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Zarqawi was killed on June 7, 2006, while attending a meeting in an isolated safehouse approximately 8 km (5 mi) north of Baqubah. At 14:15 GMT two United States Air Force F-16C jets identified the house and the lead jet dropped two 500-pound (230 kg) guided bombs, a laser-guided GBU-12 and GPS-guided GBU-38 on the building located at . Six others—three male and three female individuals—were also reported killed. Among those killed were one of his wives and their child.
The story of the successful hunt for Zarqawi is told in the book How to Break a Terrorist by Matthew Alexander (not a real name). Alexander and his team of interrogators convinced one of Zarqawi's associates to betray him.
The joint task force (Task Force 145) had been tracking him for some time, and although there were some close calls, he had eluded them on many occasions. United States intelligence officials then received tips from Iraqi senior leaders from Zarqawi's network that he and some of his associates were in the Baqubah area. The safehouse itself was watched for over six weeks before Zarqawi was observed entering the building by operators from Task Force 145. Jordanian intelligence reportedly helped to identify his location. The area was subsequently secured by Iraqi security forces, who were the first ground forces to arrive.
On June 8, 2006, coalition forces confirmed that Zarqawi's body was identified by facial recognition, fingerprinting, known scars and tattoos. They also announced the death of one of his key lieutenants, spiritual adviser Sheik Abd-Al-Rahman.
Initially, the US military reported that Zarqawi was killed directly in the attack. However, according to a statement made the following day by Major General William Caldwell of the U.S. Army, Zarqawi survived for a short time after the bombing, and after being placed on a stretcher, attempted to move and was restrained, after which he died from his injuries. An Iraqi man, who claims to have arrived on the scene a few moments after the attack, said he saw U.S. troops beating up the badly-wounded but still alive Zarqawi. In contradiction, Caldwell asserted that when U.S. troops found Zarqawi barely alive they tried to provide him with medical help, rejecting the allegations that he was beaten based on an autopsy performed. The account of the Iraqi witness has not been verified. All others in the house died immediately in the blasts. On June 12, 2006, it was reported that an autopsy performed by the U.S. military revealed that the cause of death to Zarqawi was a blast injury to the lungs, but he took nearly an hour to die.
The U.S. government distributed an image of Zarqawi's corpse as part of the press pack associated with the press conference. The release of the image has been criticised for being in questionable taste, and for inadvertently creating an iconic image of Zarqawi that would be used to rally his supporters.
Reactions to death
Prime Minister of Iraq Nuri al-Maliki commented on the death of Zarqawi by saying: "Today, Zarqawi has been terminated. Every time a Zarqawi appears we will kill him. We will continue confronting whoever follows his path. It is an open war between us."
United States President George W. Bush stated that through his every action Zarqawi sought to defeat America and its coalition partners by turning Iraq into a safe haven for al-Qaeda. Bush also stated, "Now Zarqawi has met his end and this violent man will never murder again."
Zarqawi's brother-in-law has since claimed that he was a martyr even though the family renounced Zarqawi and his actions in the aftermath of the Amman triple suicide bombing that killed at least 60 people. The opinion of Iraqis on his death is mixed; some believe that it will promote peace between the warring factions, while others are convinced that his death will provoke his followers to a massive retaliation and cause more bombings and deaths in Iraq. Abu Abdulrahman al-Iraqi, the deputy of al-Zarqawi (who may be the individual called "Sheik Abd-Al-Rahman" mentioned above, meaning he was not present as the bombing happened), released a statement to Islamist websites indicating that al-Qaeda in Iraq also confirmed Zarqawi's death: "We herald the martyrdom of our mujahed Sheikh Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq ... and we stress that this is an honor to our nation." In the statement, al-Iraqi vowed to continue the jihad in Iraq.
On June 16, 2006, Abu Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi, the head of the Mujahideen Shura Council, which groups five Iraqi insurgent organizations including al-Qaida in Iraq, released an audio tape statement in which he described the death of al-Zarqawi as a "great loss." He continued by stating that al-Zarqawi "will remain a symbol for all the mujahideen, who will take strength from his steadfastness." Al-Baghdadi is believed to be a former officer in Saddam's army, or its elite Republican Guard, who has worked closely with al-Zarqawi since the overthrow of Saddam's regime in April 2003.
Counterterrorism officials have said that al-Zarqawi had become a key part of al-Qaeda's marketing campaign and that al-Zarqawi served as a "worldwide jihadist rallying point and a fundraising icon." Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, called al-Zarqawi "The terrorist celeb, if you will, ... It is like selling for any organization. They are selling the success of Zarqawi in eluding capture in Iraq."
On June 23, 2006, Al-Jazeera aired a video in which Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's No. 2 leader, states that Zarqawi was "a soldier, a hero, an imam and the prince of martyrs, [and his death] has defined the struggle between the crusaders and Islam in Iraq."
On June 30, 2006, Osama bin Laden released an audio recording in which he stated, "Our Islamic nation was surprised to find its knight, the lion of jihad, the man of determination and will, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, killed in a shameful American raid. We pray to God to bless him and accept him among the martyrs as he had hoped for." Bin Laden also defended al-Zarqawi, saying he had "clear instructions" to focus on U.S.-led forces in Iraq but also "for those who ... stood to fight on the side of the crusaders against the Muslims, then he should kill them whoever they are, regardless of their sect or tribe." Shortly after, he released another audio tape in which he stated, "Our brothers, the mujahedeen in the al-Qaeda organization, have chosen the dear brother Abu Hamza al-Muhajer as their leader to succeed the Amir Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. I advise him to focus his fighting on the Americans and everyone who supports them and allies himself with them in their war on the people of Islam and Iraq."
Alleged betrayal by al-Qaeda
A day before Zarqawi was killed, a U.S. strategic analysis site suggested that Zarqawi could have lost the trust of al-Qaeda due to his emphatic anti-Shia stance and the massacres of civilians allegedly committed in his name. Reports in The New York Times on June 9 treated the betrayal by at least one fellow al-Qaeda member as fact, stating that an individual close to Zarqawi disclosed the identity and location of Sheik Abd al-Rahman to Jordanian and American intelligence. Non-stop surveillance of Abd al-Rahman quickly led to Zarqawi.
The Associated Press quotes an unnamed Jordanian official as saying that the effort to find Zarqawi was successful partly due to information that Jordan obtained one month beforehand from a captured Zarqawi al-Qaeda operative named Ziad Khalaf Raja al-Karbouly .
In apparent contradiction to statements made earlier in the day by U.S. ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad , an Iraqi spokesman said the US$25 million reward "will be honored" (although this need not mean that any money will actually be paid, as the terms of the reward would indeed be "honored" by having no payee if no one qualifies). Khalilzad, in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, had stated the bounty would not be paid because the decisive information leading to Zarqawi's whereabouts had been supplied by an al-Qaeda in Iraq operative whose own complicity in violent acts would disqualify him from receiving payment.
Rep. Mark Kirk , a Republican of Illinois who drafted the legislation specifying the Zarqawi reward, was quoted as saying contemporaneously that the Bush Administration planned to pay "some rewards" for Zarqawi. "I don't have the specifics," he stated. "The administration is now working out who will get it and how much. As their appropriator who funds them, I asked them to let me know if they need more money to run the rewards program now that they are paying this out."
Post-Zarqawi Iraq environment
Zarqawi's death was seen a major coup for the US government in terms of the political and propaganda stakes. However, unconfirmed rumors in early April 2006 suggested that Zarqawi had been demoted from a strategic or coordinating function to overseer of paramilitary/terrorist activities of his group and that Abdullah bin Rashed al-Baghdadi of the Mujahideen Shura Council succeeded Zarqawi in the former function. On June 15, 2006, the United States military officially identified Abu Ayyub al-Masri as the successor to Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
After Zarqawi's demise in early June 2006 there has been little or no immediately identifiable change in terms of the level of violence and attacks against U.S. and allied troops. In the immediate aftermath insurgency attacks averaged 90 a day, apparently some of the highest on record. Four months after Zarqawi's death, it is estimated that 374 coalition soldiers and 10,355 Iraqis have been killed. Several insurgency groups and heads of Sunni Muslim tribes also formed a coalition called the Mujahideen Shura Council.
By late 2007, violent and indiscriminate attacks directed by AQI against Iraqi civilians had severely damaged their image and caused the loss of support among the population, isolating the group. In a major blow to AQI, thousands of former Sunni militants that previously fought along with the group started to actively fight AQI and also work with the American and Iraqi forces starting with the creation of the Anbar Awakening Council because of its Anbar origins. The group spread to all Sunni cities and communities and some Shite areas and adopted the broader name Sons of Iraq. The Sons of Iraq was instrumental in giving tips to coalition forces about weapons caches and militants resulting in the destruction of over 2,500 weapons caches and over 800 militants being killed or captured. In addition, the 30,000 strong U.S. troop surge supplied military planners with more manpower for operations targeting Al-Qaida in Iraq, The Mujahadeen Shura Council, Ansar Al-Sunnah and other terrorist groups. The resulting events leading to dozens of high-level AQI leaders being captured or killed. Al-Qaeda seemed to have lost its foothold in Iraq and appeared to be severely crippled due to its lack of vast weapons caches, leaders, safe havens, and Iraqis willing to support them. Accordingly, the bounty issued for Abu Ayyub-al-Masri AKA Abu Hamza al-Muhajer was eventually cut from $5 million down to a mere $100,000 in April 2008.
On January 8, 2008, & January 28, 2008, Iraqi and U.S. forces launched operations Phantom Phoenix and the Ninawa campaign AKA the Mosul Campaign killing and capturing over 4,600 militants and locating and destroying over 3,000 weapons caches in those 2 campaigns. Also effectively leaving AQI with 1 last major insurgent stronghold Diyala. On July 29, 2008, Iraqi, U.S. and Sons Of Iraq forces launched Operation Augurs of Prosperity in the Diyala province and surrounding areas to clear AQI out of its last stronghold. 2 operations were already launched before in Diyala with mixed results and this campaign was expected to face fierce resistance. The rustling operation left over 500 weapons caches destroyed and 5 militants killed; 483 militants were captured due to the lack of resistance from the insurgent forces. 24 high level AQI terrorists were killed or captured in the campaign. As of August 1, 2008 there was an 83% decline in violence in Iraq.
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