osama bin Laden has not been captured.
CROWLEY: It does. And this is not as well known -- in fact, that's one of the first things that, when I got the call early this morning, I thought, you know, what they need is bin Laden, in terms of...
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Is it does remind folks that Osama bin Laden has not been captured.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It does. And this is not as well known. In fact, that's one of the first things when I got the call early this morning, I thought, you know, what they need is bin Laden in terms of the public, because the public still connects very directly to Osama bin Laden. This is a man seen as coming on to U.S. soil. The connection is harder for Americans to make. Although over time, certainly al-Zarqawi has gotten to be more of a household name here in the U.S. It does point that up (ph) for the president and it's another reason why he has to be cautious about how he plays this and how he presents this to the American people.
It is what it is. It is a single piece of good news. I think he will show it as that. But it does not mean, OK, we've finally gotten that turning point because he has used that phrase so often that the White House is very cautious about trying to oversell anything unless (ph) the American people then look back and be disappointed.
MILES O'BRIEN: We're inside 30 seconds, Candy. So I guess what you're saying in a nutshell is, we're not going to see sort of a mission accomplished type moment here. He's going to be very guarded in the kind of things he says?
CROWLEY: I would suspect so. No victory dances here. And yet a saying -- you know, a nod to the U.S. forces which, as you noted, really could use it about this time. I think that's what you'll hear. MILES O'BRIEN: Well that in and of itself, whether it's a political turning point or not, it certainly has the possibility of turning around morale for forces on the ground.
Let's go live now to the Rose Garden. The president approaching the podium. Let's listen to what he has to say.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good morning.
Last night in Iraq, the United States military forces killed the terrorist al-Zarqawi. At 6:15 Baghdad time, special operation forces, acting on tips and intelligence from Iraqis, confirmed Zarqawi's location and delivered justice to the most wanted terrorist in Iraq.
Zarqawi was operational commander of the terrorist movement in Iraq. He led a campaign of car bombings, assassinations and suicide attacks that has taken the lives of many American forces and thousands of innocent Iraqis. Osama bin Laden called this Jordanian terrorist the prince of al Qaeda in Iraq. He called on the terrorists around the world to listen to him and obey him.
Zarqawi personally beheaded American hostages and other civilians in Iraqi. He masterminded the destruction of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad. He was responsible for the assassination of an American diplomat in Jordan and the bombing of a hotel in Amman.
Through his every action, he sought to defeat America and our coalition partners and turn Iraq into a safe haven from which al Qaeda could wage its war on free nations. To achieve these ends, he worked to divide Iraqis and incite civil war. And only last week he released an audio tape attacking Iraq's elected leaders and announcing those advocating the end of sectarianism.
Now Zarqawi has met his end and this violent man will never murder again. Iraqis can be justly proud of their new government in its early steps to improve their security. And Americans can be enormously proud of the men and women of our armed forces who worked tirelessly with their Iraqi counterparts to track down this brutal terrorist and to put him out of business.
The operation against Zarqawi was conducted with courage and professionalism by the finest military in the world. Coalition and Iraqi forces persevered through years of near misses and false leads. And they never gave up. Last night, their persistence and determination were rewarded. On behalf of all Americans, I congratulate our troops on this remarkable achievement.
Zarqawi is dead. But the difficult and necessary mission in Iraq continues. We can expect the terrorists and insurgents to carry on without him. We can expect the sectarian violence to continue. Yet the ideology of terror has lost one of its most visible and aggressive leaders.
Zarqawi's death is a severe blow to al Qaeda. It's a victory in the global war on terror. And it's an opportunity for Iraq's new government to turn the tied on this struggle. A few minutes ago, I spoke to Prime Minister Maliki. I congratulated him on close collaboration between coalition and Iraqi forces that helped make this day probable. Iraq's freely elected prime minister is determined to defeat or common enemies and bring security and the rule of law to all his people.
Earlier this morning, he announced the completion of his cabinet appointments with the naming of a new minister of defense, a new minister of the interior and a new minister of state for national security. These new ministers are part of a democratic government that represents all Iraqis. They will play a vital role as the Iraqi government addresses its top priorities, reconciliation and reconstruction and putting an end to the kidnappings and beheadings and suicide bombings that plague the Iraqi people. I assured Prime Minister Maliki that he will have the full support of the United States of America.
On Monday, I will meet with my national security team and other key members of my cabinet at Camp David to discuss the way forward in Iraq. Our top diplomats and military commanders in Iraq will give me an assessment of recent change in the political and economic and security situation on the ground.
On Tuesday, Iraq's new ambassador to the United States will join us and we will have a teleconference, a discussion with the prime minister and members of his cabinet. Together, we will discuss how to best deploy America's resources in Iraq and achieve our shared goal of an Iraq that can govern itself, defend itself and sustain itself.
We have tough days ahead of us in Iraq that will require the continued patience of the American people. Yet the developments of the last 24 hours give us renewed confidence in the final outcome of this struggle, the defeat of terrorism threats and a more peaceful world for our children and grandchildren.
May God bless the Iraqi people and may God continue to bless America.
MILES O'BRIEN: The president of the United States in the Rose Garden saying the ideology of terror has lost one of its most visible and aggressive leaders. Calling this an opportunity to turn the tied in this struggle against terrorism.
Candy, precisely the tone you predicted.
CROWLEY: Well, and I think also what's interesting was, first of all, I thought that the emphasis he put on the courage and the professionalism of the finest military force in the world. He seemed very adamant about putting that out. I think that was what you and I had been talking about earlier about, you know, the sort of stain of Haditha and here is what's truly a great triumph of patience and technology and courage.
But I thought the end where he pushed that ball forward, that the whole design of that appearance was, this is great, this is a strike that we needed and that had to be done. We are moving forward. The whole sense of movement.
On Monday I'm going to meet with the cabinet. Then we're going to call in the Iraqis. We're going to look at how our money can best be spent. So he was sort of pushing it forward. The whole idea was progress, progress, but we need patience.
And I think it was pitch perfect in terms of when you compare it to some other things that he's been criticized for about being to rosy and pronouncing things at an end when they really weren't. So I think the idea was an applaud for the military, an applaud for the Iraqi government, the progress it's making, but then saying we are moving forward. We're making progress here. This is not, you know, that quagmire that we keep hearing about.
MILES O'BRIEN: All right. So not so rosy a picture from the Rose Garden this morning. Tough days ahead, he said, that will require the patience of the American people.
Candy Crowley, thanks for watching that one with us. We'll be back with you a little bit later.
MILES O'BRIEN: Soledad.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: A quick update for you. It looks as if that military briefing that we were going to get at the top of the hour, in about 20 minutes, has been pushed back to 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time. We're going to bring that to you live when it happens. It looks like it's now been pushed back another hour.
What exactly will be the impact of al Zarqawi's death? Fawaz Gerges is an expert in Middle Eastern studies at Sarah Lawrence College. He's also the author of a new book. It's called "Journey of the Jihadist: Inside the Muslim Insurgency." Professor Gerges joins us this morning.
It's always nice to have you. Thank you for talking with us.
FAWAZ GERGES, SARAH LAWRENCE COLLEGE, MIDEAST STUDIES: Thank you.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: As Candy just said, the president's message was essentially one of movement. See, we're making progress when people felt maybe mired in destruction and death and bad news all the time. We're moving forward. How does that statement play in Iraq?
GERGES: Not only the president said that we are moving -- we will move forward, he mentioned really two key elements and I thought very critical. He said the sectarian violence will likely continue, point one. And he said the al Qaeda network, the terrorists who basically belong to Zarqawi, who was killed yet, will also try to carry out bombings in Iraq. And this was also the judgment of General Casey, the American commander in Iraq.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: It's not over. The insurgency is by no means over.
GERGES: And remember, I mean, Soledad, according to American commanders and according to everything we know about the insurgency, al Qaeda does not represent more between 5 and 10 percent of all the insurgents.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: So a tiny percentage.
GERGES: Tiny. Even though the quality of the operations carried out by al Qaeda are brutal and lethal and really qualitative.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: And from a PR standpoint, I mean . . .
GERGES: Absolutely. So in the sense, the president is correct, American commanders are correct to say that the death of Zarqawi presents a major setback to al Qaeda network, but al Qaeda network in Iraq is not dead. The insurgency has not waned. In fact, the insurgency -- and more important, I would say, than both al Qaeda network in Iraq and the insurgency is the hardening of the sectarian divide between the Shiite community, which represents 60 percent of the population and the Sunni (INAUDIBLE), the Sunni community which is leading the insurgency.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Al-Zarqawi fanned the flames of that very sectarian divide. So the fact that he's dead, doesn't that greatly help?
GERGES: Ironically, this is really a highly important point, Soledad. The legacy of Zarqawi is not just carrying out horrible bombings against Iraqis and Americans and the coalition forces. Fanning the flames of sectarian divide. Even though he's dead, the truth is, Iraq today stands on the brink of a major sectarian strike. And this will be -- and it's up to Iraqis today. Today really it's up to Iraqis to say, no, we're not going to follow in the foot steps of Zarqawi. We're going the defeat not only the man himself but the legacy. The legacy of really plunging Iraq into full sectarian strife.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: So does the death of al-Zarqawi make your average Iraqis who are the ones, as you point out, have to say that. Have to kind of stand up and say, we're not going to take it anymore. We're not going to tolerate this. Does this motivate them? Is this a moral booster for them?
GERGES: Two points. The first point, Soledad, Iraqis are deeply divided. I mean the war, as we said, if we believe that the insurgency is homegrown, 90 percent of the insurgents, this tells us that really this is a political struggle, a political (INAUDIBLE). And secondly, what we need to understand, and I have written extensively on this particular, is that, in fact, I would go further and say the intelligence that was provided to the Americans came from the Sunni Arab community. As you know, in the last six months or so, there has been a major rift within the Sunni Arab community that's leading the insurgency. Sunni tribes have killed dozens of Zarqawi's network men. They have been chasing Zarqawi. And this . . .
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: He's been on the Sunni side, sort of, so they're turning against him?
GERGES: And this is why what we need to understand. I mean what we need to understand is that we cannot talk about all Sunni Arabs as terrorists or militants. And also what we need to understand in Iraq today that's really -- it's a political struggle. And I think the American ambassador in Iraq has really done a wonderful work in the last few months by trying to coop (ph) and trying to really appeal to the Sunni Arab community that has been leading the insurgency in Iraq.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Professor Gerges, as you're talking, we're showing videotape of the area. Let's pop that back up, guys. You know, you can see a lot of rubble. This is the area. And I believe most what we're seeing is sort of the damage nearby because they've roped off this area and you can't really get the actual house, safe house, that was hit. So you can't, you know, children and journalists wouldn't be traipsing through what's essentially a crime scene at this point or a -- you know, where they're still doing searches for bodies, et cetera.
The videotape . . .
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Very brazen. I mean incredibly egotistical. Back in April when he was showing essentially who he was without covering up his face. Is it ego that you think brought him down? I mean was the videotape really what eventual led to being taken out?
GERGES: Zarqawi has committed two basic blunders. Well, more than two basic blunders. The first one is that really he alienated his base, the Sunni Arab community, by killing civilians. Remember, most of the casualties, Soledad, have been Iraqis -- Shiite Iraqis. He alienated the base, the Sunni Arab community, because the Sunni Arab community, which is even opposed to the American military presence, does not want civil war. So by alienating the Sunni Arab community, he created a rift that lead to the alienation and some of the Sunnis went after him.
And secondly, that particular videotape was the first videotape of the unmarked Zarqawi. He increased his risk. He made himself vulnerable to the American intelligence. Just a few days ago, he released a four-hour audiotape. Four hours. And, in fact, the intelligence says that that particular audiotape that was released a few days ago led American intelligence to his whereabouts.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Because you're going to reveal something in that four hour ramble.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: I want to ask you a question about religion. We heard from Barbara Starr that, in fact, intelligence was targeting his spiritual adviser.
GERGES: Yes. SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: And that then they sort of realized the spiritual adviser was -- I'm paraphrasing here what she reported -- was going to go to an al Qaeda meeting.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: And then they realized, well, he might be traveling with his spiritual adviser. He only recently got religion, so to speak, didn't he? I mean al-Zarqawi was never originally perceived to be a particularly devout Muslim, right?
GERGES: Soledad, Zarqawi's background was really -- he was a criminal.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Like a thug.
GERGES: In fact he found religion in prison. Actually Sheik Abdur Haman (ph), who was killed with him yesterday, was not the first spiritual -- I mean advisor to Zarqawi. His first spiritual adviser was killed about a year and a half ago by an American air strike, ironically.
And I think the irony of the whole situation is that Zarqawi, by, I mean, showing his face to the world, by becoming a media star, he was really competing with Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri, al Qaeda number two man, he increased the risk to his security. And it was a matter of time, as one American commander said after the release of the videotape. It's not if we're going to get Zarqawi, it's when we're going to get Zarqawi. So not only the videotape which really made him vulnerable to American intelligence, it was also -- and this is really a critical point -- he alienated Sunni Arab public opinion. And, in fact, the intelligence came from within the Sunni Arab community that led to the killing of Zarqawi and his six aids yesterday in Iraq.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: The details as they come out will be absolutely fascinating. The time line, when it's finally revealed by the military, of how they knew, when they knew, how they tracked him I think it's just going to be fascinating.
Professor Gerges, Fawaz Gerges, joining us this morning. It's so nice to see you as always. Thank you so much.
We've got to take a short break. We're back in just a moment. Stay with us.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.
We are, of course, covering the killing today of Abu Musab al- Zarqawi. Word from the White House just a few minutes ago from President Bush who praised U.S. forces for their work today. It also praised Iraqi forces who were on the ground right after those air strikes. Al-Zarqawi was pretty much, by experts, considered essentially a brutal thug, a leader, but less ideologically than seen as a man or force and a man of actions. Some of those actions included bombings and the killing of not only Americans but also Iraqi civilians. And one of his most notorious killings, the be heading of Nicholas Berg, an American businessman who was working in Iraq and who was beheaded. And it was caught on videotape back on May of 2004.
Michael Berg is Nick Berg's father and he joins us by phone from Wilmington, Delaware.
Mr. Berg, thank you for talking with us again. It's nice to have an opportunity to talk to you. Of course I'm curious to know your reaction as it is now confirmed that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the man who is widely credited and blamed for killing your son, Nicholas, is dead.
MICHAEL BERG, NICK BERG'S FATHER: Well, my reaction is that I'm sorry whenever any human being dies. Zarqawi is a human being. He has a family who are reacting, just as my family reacted when Nick was killed, and I feel badly for that. I
feel doubly badly though because Zarqawi was also a political figure and his death will re-ignite yet another wave of revenge. And revenge is something that I do not follow, that I do not ask for, that I do not wish for against anybody. And it can end a cycle. As long as people use violence to combat violence, we will always have violence.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: I have to say, sir, I'm surprised. I know how devastated you were, your family was, frankly, when Nick was killed in such a horrible and brutal and public way.
BERG: Well, you shouldn't be surprised because I have never said anything but forgiveness and peace (INAUDIBLE) on the air.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: No, no. And we have spoken before and I'm well aware of that. But at some point one would think, is there a moment where you say, I'm glad he's dead, the man who killed my son?
BERG: No. How could a human being be glad that another human being is dead? (INAUDIBLE). That's what John Bond (ph) said and I believe those words.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: There have been family members who've weighed in of victims and who said that they don't think he's a martyr in heaven, that they think, frankly, he went straight to hell as he was killed by what appears to be U.S. air strikes and then Iraqi forces. You know, you talked about the fact that he's become a political figure. Are you concerned that he becomes a martyr and a hero and, in fact, invigorates the insurgency in Iraq?
BERG: Of course. When Nick was killed, I felt that I had nothing left to lose. You know, I'm a pacifist, so I wasn't going out, you know, murdering people, but I was not a risk-taking person and yet I've done things that have endangered me tremendously. I've been shot at. I've been shared horrible pictures. I've been called all kinds of names and threatened by all kinds of people. And yet I feel that I have nothing left to lose, so I do those things.
Now take it to someone who in 1991 maybe had their family killed by an American bomb. Their support system whisked away from them. Someone who, instead of being 59, as I was when Nick died, was five years old or 10 years old. You know, if I were that person, might I not learn how to fly a plane into a building or strap a bag of bombs to my back?
That's what is happening. Every time we kill an Iraqi, every time we kill anyone, we are creating a large number of people who are going to want vengeance. And, you know, when are we ever going to learn that that doesn't work?
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: There's an alternate reading which would say at some point Iraqis will say the insurgency is not OK. That they'll, in fact, be inspired by the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in the sense of he was turned in, for example, we believe, by his own Iraqi, you know, number two, number three leadership in his ranks and that that's actually them saying, you know, we do not want this kind of violence in our country. And experts who we've spoken to this morning have said, this is sort of the critical moment where Iraqis need to figure out which direction the country's going to go. That would be an alternate reading to the scenario that you're pointing to.
BERG: Yes, well, I don't believe that scenario because every time that news of new atrocities committed by Americans in Iraq becomes public, more and more of the every day Iraqi people who try to hold out, to try to be peaceful people, lose it and join the -- what we call the insurgency, what I call the resistance against the occupation of one sovereign nation.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: There's a theory that a struggle for democracy -- I mean we have, you know . . .
BERG: Democracy? Come on. You can't really believe that that's a democracy there when the people who are running the elections are holding guns. That's not democracy.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: There is a theory that as they try to form some kind of government that, in fact, it's going to be brutal, it's going to be bloody, there's going to be loss and that's the history of many countries, that that's just a lot of people pay for what they believe will be better than what they had under Saddam Hussein.
BERG: Well, you know, I'm not saying Saddam Hussein was a good man, but he's no worse than George Bush. Saddam Hussein didn't pull the trigger, didn't commit the rapes. Neither did George Bush, but both men are responsible for them under their reigns of terror. I don't buy that.
Iraq did not have al Qaeda in it. Al Qaeda supposedly killed my son. Under Saddam Hussein, no al Qaeda. Under George Bush, al Qaeda. Under Saddam Hussein, relative stability. Under George Bush, instability. Under Saddam Hussein, about 30,000 deaths a year. Under George Bush, about 60,000 deaths a year.
I don't get it. Why is it better to have George Bush be the king of Iraq rather than Saddam Hussein?
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Michael Berg is the father of Nicholas Berg, the young man, the young business man, who was beheaded so brutally in Iraq back in May of 2004, joining us by phone from Wilmington, Delaware.
Mr. Berg, thank you for talk with us this morning.
We've got to take a short break. We're back in just a moment.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN, breaking news.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: The 8:00 a.m. Eastern hour of AMERICAN MORNING begins with some breaking news this morning.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al Qaeda 's leader in Iraq, is dead. He was killed in a coalition air strike near Baquba, which is just north of Iraq. CNN's Barbara Starr telling us from the Pentagon this morning that U.S. special forces troops were on the ground in Baquba. They've been tracking Zarqawi's spiritual leader who ended up leading them right to the al Qaeda leader. That spiritual leader was among those who were killed in a bombing.
Good morning. Welcome back, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien.
MILES O'BRIEN: I'm Miles O'Brien.
A special edition of AMERICAN MORNING, obviously, this morning. In just a few moments, we expect to have a briefing from one of the generals on the ground there in Iraq who will give us further information and sort of shed a little bit more light on how this military operation went down. As soon as it happens, we'll bring it to you live.
We've seen some pictures, we believe, of the scene. Rubble at least. At least in the vicinity of this so-called safe house about 30 miles northeast of Baghdad where Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, his spiritual advisor, and at least six other high-ranking aids were having a meeting. It's possible what we're seeing here, though, according to some reports we're getting in, might be so called collateral damage. This might be a house that might have been in the immediate vicinity, not the specific house where this meeting took place.
Regardless of that, you can assume the scene at the place where Zarqawi and his aids were meeting is very similar. These two 500 pound precision bombs dropped on this site. Acting on intelligence information from Iraqis. Iraqis who might have been a part of Zarqawi's organization and possibly a Jordanian who was arrested just a couple of weeks ago and might have offered some key information as to the whereabouts of Zarqawi, who, of course, 39-year-old of Jordanian descent.
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