Radios crackled before dawn Thursday with news that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had been killed by a U.S. airstrike, bringing a vague sense of satisfaction to some American troops while giving others a moment to reflect.
At a camp outside this battle-scarred city, some Marines scoffed at the Jordanian-born terrorist’s decision to appear in a video released in April. They suggested his demise was the product of his own vanity when he showed his face to the world.
The video portrayed al-Zarqawi as an insurgent commander looking over maps and swaggering through the desert with a machine gun. But footage released later, which the U.S. military said was found in a raid, showed al-Zarqawi fumbling with the weapon.
“He pumped himself up so much that he blew himself up, with the help of some U.S. fighter jets,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph Medeiros of Saugus, Mass. “I’m excited because we got a real bad guy off the street.”
South of Baghdad, soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat team have in recent weeks pursued phantom sightings of al-Zarqawi, who was believed to have traveled through the farms and desert they patrol.
But there was no celebration when they heard over the radio that he had been killed.
“It’s about time. He’s eluded us long enough,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Robert Moss, 30, of St. Louis, as he stood before a wall of computer monitors with colored maps tracking troop movements.
Staff Sgt. Philip Miller said most troops who were awake at the time shared a quiet moment to reflect on the accomplishment.
“Everyone’s been looking for him for so long,” said Miller, 26, of Normalville, Pa. “Taking him out of the loop is justification for all those guys who gave their lives for this.”
One Marine near Fallujah suggested the deaths of al-Zarqawi and his seven associates would make things a little easier for the American mission.
“Time will tell, but if he’s as big as they say, then I think it’ll have a dramatic effect on our current operations,” said Marine Lance Cpl. Kurtis Backiel, of Clinton, Mass., assigned to the 1st Battalion, 25th Regiment.
Others were not so sure. Mustafa Alani, an Iraqi military analyst with the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, said the few hundred remaining members of al-Zarqawi’s band probably would continue their attacks under new leadership.
“These organizations always prepare for the day their leaders are killed or arrested. They always have a replacement,” Alani said.