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Iraq Government Braces for Zarqawi Reprisal Attacks

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne, with Steve Inskeep.

Terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi initially survived the U.S. air strike Wednesday north of Baghdad, but died a short time later. That's according to Major General William Caldwell, who briefed reporters today from his post in Baghdad.

Major General WILLIAM CALDWELL (Senior Military Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense): The first people on the scene were the Iraqi police. They had found him and put him into some kind of gurney, stretcher, kind of thing, and then American coalition forces arrived immediately thereafter. Zarqawi attempted to sort of turn away. Everybody resecured him back onto the stretcher, but he died almost immediately thereafter.

MONTAGNE: Gen. Caldwell speaking today from Baghdad.

And joining me now from Baghdad is NPR's Jamie Tarabay. Hello.

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: What details did the general have on Zarqawi's condition?

TARABAY: Well, like we just heard, Gen. Caldwell said that Zarqawi was conscious enough to recognize the U.S. military forces when they arrived on the scene, to the point where he tried to escape. He tried to roll off the stretcher; but he was quickly put back on. Caldwell also said that Zarqawi managed to mumble something, but it wasn't clear exactly what he said. But he died soon after from his wounds that he sustained in the air strikes.

MONTAGNE: The general also gave a revised accounting of the dead. Originally, they said there were six lieutenants, but that's not actually how it turns out.

TARABAY: Yesterday, he said that there was also a woman and a child included in the final death toll, but today he revised that number. He said that the people killed were three men and three women, and apart from Sheikh Abd al-Rahman, whom Caldwell called Zarqawi's spiritual advisor, the others still haven't been identified.

MONTAGNE: Iraqi authorities today imposed a traffic ban in an attempt to prevent reprisal attacks. Tell us about that.

TARABAY: Well, it seems to have passed quietly enough. The authorities were very concerned that supporters of Zarqawi would try to strike large gatherings of people. Today is Friday, and during the noon prayers most Iraqis go to mosques to pray, and there would have been an opportunity for them to show that they're still fighting, even though their leader is now dead. But that seems to not have happened today.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Jamie Tarabay, in Baghdad. Thanks very much.

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

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
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.