Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Live Today

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi Killed in Iraq

Aired June 08, 2006 - 11:30   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: How is the Arab world reacting news of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death? For that, we turn to CNN chief international correspondent. She's joining us from London. And, Christiane, we saw pictures earlier of Iraqi police forces jumping for joy. I wonder if that's an indication of what the reaction is like across the board in the Arab world.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTL. CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's just take the inside Iraq reaction. That is a purely expectable reaction. And really, we would be surprised if there wasn't jubilation inside Iraq, because this man and his organization has created such mayhem. And you know, so much of the violence is being directed precisely at those new Iraqi security services. How many times have we reported suicide car bombs plowing into groups of Iraqi police recruits, Iraqi army recruits, et cetera? So clearly those people would be rejoicing. And they certainly did at the press conference when the announcement of his death was made, Iraqi journalists rejoicing there.

Across the Arab world, it is not a uniform reaction. According to Web sites, and others and wire stories that we've been monitoring, there has been a difference of opinion, depending on who and what is actually the focus of those people. Some are saying that he died a martyr, and they're saying that he was doing the right thing. Others, of course, are, again, very, very pleased that he has been killed, because they say he has basically given an extremely bad name and an extremely bad image to Muslims around the world. They point out his wholesale slaughter and attacks collected against civilians in Iraq as we've seen, but also in Jordan. And that was perhaps a key turning point amongst many people in the Arab world, when he conducted those three attacks on hotels in Amman, Jordan last November and killed about 60 people. People just simply couldn't understand why those civilians across the border, outside of Iraq, were targeted. And that did cause quite a shift in the way people in the Islamic world viewed Zarqawi and his operation.

Many, though, also are saying that, despite the fact he's been killed, despite the fact that this, according to many, is an important step, it won't necessarily stop the insurgency, and that there's still a long way to go before it's extinguished -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: So you have to wonder how committed are some of the neighboring Arab nations, like Jordan, as you mentioned, given the fact that they had experienced that bombing that was blamed in part on Zarqawi. How much more cooperative might be the Arab nations in trying to help quell some of the violence, whether it's foreign fighters or sectarian violence or otherwise in Iraq? AMANPOUR: Well, certainly if you're talking about Jordan, they are cooperating incredibly well, according to both the U.S., the U.S. forces in Iraq, and also to Jordanian officials. Jordan has a particular interest in cooperating, not just because Iraq and the violence is right on its border, but because Zarqawi's terrorism was directed against Jordanian targets from the very beginning. In a spate of bombings in Iraq in the summer of 2003, shortly after Saddam Hussein was deposed, it was the Jordanian embassy that was targeted and people killed there. Then, as we mentioned, last year, taking his terrorism out of Iraq and into Jordan itself, Zarqawi himself, a Jordanian citizen, and against Jordanian civilians in those hotels in Amman, again, really focused the Jordanians on doing all they could to hunt him down and to provide whatever kind of intelligence and military cooperation they could. And apparently that is what they have done in this case, and have played a role in leading to -- finding where he is, and therefore, being able to kill him.

Sources say that a key of arrest of an al Qaeda figure in Jordan in May of this last month was key to finding and pinpointing Zarqawi.

So a lot of help from Jordan. Clearly there's always been questions about is Syria doing enough to close its border? Are other Arab states around with borders to Iraq, Saudi Arabia and others, doing enough to close their border? They say they're trying; the borders are undermanned.

WHITFIELD: Chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, thank you so much, from London.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Fred, one of the most vocal critics of troops in Iraq is Congressman John Murtha. He -- last November, as recently as last November, asked -- called for U.S. troops to be withdrawn. He joins me now live with reaction to this death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Congressman, it is a pleasure to have you, an outspoken critic in this war, but a very big day for this administration. Is it fair to say that this attack and the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi wouldn't have happened if U.S. troops were not on the ground?

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, I'm not sure about that. I'm not sure it was a bomb that killed him from the air. So I'm not sure about that. But one thing for sure, this is significant. This is significant, two aspects. One is the fact that Zarqawi is killed, but also the fact that they appointed a defense minister and an interior minister. There's no question we can't win this militarily. So it's a matter of time. The Iraqis are getting better. I think the intelligence came from the Iraqis, as I understand it. Now, this is the early reports. And it came to the security forces and the Iraqis and then passed on to the Americans. So this was a key element. Whether they could have done this themselves in this isolated area, I don't know.

But one thing for sure, this is significant to get rid of a real thorn in the side of the Americans. And of course, what I've been saying over and over again is the economic situation is not improving and the public has lost faith in what's going on. And when you have less electricity, less oil production and so forth, we've got a long ways to go. But this is very significant, and I hope the Bush administration will take this as a signal to start working diplomatically with these other countries in trying to reduce our presence as quickly as we can from this $8 billion cost per month.

LIN: But, congressman, I'm hearing two things from you. Yes, a major victory certainly due credit goes to the U.S. forces and the Iraqi forces on the ground. I want to play back to you what Tony Snow, White House spokesperson, said earlier today.


TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: Why are you so hellbent on saying we're going to get out tomorrow? You know, make a good news headline. But the facts on the ground, we've got six additional dead guys out of the terror network. But there is still a significant problem here.


LIN: That was the answer to reporters saying, all right, let's -- is the president going to be talking about troop withdrawal? Is that the next conversation to have with military commanders on the ground? Tony Snow also went on to say to critics who say -- people who are calling for a pullout, that he has to ask, what is the best way to win? Today was a winning strike, congressman. Is there value to having U.S. forces still in Iraq?

MURTHA: Well, it's costing us $9 billion a month. It's cost us so far up to $450 billion by the end of this year, and the 2,400 lives that we've lost. What I'm saying is, we've got the Iraqis trained, you've got a government in place; now It's time to said a schedule for the withdrawal and the redeployment of American forces.

LIN: What do you think is a reasonable timetable? You once said six months.

MURTHA: Well, I said it could be done in six months. But I believe it's something that could be worked out very quickly. I think we cannot win this. It's a civil war they're involved in. Al Qaeda's a small part of this. We've diverted ourself away from the real war on terrorism to the war in Iraq, and this is the problem we face. We have Sunnis fighting Shias, and the Americans are caught in between.

LIN: So what do you think would happen if troops were to withdraw at this point?

MURTHA: I think they'll settle this themselves, just like we settled our civil war ourselves. It's one of those things where we're either going to withdraw now or we're going to wait six months from now or a year from now and be forced to redeploy.

So I'm convinced that it's time now for us to start a real effort by the president, by the administration, to meet with the Iraqis and tell them, look, you folks have the capability. It's your government. If you really believe in democracy, you're going to have to take over this effort yourself, and we'll be able to redeploy our troops.

LIN: Congressman, you know that your words have great impact on men and women in the military, 37 years in the Marines. Powerful words indeed. Congressman, thank you very much for joining us.

MURTHA: Nice talking to you.

WHITFIELD Well, you've heard it all morning the most wanted insurgent in Iraq is dead. What does his death mean to the insurgency? Al Qaeda in Iraq actually speaks out. That's next. Stay with CNN, the most trusted name in news.


LIN: Want to bring you fresh pictures now of a life or death situation. You're looking at a rescue situation. There is someone trapped inside that car. There was a trucking accident on a couple of major highways, the 14 Highway and the I-5 northbound. This is two freeways that intersect as you're leaving the San Fernando Valley in the Los Angeles area, heading towards the desert. It's a major trucking route.

Right now, a CHP spokesperson says that a person is trapped in a car right now, that this accident happened right about rush hour time out there. And at least two big rigs were involved. One of them is partially turned over the side of the freeway. You can't see it right there, but we are looking as these firefighters are trying to get somebody -- there it is. I think they've actually gotten somebody. They're pulling that person out of that vehicle right now as the stretcher is waiting to transport this person to the hospital.

WHITFIELD: We'll continue to follow that development. Some pretty remarkable pictures, and you're seeing it as it is happening. More on that when we get it.

LIN: I think we're going to try to stay with this as we see -- as we try to see what's happening there. It's not often that you actually see this part of the rescue operation. Usually they use something, Fred, called "the jaws of life." It's like a giant saw that they use in these accident areas where you can actually cut through steel of a vehicle.


LIN: And look at how bent -- it looks like an SUV, some kind of an SUV that they're actually having to pull this person out of.

WHITFIELD: And pulling that person extremely delicately. You can see them reaching inside the vehicle, and...

LIN: They've got the board there...

WHITFIELD: ... very carefully pulling them out.

LIN: ... to stabilize their back. Because you don't know what condition they're in, whether there's a spinal cord injury or even if this person is conscious. They look relatively immobile. I don't see a lot of movement there with the person they're trying to get out of that truck.

This is an area that's not that easy to get to, either. It's relatively remote. It's just -- it's in a hillside that, once you get over to the other hillside, you're entering the desert area. It's a big trucking route for the Northbound I-5 that heads up to the San Joaquin Valley and the San Francisco area.

WHITFIELD: And so the hope is this is the only person that they're having to delicately now try to extract from a vehicle?

LIN: Right. CHP is only reporting right now that one person is inside that vehicle. But by the appearance of that truck, it looks like they just got sideswiped by a rig that they say -- the CHP says, California Highway Patrol, by the way, that's what it stands for -- says that there was a rig actually hanging over. I think it would be the 14, because at one point the 14 goes over the 5 freeway.

There we're showing you a map of the area. It's north of Los Angeles by about 35 miles, as you head into the desert territory. A lot of developments. Very suburban out there. But again, this is a relatively remote area. This is not far from where the freeway collapsed during the Northridge earthquake.

There we go. It looks like they were able to get that person on a gurney. And they're wrapping up the situation, trying to stabilize that person and get them to the hospital. Let's hope everything is OK.

WHITFIELD: It's up to about 12 vehicles being involved as a whole, but the attention being focused right now on that rescue effort as they are trying to pull -- and at least we can see, successfully pull that person -- we obviously don't know the status of that individual -- but pull them from that vehicle. It looks as though right now they are in emergency mode, trying to resuscitate or offer some kind of aid to that person there on the ground before they're able to transport them.

LIN: Yes, hat's off to those rescue workers. It's a tough job.

WHITFIELD: It really is. All right. We'll keep tabs on that.

Now on to other top story. By all accounts, al-Zarqawi's death is a blow to the insurgency, but not a fatal hit. Already al Qaeda in Iraq is vowing on a Web site to continue its fight.

Joining us to talk about the future of the insurgency is Fawaz Gerges, an expert on Middle Eastern studies and author of the new book, "Journey of the Jihadist: Inside the Muslim Insurgency." Good to see you, Mr. Gerges.


WHITFIELD: Well, the attention had been focused on Iraq and it then being the hallmark of the war on terror. But it all really began in Afghanistan, and you have to wonder now, with the killing of al- Zarqawi there in Iraq, if this in any way will change or alter the focus of attention to al Qaeda. Will it be going back to mostly Osama bin Laden in the hills of either Pakistan or Afghanistan?

GERGES: I think you're raising a very important question. I think al-Zarqawi has become the public face of al Qaeda. He is -- he was the most senior commander. He basically diverted attention from Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the second al Qaeda, number two.

In many ways, I would argue that the killing of Zarqawi, it presents a major moral blow to al Qaeda. Not just al Qaeda network in Iraq, but also the parent organization, the organization of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri. And I think now, you're right, I think the attention now will shift to Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the two most important senior leaders of al Qaeda.

WHITFIELD: Al-Zarqawi said he wanted to be a martyr. Now, is he?

GERGES: Yes. In the eyes of many Islamists, in the eyes of many jihadists, in many eyes of people who basically oppose the American invasion of Iraq in that part of the world, he is a martyr.

WHITFIELD: So how does it fuel the fight?

GERGES: Absolutely. Because, as Ayman al-Zawahiri put it, he broke America's back in Iraq. Amyan al-Zawahiri built al Qaeda from zero, he built the infrastructure. He was really the founding father of al Qaeda in Iraq. But I think we should not exaggerate the effect of Zarqawi's removal on both al Qaeda as an organization and also on the insurgency in Iraq.

For our viewers, by the way, several facts. Al Qaeda in Iraq, that is Zarqawi's men, represent less than 10 percent of the insurgency, 10 percent. Ninety percent of the insurgents are indigenous, home-grown Iraqis. And point out...

WHITFIELD: Ninety percent?

GERGES: More than 90 percent, actually. The estimates that we think, about 95 percent of all insurgents and fighters are basically -- do not belong to al Qaeda in Iraq.

WHITFIELD: So how did this Jordanian-born al Zarqawi manage to kind of commandeer if the majority are Iraqis themselves, insurgents, and perhaps even take credit for recruiting the other 10 percent, the foreign fighters?

GERGES: I mean, again, you're raising a very important point. You're talking about 40,000 or 50,000 fighters, insurgents. Five or 10 percent of the insurgents represents a larger number. And I don't think we should really focus on numbers. Zarqawi's operations were spectacular, earth-shaking operations. He carried out some of the most brutal operations against the Americans, against the Iraqi government.

WHITFIELD: And you say that somebody else will just pick up where he left off?

GERGES: Yes. I mean, I think in this particular sense, Zarqawi's legacy does not just lie in the number of fighters and militants which he recruited. It's lies really in plunging Iraq in almost a full sectarian strike.

WHITFIELD: All right.

GERGES: Iraq today stands on the brink of a major sectarian strife, as you know.

WHITFIELD: Very interesting. So sorry for interrupting. We're just running out of time. Fawaz Gerges, expert on Middle Eastern studies and author of the new book, "Journey of the Jihadist: Inside the Muslim Insurgency." Thanks so much.

LIN: CNN is going to have complete coverage of this big story today. Al-Zarqawi, the number one leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, dead after a U.S. air strike. Coming up, you are going to hear from the father of the U.S. hostage said to have been beheaded by al-Zarqawi himself.


LIN: We are hearing from many people about the death in a U.S. airstrike of al-Zarqawi in Iraq, the number-one al Qaeda leader in Iraq, responsible for so many deaths, including the death of an American, Nicholas Berg. He was a telecommunications worker in Iraq, taken hostage and personally executed by Ayman al-Zarqawi. We heard a short time ago from Nicholas Berg's father.


QUESTION: This man is believed to have killed your son personally in a very brutal and horrific way. Don't you get any sense of relief or satisfaction that he is now no longer going to be able to kill or anyone or (INAUDIBLE) any other families, like your's?

MICHAEL BERG, FATHER OF NICHOLAS BERG: Well, it doesn't bring me personally relief because it doesn't bring my son back. And as far as the suffering of other families, I think that we could prevent the suffering of far more families if we would impeach George Bush today and end this war today.


LIN: The reaction of a father who is not seeking any peace when it comes to the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the murderer of his son.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WHITFIELD: At the top of the hour, "YOUR WORLD TODAY." Hala Gorani is in the CNN International newsroom, and control room actually.

Hala, what have you got on tap?

HALA GORANI, CNN ANCHOR: In the control room, yes, indeed.

The killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi of course at the top of the hour on "YOUR WORLD TODAY." Coming straight up, we're going to be covering that story from all angles: What led to the targeted killing? What intelligence tipped off officials? As well, we're going to be talking about the political impact. This is an important day in Iraq. Two key security posts were filled, one by a Shia, one by a Sunni. We're also going to be talking to the Iraqi ambassador to the United States, and we're going to be getting his reaction to this important development out of Iraq this day.

Back to you.

WHITFIELD: And, in fact, Hala, the ambassador, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, coming out rather quickly, even before we actually heard from the president of the United States, about the Iraqi government's reaction to the killing of al-Zarqawi.

GORANI: Absolutely. And what we're going to be hearing from in the next hour is the Iraqi ambassador to the United States. So developments in his country this day, what do they mean for the future? Will the fact that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi mean anything in terms of vibrant and virulent this insurgency in Iraq will continue to be?

Back to you.

WHITFIELD: Hala Gorani, we'll be watching at the top of the hour. Thanks so much.

LIN: So much strong reaction to the killing of al-Zarqawi. Coming up on "LIVE FROM," I'm going to be bringing more of Michael Berg's interview, the father of Nicholas Berg, a father who was asked whether he sees any peace or resolution in the death of the murder of his son. And was saying, look, I take no pleasure in another human being's death. I mean, to characterize his son's killer as a human being was interesting and really gives you some insight.

WHITFIELD: Yes, a profound impact being made on those loved ones of so many thousands who were killed.

LIN: Indeed. I'm Carol Lin.

WHITFIELD: And I'm Fredricka Whitfield. International news is coming up next. Stay tuned for "YOUR WORLD TODAY."