A mortally wounded Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was still alive and mumbling after American airstrikes on his hideout and tried to get off a stretcher when he became aware of U.S. troops at the scene, a top military official said Friday.
Meanwhile, U.S. troops conducted 39 raids late Thursday and early Friday, some based on information gleaned from searches in the hours after the al-Qaida leader’s death. Fearing that insurgents will seek revenge, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki imposed driving bans in Baghdad and restive Diyala province, where the terrorist was killed.
Maj. Gen. Bill Caldwell, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon from his post in Baghdad, said al-Zarqawi was alive when Iraqi police first arrived on the scene but he died soon after.
“We did in fact see him alive,” Caldwell said. “He mumbled a little something but it was indistinguishable and it was very short.”
U.S. and Polish forces arrived intending to provide unspecified medical treatment, and al-Zarqawi was put on a stretcher, Caldwell said.
The terrorist “attempted to sort of turn away off the stretcher, everybody reached to insert him back. ... He died a short time later from the wounds suffered during the airstrike.
Wounded, tried to flee U.S.
Caldwell said the U.S. military was still compiling details of the airstrike, including the exact amount of time Zarqawi was alive afterward. He said an initial analysis of Zarqawi’s body was done but he was not certain it constituted a full autopsy.
In an interview earlier Friday with Fox News, Caldwell was more descriptive of Zarqawi’s actions before he died.
“He was conscious initially, according to the U.S. forces that physically saw him,” Caldwell told Fox. “He obviously had some kind of visual recognition of who they were because he attempted to roll off the stretcher, as I am told, and get away, realizing it was U.S. military.”
At the news conference, the spokesman also provided a revised death toll from the attack.
Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, had said four people, including a woman and a child, were killed with al-Zarqawi and Abu Abdul-Rahman al-Iraqi, the terrorist’s spiritual consultant.
Youth not among dead
Caldwell said it now appears there was no child among those killed. He cautioned that some facts were still being sorted out but said that three women and three men, including al-Zarqawi, were killed.
Pentagon officials have refused to say whether U.S. special operations forces participated in the al-Zarqawi operation Wednesday, but a comment Friday by President Bush suggested that some of the military’s most secretive units may have been involved on the ground.
Speaking to reporters, Bush mentioned that among the senior officers he called to offer congratulations for killing Zarqawi was Army Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, whose forces include the Army’s clandestine counterterrorism unit, Delta Force.
Insurgency unlikely to end
As Iraqi and U.S. leaders cautioned that al-Zarqawi’s death was not likely to end the insurgency, Caldwell said another foreign-born militant was poised to take over the terror network’s operations.
He 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.
The U.S. military did not further identify al-Masri and his real identity could not immediately be determined. But the Central Command has listed an Abu Ayyub al-Masri as among its most wanted al-Zarqawi associates and placed a $50,000 bounty on his head.
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.
Driving ban enacted in Baghdad, Diyala
The midday driving ban in Baghdad lasted four hours. All traffic was banned in Diyala from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. for three days starting Friday.
The Baghdad ban fell when most Iraqis attend Friday prayers. Bombers have previously targeted Shiite mosques with suicide attackers and mortars hidden in vehicles.
The bans aim “to protect mosques and prayers from any possible terrorist attacks, especially car bombs, in the wake off yesterday’s event,” an Iraqi government official said, referring to al-Zarqawi’s death. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to media.
Al-Zarqawi, who had a $25 million bounty on his head, was killed at after an intense two-week hunt that U.S. officials said first led to his spiritual adviser and then to him.
The U.S. military had displayed images of the battered face of al-Zarqawi and reported that he was identified by fingerprints, tattoos and scars. But Caldwell said Friday that authorities made a visual identification of al-Zarqawi at the site of the airstrike.
Biological samples from his body were delivered to an FBI crime laboratory in Virginia for DNA testing. Results were expected in three days.
Iraqi bloodshed continues
Violence was unabated Thursday and Friday:
- Gunmen kidnapped Muthanna al-Badri, director general of state company for oil projects, or SCOP, while he drove Thursday in his predominantly Sunni Arab neighborhood of Baghdad, ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said Friday.
- A fire fight Friday west of Baqouba killed five civilians and wounded three, and demolished five houses, according to regional authorities.
- The torso of a man wearing a military uniform was found floating in a river Friday morning near Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, a morgue official said.
- Police found five unidentified bodies late Thursday of men who had been shot in the head in eastern Baghdad.
- 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.