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Locals Tipped Iraq Government to Zarqawi Location

MIKE SHUSTER, reporting:

We're going to bring back our correspondent in Baghdad now, Philip Reeves for a recap of the events surrounding Zarqawi's death.

Hi, Phil. What do we know exactly about how Zarqawi was killed?

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

Well, it was an air strike that happened yesterday. It was directed at a safe house, according to General Casey - the top U.S. commander in Iraq - which is in an isolated and wooded area near the town of Baquba in Diyala Province. That's about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. And it's an area where we've seen an awful lot of violence, especially in recent days.

Seven other people, aides of Zarqawi, says the U.S., were killed along with him. It was a long and painstaking operation that led up to this. And according to Iraq's prime minister, this was the result of intelligence provided by Iraqi residents and passed to the Iraqi security forces that then passed it on to the U.S. military.

SHUSTER: Zarqawi was captured - was almost captured at least a couple of times in the past. What do we know about that?

REEVES: Yes. I mean, it's been a game of cat and mouse with this guy for a long time. And the closest brush was probably in late 2004. Senior Iraqi Interior Ministry officials said that the Iraqi security forces actually captured him near Fallujah, but they didn't realize who he was so they let him go. And the U.S. forces also believe that they just missed capturing him, about early last year, in a raid west of Baghdad. They got his driver and his computer. But once again, he evaded them. This time it appears that his luck's run out.

SHUSTER: I imagine that this news has spread pretty quickly around Iraq and in Baghdad. What about reaction in Baghdad to this news?

REEVES: Well, it's not easy for journalists working here to get a very wide picture of their reaction here. And I think the city is somewhat stunned here in Baghdad. I ought to point out also we just had a bomb with at least a dozen people killed in it. Although, we don't know whether that's related to this. But I think there will be a lot of relief on the part of ordinary Iraqis, who never liked this foreign extremist coming into their midst. They resented it deeply.

And they particularly resented the extremely violent methods he used: the beheadings. I remember two or three years ago when that started, the revulsion felt by ordinary Iraqis at a time when we were free to go out on the streets and talk to them.

SHUSTER: Other news in Baghdad today, the naming of the ministers for defense, national security and interior; a big development.

REEVES: It is, yeah. This is a double whammy. It is most positive day from the point-of-view of the Iraqi government, and also the U.S., for an awfully long time. Although, all officials are very keen to emphasize that they do not expect this to be the end of the insurgency or the sectarian attacks happening here.

But yes, they have finally, after three weeks of stalemate, announced a minister of defense and minister of the interior. That has been announced and actually agreed on by the Iraqi parliament. The prime minister, the new Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, was having great difficulty, particularly over the Interior Ministry's post, getting his own Shiite support base to agree on the candidate.

It's obviously crucial, because there's a major security crisis going on here. And the Interior Ministry is in charge of the agencies that are supposed to deal with security.

SHUSTER: Philip, thanks.

NPR's Philip Reeves in Baghdad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mike Shuster
Mike Shuster is an award-winning diplomatic correspondent and roving foreign correspondent for NPR News. He is based at NPR West, in Culver City, CA. When not traveling outside the U.S., Shuster covers issues of nuclear non-proliferation and weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and the Pacific Rim.
Philip Reeves