Killing Zarqawi

Hibhib lies several miles northwest of Baquba, Iraq, which is about 40 miles north of Baghdad.  As the reliable site Iraq the Model tells us 'Most of its people are from the Azzawi tribes,' and it is 'famous for producing some of the finest Arak in Iraq.'  (Arak is a popular alcoholic beverage of the Middle East.) 

But then Zarqawi and some of his terrorist pals came to town.

'Severed heads of Iraqi civilians were twice found in fruit boxes in and around Hibhib, a terrible crime that shocked Iraqis.' 

Then came the cold—blooded murder of 19 students just north of the town.  In its reporting on Zarqawi's death, Iraq the Model stated

'PM al—Maliki said that Jordan provided intelligence that was used in the raid on Zarqawi's hiding place, but he stressed that tips from locals were the primary lead to Zarqawi's exact location  and were the information used to guide the bombs.'  [italics added]

A New York Times article several days ago stated that  Jordan's assistance in this historic event was vital — a mole, courtesy their intelligence service, inside Zarqawi's Al Qaeda in Iraq network.  Since that story broke, some have suggested that there was no mole, that this is a psychological warfare gambit on the part of the coalition and its allies. 

Meantime, the not always reliable DEBKAFile is reporting  that a Jordanian sting operation captured one of of Zarqawi's partners in murderous thuggery, Abu Hufeiza.  He not only named al Qaeda's operations chief and two other high ranking AQ officers, he provided the first clue for the location of Zarqawi's Hibhib unsafe house. Here is what Multi—National Force Iraq spokesman, Maj. General William Caldwell said about pinpointing Zarqawi's location yesterday:

'It was the result of some tremendous work by coalition forces, by intelligence agencies, partners in our global war on terrorism, that all came together, feeding different parts and pieces to allow us to build that [intelligence] puzzle, to establish the patterns, the methods, the techniques which allowed us to track and then monitor things which led us to that building that night to find Zarqawi in there.'  

It had been a painstaking effort

'very focused over the last three weeks...there was a lot of information that came in...' 

Prior to this time frame statement MG Caldwell said things had started coming together a month and—a—half ago.  Let's look at what happened, based on MNF—Iraq press releases, available here. But first, let's establish the fact that Special Operations Task Force 145, tasked with killing or capturing Zarqawi and high level al Qaeda personnel, has been the point unit in these operations.  As with TF 120, tasked with Saddam's capture, TF 145 works alone or with coalition forces. Here is the timeline:

April 16:  Coalition forces killed 5 Al Qaeda terrorists and detained 5 others during a raid on a safe house in Yusufiyah.  They just missed Zarqawi, holed up a block away.  The main target of the raid, identity withheld, was among the captured.

May 15:  In a series of raids on 13—14 May, coalition forces killed known terrorist Au Mustafa and 15 other suspected Al Qaeda associates.  Eight suspects were detained.  This date constitutes the 3 week mark noted by MG Caldwell.  It can be assumed that interrogation of terror suspects provided solid intelligence.  The following raid description pretty much says just that.

May 17:  Acting on timely intelligence, coalition forces located & killed two al Qaeda associates. One of them, Abu Ahad, managed foreign fighter facilitation and provided command & control between terror cells operating throughout Fallujah, Baghdad, Yusufiyah, Taji and Mahmudiyah.  Based on intelligence gathered, follow—on raids were conducted.

May 26:  An al Qaeda in Iraq gathering was raided by TF 145 and coalition forces.  Six suspects were detained.  The raid was based on intelligence gathered from recent detainees.  Two days later, seven more terrorists were captured in southern Ramadi.

May 29:  Achmed al—Dabash, a key terrorist leader with close ties to
Zarqawi's AlQaeda in Iraq, was captured by Iraqi and coalition forces in Baghdad's Mansour district.

And then on June 5 it was reported that Coalition forces killed wanted al Qaeda terrorist Hasayn  Ali Muzabir and detained one other during a June 2 raid near Balad.  Muzabir fancied himself Al Qaeda's military emir in the Samarra area.

Here is how Multi—National Force—Iraq described the 'Road to Zarqawi,' listing these high—level terrorists killed or captured since April 9: 

Abu Karrar

Abd al—Karim

Abu Abdullah al—Saudi

Hammadi Tahki

Abd al—Rahman

Ali Wali and Khalid al—Kurdi

(see slide here)

This then is the outline of snowballing, accumulating intelligence described by MG Caldwell that helped build the intelligence puzzle.  The method used was probably similar to that employed by Task Force 1/22nd  Infantry in their successful hunt for Saddam:  data bases, link diagrams, prisoner interrogation and, most important, human intelligence.  For the latter, it appears there was a mole inside Zarqawi's network.  And there were, as PM Maliki stressed, tips from local residents of Hibhib, who wanted the homicidal thug and his accomplises out of their neighborhood.

Based on MG Caldwell's three week time frame when the hunt for Zarqawi heated up, and his statement that Al Rahman was identified 'through military sources from somebody inside Zarqawi's network' at that time, it could mean that one of the terrorists captured during the 13—14 May raids identified Al Rahman (see above).  Or, it might mean that Abu Hufeiza, as reported by the DEBKAFile, gave Jordanian interrogators his name.  

At 6:15 p.m. June 7, 2006 two Air Force F—16Cs dropped one 500 lb. bomb each on Zarqawi's unsafe house.  One was a laser—guided GBU—12, the other, a GBU—38 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM). MG Caldwell made it clear that the operational commander on the ground made the decision to bomb the target because the target was isolated (no collateral damage) and because the surrounding terrain offered too much cover.  He didn't want Zarqawi escaping again in the aftermath of a ground assault.

When Iraqi police arrived at the site, they found Zarqawi barely alive and put him on a stretcher. (see initially cited MG Caldwell transcript)  US forces from the 4th ID (same unit that bagged Saddam) got there soon afterward.  When they approached, Iraqis were loading Zarqawi into an ambulance.  He was taken back down so US troops could employ life—saving measures, but it was too late. (reference Multi—National Force commander Gen. Casey's Fox News Sunday interview) Three men, one of them Al Rahman, and three women were also killed in the bomb attack.  Positive identification, a 100% fingerprint match, revealed at 3:30 Wednesday morning, proved beyond doubt that it was Zarqawi.

Site exploitation revealed an intelligence bonanza that was immediately utilized.  Seventeen raids in and around Baghdad were conducted, followed by an additional 39 operations throughout Iraq. Twenty—five personnel were detained and one killed. Among the items found in those raids:  passports, ID cards, night scopes, Iraqi army uniforms, weapons, ammo, other munitions, bullet—proof vests and suicide belts. 

You can bet that intel exploitation is continuing and more raids will be forthcoming, that al Qaeda cells in Iraq will continue to be eliminated.

John B. Dwyer is military historian and a frequent contributor.

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