Iraq’s prime minister imposed a daytime driving ban in Baghdad and in the province where Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed by American bombs, fearing insurgents will seek to avenge the death of the al-Qaida in Iraq leader.
The vehicle ban will be in effect from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday in Baghdad and from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. for three days starting Friday in Diyala, Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Adnan Abdul Rahman said.
The ban falls during the times that most Iraqis go to mosques for Friday prayers. Bombers have been known to target Shiite mosques during the weekly religious services with suicide attackers and mortars hidden in vehicles.
Iraqi authorities imposed the vehicle ban as a security measure “to protect mosques and prayers from any possible terrorist attacks, especially car bombs, in the wake off yesterday’s event,” a government official said, referring to al-Zarqawi’s death.
As Iraqi and U.S. leaders cautioned that al-Zarqawi’s death was not likely to end the bloodshed in Iraq, an American general said another foreign-born militant was already poised to take over the terror network’s operations.
Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said Egyptian-born Abu al-Masri would likely take the reins of al-Qaida in Iraq. He said al-Masri trained in Afghanistan and arrived in Iraq in 2002 to establish an al-Qaida cell.
Al-Masri, whose name is an obvious alias meaning “father of the Egyptian,” is believed to be an expert at constructing roadside bombs, the leading cause of U.S. military casualties in Iraq.
Al-Zarqawi, who was born in Jordan, was killed in a U.S. airstrike Wednesday near Baqouba, the capital of Diyala province, which is in the heartland of the Sunni-led insurgency and has seen a recent rise in sectarian violence. Baqouba is 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.
The U.S. military displayed images of the battered face of al-Zarqawi, Iraq’s most feared terrorist, and said he had been identified by fingerprints, tattoos and scars. Biological samples from his body also were delivered to an FBI crime laboratory in Virginia for DNA testing. The results were expected in three days.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also hailed a breakthrough on the political front Thursday, gaining approval from the Iraqi parliament for three key security ministers in a move that ended a three-week stalemate among Iraq’s fractured ethnic and sectarian groups.
The new Iraqi Defense Minister Gen. Abdul-Qader Mohammed Jassim al-Mifarji, a Sunni Arab, promised to work with the other security forces to stop the violence in the country.
“I will cooperate completely with the other security forces, the interior ministry, the national security, the intelligence service,” he said Thursday at a handover ceremony. “We have to be one team with the multinational forces to achieve victory against terrorism.”
Members of that formerly dominant minority are the backbone of the insurgency, and many people feel it is crucial to have Sunnis deeply involved in the new government to weaken support for the guerrillas.
Sunni Arabs also have complained of random detentions and maltreatment at the hands of the Shiite-dominated interior ministry, which oversees the police. The defense ministry controls the army.
The other two new ministers came from the Shiite majority — Jawad al-Bolani as interior minister and Sherwan al-Waili as minister of state for national security.
The two breakthroughs on Thursday may give the United States and its Iraqi allies another brief chance to build momentum toward stability and away from violence. With al-Zarqawi out of the way and the new government in place, some Sunni Arab leaders may be emboldened to resume a dialogue they started last fall — exchanges sunk by al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaida in Iraq.
If another effort is made, much will depend on the Iraqi government’s ability to live up to its promises to build a political system that includes all groups, including disaffected Sunnis. More than a dozen Sunni Arab insurgent groups are believed to be operating in Iraq, and a few use tactics just as ruthless as al-Zarqawi’s.
No let up in attacks
President Bush and U.S. military leaders cautioned that the death of the 39-year-old militant was not likely to end the bloodshed — just as the capture of Saddam Hussein and the killings of his two sons failed to dampen the insurgency. A rash of bombings that killed nearly 40 people in Baghdad on Thursday confirmed that assessment.
Five civilians were killed and three were wounded Friday during a firefight in the area of Ghalibiya, west of Baqouba, according to the regional authorities. The circumstances of the firefight, which demolished five houses, were unclear.
Elsewhere, the torso of a man wearing a military uniform was found floating in a river Friday morning near Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, morgue official Hadi al-Ettabi said.
Police also found five unidentified bodies late Thursday of men who had been shot in the head in eastern Baghdad. And gunmen opened fire on Friday’s funeral procession for the brother of the governor of the northern city of Mosul. Zuhair Kashmola was killed by gunmen on Thursday.
Meanwhile, an Australian security guard was identified as one of four victims in a roadside bombing in northern Iraq on Thursday. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the 34-year-old man, whose name was not released, was guarding a vehicle convoy at the time of the attack, which occurred about 190 miles north of Baghdad. Further details of the attack were not immediately available.
Al-Zarqawi, who had a $25 million bounty on his head, was killed at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday after an intense two-week hunt that U.S. officials said first led to the terror leader’s spiritual adviser and then to him.
U.S. Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said the American airstrike targeted “an identified, isolated safe house.” Four other people, including a woman and a child, were killed with al-Zarqawi and Abu Abdul-Rahman al-Iraqi, the terrorist’s spiritual adviser.
Al-Qaida confirmed al-Zarqawi’s death in a statement and vowed to continue its “holy war.” Curiously, the announcement was signed by al-Iraqi, who was identified as deputy “emir” of the group, perhaps in an attempt to spread confusion.
Caldwell said the U.S. military had discussed the succession question with the Iraqi government even before al-Zarqawi was killed.
Al-Maliki said Thursday that it made no real difference. “Whenever there is a new Zarqawi, we will kill him,” he told reporters.