The ruins of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s house are strewn with a random jumble of wreckage -- magazines, a leopard-print nightgown, a religious slogan and a few hints at the violent career of Iraq’s most wanted man.
What is left of the “safe house” where the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq lived suggests that he and his companions lived there with few luxuries.
The U.S. military took reporters to the village of Hibhib, near the town of Baqouba north of Baghdad, three days after its air strike killed al-Zarqawi, blamed for the grisly beheadings of hostages and the killings of thousands in suicide bombings.
A total of six people died when the house was destroyed by two 500-pound bombs on Wednesday. An Iraqi army officer said they included two women and an eight-year-old girl.
The U.S. military said on Friday the wounded al-Zarqawi was still alive when U.S. troops reached the site after the bombing.
At the site surrounded by palm groves, two thin foam mattresses were scattered across the rubble on Saturday, along with a small carton of pineapple juice with its straw intact.
There were traces of al-Zarqawi’s radical ideology. A leaflet lying in the rubble identified a radio station in Latifiya south of the capital as an apparent target.
A few feet away was a magazine picture of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Alongside the fractured concrete and twisted metal was a nightgown, other women’s clothes and a white man’s shirt.
'I feel good. ... Thank you America'
“I feel good. Zarqawi is dead. Thank you America,” said Adel Hussein, 33, a soldier and resident of a nearby town who had just been deployed to the area.
U.S. officers who had been among the first troops on the bombing scene said they had not been told its huge importance beforehand.
“There were two patrols in the area that were diverted to the area. We did not find out that Zarqawi was the target until the next morning,” said Col. Thomas Fisher.
Hibhib, about 40 miles north of Baghdad, is typical of the Iraqi villages where U.S. troops hunt Sunni Arab insurgents and al-Qaida militants.
But the house where al-Zarqawi last lived was extremely isolated. It was surrounded by thick palm groves that hid it from mud and cement houses a few hundred yards away.
The site is also well hidden from the main road 400 yards away, which cuts through lush green flatlands.
Finding it must have required precise intelligence. The U.S. military has spoken of a painstaking process, including human sources and electronic surveillance, that led them to the house.
Bulldozers cleared some of the site and filled a 40-foot wide crater left by the air strikes, U.S. officers said.
Remnants of al-Zarqawi’s last days suggest he took an interest in learning about his enemies.
A torn page of what appeared to be the May 2 Arabic edition of Newsweek magazine lay in the rubble. Phrases about Jews and Christians, the targets of al-Zarqawi’s angry statements, survived the bombs.
A leaflet referred to the Mujahideen Shura Council, an alliance of al-Qaida in Iraq and other militant groups.
“God is the light of the skies and the earth,” read a large black plaque.
His death has not eased fears of violence in Hibhib and many other villages like it. U.S. troops kept their rifles trained in every direction as reporters inspected the damage.
A group of Iraqi soldiers stood by, pleased that al-Zarqawi’s days were over. But several wore masks to hide their identity.
“Zarqawi may be dead but terrorism is not,” said Ahmed Zubaid. “I have lost many relatives and friends to Zarqawi’s people. One was even killed on the same day he was.”