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Abu Musab al-Zarqawi Killed By U.S. Airstrike; Bipartisan Agreement On Zarqawi Death; Specter And Cheney Tensions Appear To Have Cooled; John McCain Interview; John Murtha Interview; DeLay Not Giving Up Blunt Style

Aired June 08, 2006 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Susan, thanks. To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.

Happening now, it's midnight in Baghdad, the most wanted man in Iraq is dead. Blamed for countless bombings and beheadings, terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is taken out by a U.S. airstrike. But as Iraqis celebrate al Qaeda's allies vow more violence.

It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington where there's jubilation from the White House to Capitol Hill. Is it a turning point for the U.S. mission in Iraq? I'll ask a supporter, Senator John McCain, as well as a key critic, Congressman John Murtha.

And after two decades of pushing the conservative cause in Congress former House majority leader Tom DeLay hangs up his hammer. He'll speak with our Candy Crowley this hour. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The end came suddenly for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Iraq's most feared and most wanted terrorist literally never knew what hit him. After a frustrating hunt, coalition intelligence closed in and final tips led to the target, a safe house near Baquba just north of Baghdad. A pair of U.S. jets dropped a pair of bombs as Zarqawi met with his associates from his al Qaeda in Iraq group.

Iraq's top insurgent, al-Zarqawi is believed to have personally beheaded an American hostage and to have inspired attacks which have killed thousands in Iraq. The end came yesterday for al-Zarqawi. It was first announced today after the body was identified and after coalition forces carried out 17 simultaneous raids around Baghdad. Commanders say a treasure trove of information was collected.

The official word came amid jubilation in Baghdad. CNN's John Vause is in the Iraqi capital.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Today Zarqawi was eliminated," says the Iraqi prime minister. In a room filled with reporters, mostly Iraqi, broke into cheers and applause. There were celebrations on the streets of Baghdad. As word spread the man called the Prince of al Qaeda was dead.

"The announcement of the death of Zarqawi is good news for all Iraqis," said this man. "God willing, security will prevail."

But with the death of Iraq's most wanted came words of caution.

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Zarqawi's death will not by itself end the violence in Iraq. But it is an important step in the right direction.

VAUSE: A bloody reminder of that violence came hours earlier. A roadside bomb left at least a dozen dead at a market in Baghdad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The lead aircraft is going to engage it here momentarily.

VAUSE: And the U.S. military said this was the airstrike which killed Zarqawi and five others. Two 500-pound precision bombs dropped by F-16s. According to the military, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was meeting in a safe house near these homes north of Baghdad. They, too, appear to have been destroyed by the strike. Iraqi police were the first on the scene. U.S. intelligence had been tracking Zarqawi's spiritual advisor heading to a meeting of senior leaders.

MAJ. GEN. BILL CALDWELL, MULTINATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ: We had absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Zarqawi was in the house. It was 100 percent confirmation.

We knew exactly who was there. We knew it was Zarqawi and that was the deliberate target we went to get.

VAUSE: Vital clues before the strike according to Iraq's foreign minister came from this video released by Zarqawi in April as well as from one of his senior leaders arrested last month by Jordanian authorities. His identity was confirmed by fingerprints, scars and tattoos. A DNA test is also being done.

"This is a message to all those who are using violence and killing and destruction to stop and think twice before it's too late," warned the Iraqi prime minister.

The self proclaimed leader of al Qaeda in Iraq was responsible for some of the most brutal attacks over the past three years. Blowing up Shiite mosques, car bombings, kidnappings and beheadings. His reach stretched to his native Jordan, Morocco and Turkey.

(on camera): And with his death, attention turns to who will take his place. U.S. and Iraqi officials already have another name, Abu al Masiri (ph), another name, another target. John Vause, CNN, Baghdad.


BLITZER: It was a good day for Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki. After announcing the death of Iraq's public enemy number one, he gained parliamentary approval for the final post in his cabinet. The new defense minister is Abdul Qatar Muhammad Josimel Mitfragi (ph), a Sunni, the new interior minister and the new national security minister are both Shiites.

President Bush today hailed the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, saying U.S. military forces have quote, "delivered justice." He says the al Qaeda leader's death offers a chance to turn the tide in Iraq. On Capitol Hill there is celebration, especially by beleaguered Republicans. Our congressional correspondent Dana Bash is standing by with more on that. Let's go to the White House first. Ed Henry is there -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the White House just moments ago released still photo from yesterday about 4:35 p.m. Eastern Time. That's when the president officially first got the word that al-Zarqawi was dead in the Oval Office.

He's with the secretary of state, White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, a serious look if you fast forward to this morning, right before the president came out to the Rose Garden he was in the Oval Office. I could see through the window the president was quite happy, I wouldn't say jubilant but he was smiling, laughing with aides.

They seemed much happier than they have been in recent days as they have been dealing with the president's plummeting poll numbers but the president was very carefully as he stepped up to the podium in the Rose Garden to not be celebrating and doing any victory dancing. He walked a very fine line, cautioning that the violence in Iraq will continue even as he said, this was a severe blow to al Qaeda.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now Zarqawi has met his end. And this violent man will never murder again. Iraqis can be justly proud of their new government in its early steps to improve the security. And Americans can be enormously proud of the men and women of our armed forces who worked tirelessly with their Iraqi counterparts to track down this brutal terrorist and to put him out of business.


HENRY: Now the president carefully added there will be tough days ahead. And he will continue to need the American people's patience to get the mission done in Iraq, Wolf.

BLITZER: The president also announced in those remarks that he's convening I guess some sort of summit national security meeting at Camp David Monday and Tuesday. What is that all about?

HENRY: He's going to be bringing in his national security team on Monday. He will also then bring in by video conference various Iraqi officials. The key question obviously will cut in U.S. troops from Iraq be on the table. From what the president said it certainly sounds like it's one option.

The president saying they will be looking at how best to quote, "deploy U.S. resources in Iraq." That would suggest they would at least take a look at U.S. troop levels. But obviously based on the tone, the tenor of the president's remarks, he is walking a fine line, a balancing act where doesn't want to go too far out on a bottom limb.

The bottom line is this White House has seen many milestones in Iraq. Voters going to the polls, Constitution being ratified, governments being formed. But then they have seen violence only tear away some of that progress. So they are being very carefully not to go to far out on a limb, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed, thanks very much. Let's go to Capitol Hill. Dana Bash is standing by. Lots of smiles on the Hill today Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Killing Zarqawi elicited a rare, likely fleeting moment of bipartisan agreement. Republicans and Democrats calling it an incredibly positive development, praising both the U.S. troops and Iraqis but it is of course five months before Election Day and one Republican leader was quite candid in what he thought this would mean for November.


BASH (voice-over): Lawmakers in both parties were careful to downplay expectations Zarqawi's death would diminish bloodshed in Iraq. But the number two House Republican was quick to play up what the news means on the campaign trail here at home.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MAJORITY LEADER: I think Zarqawi's death or as I like to say, taking the head off the snake, will in fact help us win. And anything that helps us win that brings good news will certainly help frankly all members, both sides of the aisle. As they run for reelection.

BASH: The increasingly unpopular Iraq War casts the longest shadow over Republicans. Threatens their prospects for keeping control of Congress yet the most endangered GOP incumbents getting hammered hardest on the war were more circumspect than the majority leader about the impact killing Zarqawi could have on their reelection. Connecticut Republican Chris Shays is one.

REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (R), CONNECTICUT: It's is certainly not mission accomplished. It is not even close to that. It's just a very, very positive step among a lot of other positive steps. I think the American people need to know that we could fail if we lose the war here at home.

Pennsylvania Republican Jim Gerlach is another.

REP. JIM GERLACH (R), PENNSYLVANIA: It takes pressure off. I think people again realize that a cut and run strategy is not the right strategy.

BASH: House Republicans were already planning an Iraq debate next week supporting the mission. And in the Senate the number two Republican tells CNN he thinks this good news on Iraq gives them a appreciate opening to exploit divisions among Democrats over withdrawing U.S. troops.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: Maybe now's the time to have a vote on that and see where senators stand on withdrawing the troops immediately or withdrawing the troops by the end of the year. That might be an instructive debate. And you could well see it.


BASH: Senators will likely have an opportunity to offer amendments on Iraq next week and CNN is told that the Democratic leader Harry Reid is actively trying to get members of his caucus on the same page so they don't look divided on Iraq.

But Wolf, CNN is also told by GOP leadership aide that Republicans may try to highlight Democratic division business actually offering a proposal by Senator John Kerry and that would be to pull combat troops home from Iraq by tend of this year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thanks very much. Dana is on the hill.

Al Qaeda is reacting to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death as well. Zain Verjee is joining us from the CNN global headquarters in Atlanta with more on that -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is burning up Islamic Web sites. In an online statement al Qaeda in Iraq confirms that its leader was indeed killed. A separate statement is a rallying cry to militants. In it al Qaeda say this is, "God will not let our enemies celebrate and spread corruption in the ground. Expect the right that was stolen to come back to us and destroy the crusaders."

The father of an American contractor believed to have been beheaded by Zarqawi says the terrorist's death offers him little consolation. Michael Berg blames President Bush today for the violence that persists in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Twenty-six year old Nicholas Berg was kidnapped and later killed on video in 2004. CNN's Mary Snow will have more in our next hour at 5:00 p.m. Eastern.

The announcement of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death was followed by a string of bombings in and around Baghdad. The first exploded in a busy shopping square in Baghdad's northern Kadhimiya district, killing seven people and wounding 26. An hour later, five Iraqi civilians died when a car bomb went off in a southeast Baghdad marketplace. That was followed by yet another car bomb north of Baghdad that killed 10 more Iraqi civilians. In all 37 people died in Iraq today.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he hopes al-Zarqawi's death send as message to terrorists that the U.S. means business. New York has been on elevated alert since the September 11 attacks. Bloomberg says little has changed in the wake of today's news.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), NEW YORK CITY: I don't think you should worry about are you safer today than you were yesterday or are you more in danger? The world probably is better off without the person but there are plenty of other people that we have to bring to justice.


VERJEE: CNN homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve is going to have a lot more on this in our next hour. That's at 5:00 p.m. Eastern -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much. From Zain, let's go up to New York. Jack Cafferty is standing by with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: "One man's life does not signify an end to the insurgency." Major General Bill Caldwell talking to reporters today when he showed them pictures of al-Zarqawi deader than a carp.

Caldwell added it is likely the leader had already picked a replacement in the event he was caught or killed. And that his followers will probably try to carry out attacks to prove they are still around. There's no doubt we're better off with the terrorist leader dead. It's a plus when any of these mutants get killed. Even as al Qaeda in Iraq confirmed his death they urge the followers to continue the fight and they will.

And that's the problem. Since the war began al Qaeda and the insurgency inside Iraq have grown and become better organized than they were at the time of the invasion. Thus any blow to the terrorist morale accruing from the death of their leader is arguably not as great as it would have been if we could have gotten to him earlier. But better late than never.

Here's is question, how will the death of al-Zarqawi affect the course of the war? Email your thoughts to or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack, for that. And if you'd like a sneak preview of Jack's questions plus an earlier read on the day's political news and what is ahead in THE SITUATION ROOM, here's what you do. You sign up for our daily email alert. Just go to

And please join me this Saturday at 7:00 p.m. Eastern for "Iraq, a Week at War. Our correspondents from around the world as well as our analysts will join me to bring you the only in-depth look at all the major events in Iraq and the war on terror.

Coming up much more in our lead story. The death of the top terrorist in Iraq. I'll speak with two powerful members of Congress who have very different views on the conflict. Senator John McCain and Congressman John Murtha. They are stand big live to join us.

Plus, the war of words between Vice President Dick Cheney and fellow Republican Arlen Specter. We'll go live to Capitol Hill for the latest tough talk and there is tough talk.

And later, Tom DeLay says good-bye to Congress on his own terms. You won't want to miss his candid comments to our own Candy Crowley. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We'll have much more on our top story. The killing of the top Iraq terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and I'll speak live about it with Senator John McCain and Congressman John Murtha. They're standing by to join me live this hour.

But first turn to a story we told you about in THE SITUATION ROOM last night. A war of words between two top Republicans. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter who appeared here with me last night sent an open letter to Vice President Dick Cheney accusing him of sabotaging his planned hearings on the administration's domestic surveillance program. Today the vice president sent a letter of his own. Let's go to our congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel. She has all the latest information -- Andrea.


Things appear to have cooled off a little bit today. A short time ago I ran into Chairman Specter who said that he had read and received the vice president's letter and suggested a willingness to let things play out for a little while they try to work out some sort of legislative compromise over this NSA warrantless wiretapping program.

But it was a sign of just how angry and how frustrated Specter was that sent the letter in the first place. Frustrated and furious in fact with the vice president over the fact that Cheney had spoken with a number of Republicans on the Judiciary Committee without letting Specter know in an attempt to try to block Specter's efforts to call up four CEOs of telecommunication companies.

Now today Vice President Cheney responded defending the NSA warrantless wiretapping program. He was unapologetic on the fact he had spoken to his colleagues on the Judiciary Committee saying quote, "I spoke with a number of other members of the Senate leadership and the Judiciary Committee. These communications are not unusual. They are a government at work. While there may continue to be areas of disagreement from time to time, we should proceed in a practical way to build on the areas of agreement."

Now, as evidence of his desire to try to work things out with Senator Specter, Vice President Cheney had the attorney general call Specter today to try to set up a meeting for the two to get together. Now Senator Specter wants a special court to determine the constitutionality of the domestic wiretapping program.

But in order for that to happen, Wolf, the Senate is going to have to pass some kind of legislation. Something they haven't done as yet. The Judiciary Committee is going to meet on this matter next week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Andrea, thanks very much. Andrea Koppel on the Hill.

Meanwhile veterans' affairs secretary Jim Nicholson along with other government leaders face some tough questioning on Capitol Hill themselves over recent data security breaches. The top concern for lawmakers, the stolen V.A. laptop containing personal information on more than 26 million Americans. Our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton has the latest -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, Secretary Nicholson told the House today it's possible the data of these millions of veterans and military personnel was erased by burglars before selling on the equipment. He was citing authorities investigating that laptop which is still missing. We spoke to the authorities today they wouldn't comment on the specifics of the investigation.

The secretary was testifying at this committee on government reform. They met today and also heard from a representative of the IRS. The IRS is another agency that is just recently reported the loss of a laptop containing personal data.

That laptop only had the data fewer than 300 people. This is a committee that hands out grades to government agencies on their computer security. Government-wide average about a D plus. Veterans' Affairs received an f last year. Committee chair Tom Davis suggested the federal information security rules could be strengthened -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

Let's get back to our top story, when we return how will the elimination of al-Zarqawi in Iraq affect the political debate here at home? Our Bill Schneider is standing by to take a closer look.

Plus, he's one of the president's biggest backers in the war in Iraq. Senator John McCain is standing by live. He'll join us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. The death of Iraq's most wanted man comes as America's president's and his war policies are at a low points in several public opinion polls. It also comes as Congress faces mid-term elections. Let's get some of the political impact of what is going on. We'll turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- Bill.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Question, how will the elimination of Zarqawi affect the political debate in this country?


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): There's one thing both sides agree on, war supporters ...

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It's just part -- although a significant part of the long path we have to travel.

SCHNEIDER: And war critics.

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: This is significant -- two aspects. One is the fact that Zarqawi is killed also the fact they appointed a defense minister and an interior minister.

SCHNEIDER: Saddam Hussein's capture was the last big breakthrough. How much did it do for President Bush? By November 2003, Bush's job approval had slipped to 50 percent. After Saddam's capture in December it jumped to 63. In early January, it was still at 59. By February, however, Bush's job rating was back down to 49. The boost lasted about one month. How will the elimination of Zarqawi affect the debate?

SEN. BILL FRIST (R), TENNESSEE: Today our military forces are to be commended for their dedication to eradicating the terrorist network in Iraq.

SCHNEIDER: The message war supporters see is stick with it.

FRIST: The sure sign that they are on the way to accomplish that goal.

SCHNEIDER: War critics draw a different conclusion.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), NEVADA: Having a security minister, defense minister and interior minister makes it that much closer to when we can start drawing down the troops there.

SCHNEIDER: Most Americans want U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraq within the next year though not immediately. The news from Iraq may strengthen their numbers.

MURTHA: We've got the Iraqis trained. We've got a government in place. Now it's time to set a time schedule for the withdrawal and redeployment of American forces.


SCHNEIDER: The elimination of Zarqawi is likely to bolster arguments made by both sides in the debate over Iraq. Those who say stick with it and those who say time to get out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks very much. Let's bring in a key member of the United States Senate, Senator John McCain is standing by live on Capitol Hill. Thanks, senator, for joining us. Three or six months from now. What do you suspect the impact of the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is going to be practically in terms of the insurgency and the sectarian violence?

MCCAIN: I think that it will indicate that it was an important event but not a defining event. And that we will have continued to make some steady progress towards the Iraqi military taking over more and more responsibilities. That the Iraqi government functioning more effectively and that the economy is improving. I think it's going to be long, hard and difficult and this is a significant day but it really doesn't change the long-term challenges as we face as the president I think very well stated this morning.

BLITZER: As you know, a lot of critics would like the president to declare a victory. There is a new government in Iraq, they've got a defense minister, an interior minister, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is dead, declare a victory as they used to say during the Vietnam War, as you well remember, and simply get out. What is wrong with that?

MCCAIN: Well, I think that the Iraqis are making progress in assuming those responsibilities. And they are significant. As far as the training of police is concerned. That isn't where we want it to be. Equipping the Iraqi military hasn't reached the level it should. And we still have a long way to go and it's going to require American support. What I believe can happen and I think will happen is that you'll see a gradual reduction in American casualties.

But this is a very volatile situation. I could draw you a scenario, Wolf, where they have a, quote, "Tet Offensive" where they mount strikes all over the Iraq in hopes of affecting American public opinion. But I believe we've been making slow but steady difficult progress, two steps forward, one step back. We're not ready -- if we declare a timetable for withdrawal, then it's obvious that the bad guys will just sit back and wait until we leave. That's not -- it's got to do with conditions on the ground, not anything to do with the calendar.

BLITZER: Your colleague and friend, Senator Russ Feingold, issued this statement today.

He said: "As long as large numbers of U.S. troops remain indefinitely in Iraq, that country will remain a crucible for the recruitment and development of a wide range of terrorist networks determined to fight so-called American occupiers. It's time to refocus our global fight against terrorism. We must move away from the Iraq-centric policies that are draining our resources."

You agree with him on campaign finance reform. Do you agree with him on this?

MCCAIN: No, in all due respect. And I respect the views.

And we all should respect the views of those who differ with us. And we need to continue this national debate. I firmly believe that, if we left Iraq, it would not be long before they would be after us. If you read Zarqawi, what he said, if you read bin Laden, their goal is not just to take Iraq. Their goal is to destroy us, everything we stand for and believe in.

When we lost in Vietnam, we were able to come home. The Vietnamese didn't want to come after us. I think it's clear that this is now part of a titanic struggle between radical Islamic extremism and Western values and standards. I think that's what this is all about.

And if we lost or had to leave Iraq and leave it to the tender mercies of Iraqi al Qaeda and others, then and -- and evolves -- devolves into sectarian violence, then we will pay a price later on in the region and in the world.

BLITZER: Are we winning the war against al Qaeda?

MCCAIN: I think so. I think it's very difficult. We're seeing a resurgence in -- in Afghanistan, as you know.

I think that there are still a lot of areas of Iraq that are not under control. But there's a lot of areas that are doing rather well. It's a very mixed bag. It's a long, hard, tough slog. The stakes are incredibly high. We must win.

BLITZER: Here is what Tony Snow, the new White House press secretary, said earlier today. I want you to listen to this, because I want your reaction.


TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have been crushing the opposition, but what happens is, the opposition has been controlling the airwaves with scattered, fragmentary acts of violence.


BLITZER: Is he right that, in -- in effect, those of us in the news media are simply not portraying an accurate picture of what is happening in Iraq?

MCCAIN: I don't think so. I think the media, quite often, whether it be in the United States or anywhere else in the world, tend to portray the most cataclysmic events. That's what makes news and gets viewers.

But, overall, I think that it's an accurate depiction of a very long, difficult, tough struggle. And maybe, sometimes, I wish they would show more signs of progress. But, at the same time, I can't try to tell the media what to say. But I do believe that one of the problems we are facing, on the other side of the coin is, that we have raised expectations too often by statements like, stuff happens, and last throes, and things like that.

And Americans have been disappointed, and some disillusioned. We need to tell the American people, this is long, hard, difficult. We're making progress, and we can and must prevail.

BLITZER: Senator John McCain, thanks for spending some time with us.

MCCAIN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And, up next, we will get a different perspective from one of the more vocal critics of the overall U.S. mission in Iraq. Will Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death change Congressman John Murtha's mind? My one-on-one interview with the Pennsylvania Democrat -- he's standing by live -- that is coming up next. And so much made of the demise of al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, but a bigger question remains. Where's Osama bin Laden? That's ahead in our next hour.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Video from the Department of Defense -- This is the first video they are giving us on the actual site where, earlier yesterday, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed.

This is surveillance video taken by U.S. military personnel, courtesy the U.S. Department of Defense. You can see the destruction in the rubble here. This is the building where Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his colleagues were holed up. And this is what is left right now, a pretty, pretty gruesome site.

We just heard from Republican Senator John McCain, a strong supporter of the president's policies in the war in Iraq.

Let's turn now to a strong critic of the president's policies, Democratic Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania. He's joining us live from Capitol Hill.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

Your critics are already saying, you know what? If we would have listened to John Murtha, we would have never gotten Abu Musab al- Zarqawi. What do you say to that?

MURTHA: Well, let me tell you, Wolf, they too it from the air.

And the encouraging thing about what happened today is, you had information from the Iraqis go to the Iraqis, then go to the Americans. Now, this is a significant event, there's no question about it, to have gotten the top leader of al Qaeda.

You have got to remember, though, al Qaeda is a very small part of what is going on in Iraq. And you have got to be careful not to overestimate the impact this is going to have.

Naturally, we're delighted to get him. But, even more importantly, they announced the defense minister today. They announced the interior minister today -- and that intelligence flowing through the Iraqis to the U.S. forces. They could have done this from outside, just like I have -- I have been -- been suggesting right along.

The air came in and knocked it out, from every report that I have. So, you know, this is a significant event. I'm pleased. I compliment the troops about the way they handled it. I compliment the Iraqis. But we have got a long ways to go.

BLITZER: What does it do to your strategy, your recommendations, recommendations that the United States begin an orderly what you call redeployment from Iraq? What does today's event do...


BLITZER: ... if anything, toward your thinking?

MURTHA: Well, it doesn't change my thinking a bit.

I have said right along, we have become the enemy. Eighty percent of the people in Iraq want us out of there. Forty-seven percent say it is all right to kill Americans.

You have got to remember, the biggest fight that is going on, it's the secular violence. Just like Senator McCain said, it's secular. It's chaos now. It's a civil war right now. We have got 100,000 Shias fighting 20,000 Sunnis.

And we're caught in between. We have become the targets. And we have unified the opposition against our troops. And they are caught in between. They go out every day. And they face the explosive devices. And one day it happens. The next day, it doesn't happen, some of them four and five times. They have been rotated over and over again.

The pressure is tremendous. And the -- and $9 billion a month, we're spending on this war, $9 billion a month on -- on this war and the war in Afghanistan. We have diverted ourself from the way -- war on terror to the war in Iraq. They are using terrorist tactics, but this is a civil war that is going on in Iraq.

And we need to redeploy and let the Iraqis handle this themselves.

BLITZER: The British prime minister, Tony Blair, disagrees with that assessment. Here's what he said today. I want you to listen carefully to what he said, in terms of the impact of this killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.


TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The death of al-Zarqawi is a strike against al Qaeda in Iraq, and, therefore, a strike against al Qaeda everywhere.


BLITZER: He makes the point that this is part of a broader war on terror. Do you agree with him?

MURTHA: Yes. I agree with that. But that's not the point that I'm making.

The -- what has happened in Iraq is, it's developed into a civil war. It's a secular war, they call it, but that's the definition of a civil war, two participants fighting for supremacy inside the country. And, so, we're caught in the middle of that. The only people who can handle that is themselves. We can't handle it. We give them advice. We do the best we can do. But that's not going to solve the problem. That airstrike could have come from outside. Our troops could have been redeployed.

When I spoke out November 17, the situation has gotten worse in every regard. Incidents have increased, 60 percent unemployment. Everything that has happened has gotten worse since that period of time. This is a significant development. I hope it reduces casualties. But you never know what is going to happen in a situation like that. We have done everything militarily. Our troops have done everything they have been asked to do. And it's time for them to be redeployed and brought him.

BLITZER: Well, how quick of a withdrawal, redeployment, would you like to see? What is a realistic -- because the president, as you know, is going to meet with all of his top national security advisers at Camp David on Monday and Tuesday. What kind of timetable would you like to see begin to unfold?

MURTHA: I would like to see him say to the Iraqis, OK, you had your constitutional and your elections, and there was no violence during that period of time. I would like him to say to them that, you have got to take over your own country. You have got a couple hundred thousand people trained, according to them.

I get a little difference from the troops.

But I -- we are going to withdraw our troops. You have got to accept responsibility for this yourself. We're going to start withdrawing very soon. And we're going to do it in a way that protects Americans. As one woman said to me: My husband joined the military not to fight for Iraq, but to fight for America.

And these casualties, day after day, are coming from explosive devices. And much of the mission is, they are out there looking for explosive devices. So, as positive as this information is today, it's certainly not the solution to ending a civil war. Only the Iraqis can end this civil war.

BLITZER: And -- but, very quickly, how realistic? What kind of timetable are you talking about? Can it be done in three months, six months, a year?

MURTHA: Well, if they decided to do it, it could be done in six months very easily.

If you are not careful, though, if you do it very slowly, you make the troops that are -- that are doing the logistic parts much more vulnerable. For instance, when I was in Anbar Province last August, they said to me, every convoy is attacked every single day.

And, so, the less troops you have there, the more vulnerable they become. We went in with not enough troops in the first place. It got out of control. And now that it's out of control, only the Iraqis can get it back in place. BLITZER: Congressman John Murtha, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

MURTHA: Nice being with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM: It remains to be seen how the loss of its leader will impact al Qaeda in Iraq. How will the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi affect the course of the war? Jack Cafferty has been taking your e-mail.

Also coming up: Tom DeLay prepares to bid farewell to Congress. CNN's Candy Crowley considers what is next for the former House leader.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

He was the enforcer for conservative causes on Capitol Hill. Congressman Tom DeLay didn't bother with kid gloves when he swung the hammer.

Forced, though, to give up his majority leader post amid a swirling corruption scandal, he is now giving up his seat in Congress. But, as you're about to hear, he's not giving up his blunt style.

Joining us now, our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

You spent some time with the Hammer earlier.


Some time this afternoon, Tom DeLay is going to give his last speech on the House floor, or not. The Democrats say one of them will object to speak off the House agenda topic, a partisan flap that was pretty predictable when it comes to Tom DeLay.


CROWLEY (voice-over): Tom DeLay ends his two-decade-long Washington career in Tom DeLay fashion.

REP. TOM DELAY (R), TEXAS: What am I proudest of? Pushing the conservative cause. Changing the culture of this town. Bringing the conservative world view into the mainstream.

CROWLEY (on camera): What do you most regret?

DELAY: What do I -- I don't have any regrets.

CROWLEY: None? Not a single one?

DELAY: Not a single one. CROWLEY (voice-over): He wielded power in the conservative cause, lost it in a blitz of unproven allegations and a Texas indictment on campaign money-laundering charges.

DELAY: It's been going on for 10 years, by the way, with frivolous charges.

CROWLEY: All untrue, he says, lies from political enemies.

DELAY: It's all about winning. And we win. They lose. And they don't like us. The Democrats hate losing. They hate being out of power.

CROWLEY: Democrats have made DeLay the poster child for Republican corruption. By way of farewell, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called DeLay one of the most corrupt leaders in the history of Congress.

DELAY: Well, it says more about the -- Nancy Pelosi than about me. The hatred is amazing.

CROWLEY: The significant chance that Democrats might retake the House has dampened Republican spirits as they head into fall elections. In a private goodbye, DeLay told colleagues to snap out of it.

DELAY: All we have to do is finish our work here, stand up strong against illegal immigration, stand up strong for fiscal responsibility, stand up strong against judicial activism, and then talk about the future, and we will prove all the pundits in the national media wrong.

CROWLEY: In business and in politics, they call this an exit interview.

(on camera): What will you miss the most?

DELAY: Probably intensity of being in leadership, the move -- the movement, the get-up-and-go every morning. I will miss that.

CROWLEY: What won't you miss at all?

DELAY: The intensity of the leadership.


CROWLEY: Do you wish you could stay?

DELAY: No. It's time for me to go.

CROWLEY (voice-over): Tom DeLay wants it very clear he is not leaving somewhere, so much as going somewhere.

DELAY: I would have been locked in to reelection in the 22nd District of Texas. And that's not what I ought to be doing. I ought to be out helping elect Republicans, helping defeat the Democrats, talking about the conservative view and where we want to take the country.

CROWLEY: Departure a la DeLay, no retreat, baby, no surrender.


CROWLEY: As for what is next, watch for DeLay on the campaign trail. He says he will do whatever he can to keep that Republican majority.

BLITZER: He hasn't lost a beat yet.


BLITZER: Thanks very much, Candy. Excellent report.

Candy Crowley, and as you saw a few minutes ago, Bill Schneider are all part of the best political team on television -- CNN, America's campaign headquarters.

Up next: The run for the White House is still two years away. Who is topping the bill, though, in each party right now? Here's a hint. Can you say New York?

And, later: a big step in Baghdad. Iraq's prime minister rounds out his cabinet and completes the country's new government. The job ahead for Iraq's fledgling democracy, that's coming up in our next hour.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: A major vote today in Congress over your taxes tops our "Political Radar." The Senate rejected a Republican effort to cut taxes on inherited property. The estate tax is scheduled to end in four years. Republicans have been pushing to make the tax permanent. A 57-41 vote fell three votes short of advancing the bill.

Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist calls it a death tax and says it's unfair. But top Senate Democrat Harry Reid says ending the tax would be a handout to the rich, at the expense of all other Americans.

President Bush made another pitch today that he and other future presidents should have the ability to make line-item vetoes. To make his point, Mr. Bush called in some of the nation's governors, many of whom do have such power in their own states.

David Paulison is now officially in charge of FEMA. He was sworn in at the agency's headquarters just a short time ago. Paulison had been acting director since last September, when former Director Michael Brown resigned in the wake of FEMA's botched response to Hurricane Katrina.

And a new Gallup poll finds Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton with a wide lead over other possible rivals in the race for the next Democratic presidential nomination -- a distant second right now, former Vice President Al Gore, who says he has no intention of running for the White House in 2008. That's what he says.

On the Republican side, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani tops the list. He's a slight lead -- has a slight lead, that is, over Senator John McCain, who you saw earlier right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next: Jack Cafferty joining us with his question of the hour. How will the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi change the course of the war in Iraq? We will read your e-mail.

The death of a terrorist leader in Iraq is heard around the world. In our next hour, our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, takes a closer look at how it might impact the U.S. home front.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Jack is back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, "How will the death of al-Zarqawi change the course of the war?" is the question.

John in Pennsylvania writes: "Jack, there will be no long-term effect on the ground in Iraq, and things will not improve for us. If al Qaeda had killed one of our top leaders, would we stop fighting them? Of course not. We would be even more motivated."

John in Alabama: "Jack, al-Zarqawi's death will slow down the insurgency for a while, but insurgencies are like a cancerous growth. It might be stopped in one place, but spring up somewhere else in Iraq or the Middle East."

John in New York: "Al-Zarqawi was a horrific man who died a horrible death. I'm glad he's gone. But I don't see the justification for the dancing in the streets. It seems we have done that dance before. I suspect we are in for more of the same, daily accounts of more bloodletting, on and on and on and on. Where is the plan to end this nightmare?"

Scott writes: "The death of al-Zarqawi won't affect the course of the war. As part of al Qaeda, someone will just step but to replace him, although probably not as prominent. What will change the course of the war is the Iraqi government standing up for itself and running the country."

John in Virginia Beach: "Al-Zarqawi was the only person in Iraq whose plan seemed to be working. It is a short-term victory for the coalition, and all the politicians will ride it for all it's worth. And, in three months, the situation will be the same or worse. Did the capture of Saddam make a difference?"

And Vince in Las Vegas: "I'm not really sure how the death of al- Zarqawi will affect the course of the war. But, unfortunately for Ann Coulter, it eliminates a perfect marriage prospect."


CAFFERTY: One of my favorite letters.


BLITZER: Thank you, Jack, for that.

CAFFERTY: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty.