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Military Reviews Zarqawi's Last Moments

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Violence continues in Iraq as supporters of Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi warned on a website that they will continue attacks against Iraqis. Also today, the U.S. military released more prisoners as part of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's promise to free more than 2,500 Iraqis held in U.S.-run jails.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay is in Baghdad. Jamie, what do you know about the latest web statement?

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

Well, the statement was put out on an Islamist website by a group calling itself al-Qaida in Iraq, which is the group that Zarqawi led. In the statement, which still hasn't been verified - it's been posted on this website which this group has posted on in the past - but they've promised more large-scale operations which they say will shake the enemy and rob them of sleep.

And in this statement, the group also renewed its allegiance to Osama bin Laden. What they're doing here is basically saying, our leader is dead, he died heroically, and as we rejoice in his death nothing has changed. We're going to still carry on with our attacks and they're not going to end because he's gone. And this is something that both Iraqi and U.S. officials have been warning about since they announced Zarqawi's death.

HANSEN: I understand there are more details emerging about the scene of the air strike that killed Zarqawi and the five others. Can you tell us about that?

TARABAY: We've been hearing conflicting reports about what actually happened. But there have been more and more details coming out every day. Some media were allowed to go to see the bombed-out house. It's in a little isolated village called Hib Hib, and they've all expressed surprise at how Zarqawi managed to survive these two 500 pound bombs that pulverized everything else in the building and destroyed the fence, the palm trees, concrete walls and a washing machine. And yet Zarqawi not only managed to survive it but was conscious enough to mumble a few words.

You know, we've been putting these questions to the U.S. military, and they say they're going to check them and get back to us. But the longer they take to come back with any real definitive account of what happened, the more it gives credence to a lot of conspiracy theories that are out here at the moment. A lot of the Iraqi media are circulating rumors that Zarqawi was shot. That he was killed a few days before and only produced on the day that the Prime Minister needed a political boost.

What we do know so far is that an autopsy is being carried out and that the U.S. military hopes that at least tomorrow we'll be able to know exactly how he really did die.

HANSEN: And briefly, a little bit about the prisoners that are being released today?

TARABAY: More than 200 have been released from Abu Ghraib, which is run by the U.S. military, as part of this promise by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to release close to 3,000 Iraqis held in American-run jails. The prisoners released today were met by representatives by the Iraqi Islamic Party, which is the largest Sunni faction in parliament. And most of these prisoners are Sunni. They've been rounded up in raids by the U.S. military of suspected insurgent hideouts.

The Sunni political parties are telling Prime Minister Maliki that if he really is serious about reconciliation and moving forward in this new government and this new era that he should also get the Iraqi government to release the Iraqis who are being held in government detention centers. And in all there's about 30,000 Iraqis being held in U.S. and Iraqi-run jails. So they say that he should be freeing those held in Iraqi jails, not just the American ones.

HANSEN: NPR's Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad. Jamie, thank you very much.

TARABAY: Thank you, Liane. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Liane Hansen
Liane Hansen has been the host of NPR's award-winning Weekend Edition Sunday for 20 years. She brings to her position an extensive background in broadcast journalism, including work as a radio producer, reporter, and on-air host at both the local and national level. The program has covered such breaking news stories as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the capture of Saddam Hussein, the deaths of Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy, Jr., and the Columbia shuttle tragedy. In 2004, Liane was granted an exclusive interview with former weapons inspector David Kay prior to his report on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The show also won the James Beard award for best radio program on food for a report on SPAM.
Jamie Tarabay
After reporting from Iraq for two years as NPR's Baghdad Bureau Chief, Jamie Tarabay is now embarking on a two year project reporting on America's Muslims. The coverage will take in the country's approx 6 million Muslims, of different ethnic, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, and the issues facing their daily lives as Americans.