Image: Jim Miklasszewski
By Jim Miklaszewski Chief Pentagon correspondent
NBC News
updated 6/18/2004 7:24:53 PM ET 2004-06-18T23:24:53

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the most wanted man in Iraq, is accused of directing a relentless campaign of suicide bombings and personally beheading American Nick Berg.

This week, President George W. Bush said Zarqawi is also the terrorist link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.  “Zarqawi’s the best evidence of a connection to al-Qaida affiliates and al-Qaida,” the president said.

But U.S. military officials tell NBC News that despite earlier collaboration, Zarqawi is now working against al-Qaida in an effort to establish himself as the top Islamic terrorist in the region.

Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggested Zarqawi has had a falling out with bin Laden. “Maybe because he disagrees with him on something,” Rumsfeld said.  “Maybe because he wants to be the man himself.”

U.S. officials say Zarqawi wants to take control of western Iraq to establish terrorist training camps and a base from which to launch terrorist attacks throughout the region, much like bin Laden used in Afghanistan.

Military officials say it’s absolutely imperative Zarqawi be captured or killed — but they’ve been totally frustrated in their efforts.  They think they know where Zarqawi, is but they just can’t get at him.

It’s believed Zarqawi is holed up in Fallujah, where U.S. Marines are still observing a cease-fire.  But military officials tell NBC News the Marines were unaware that one of Zarqawi’s top lieutenants actually took part in the cease-fire talks and apparently struck a deal with Iraqi security forces that permit Zarqawi’s group sanctuary.

The U.S. military is preparing plans to launch new raids into Fallujah, but there is no guarantee that even then they’ll get the elusive Zarqawi.

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