Zarqawi Losing Support Among Iraqis, General Says
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 5, 2005 Any remaining support among Iraqis for fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is fading as his network's attacks continue to take aim at their country's security forces and civilians, the director of operations for the Joint Staff said at a Pentagon news conference today.
Marine Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, who commanded the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force during two combat tours in Iraq, said he's "absolutely confident" that if Zarqawi stays in Iraq, he'll be captured or killed.
"And I might add that I think his stock is running pretty thin with the Iraqi people," Conway said. "He continues to take credit for some of these massive attacks where Iraqis -- Iraqi civilians in particular -- are killed in large numbers. And it's our belief, and I think some of the trends are starting to indicate, that there's a saturation point that the Iraqi citizens are starting to get to." Iraqi citizens more frequently are providing authorities with tips helpful in fighting the insurgency, he noted.
Conway addressed reports that Zarqawi narrowly avoided capture during a recent raid on a hospital in Ramadi and that the terrorist mastermind might have been at the hospital because he is ill or injured.
"(The raid) was not based, necessarily, upon information that Zarqawi was there," Conway told reporters. "We have not been able to confirm that Zarqawi was either wounded in a firefight in Rawah or was receiving treatment at the hospital. We were simply told that a group of insurgents were there, and the Marines and soldiers responded, circled the hospital, and went in." No evidence of Zarqawi's presence at the hospital was found, he noted.
The general said forces involved in the search for Zarqawi respond any time they receive a tip that might lead his way. "And as you might imagine, with a $25 million reward on his head, we get a lot of tips and a lot of rumors of Zarqawi sightings," Conway said. The general noted he was "absolutely confident" that the terrorist leader would be captured or killed.
Conway said the capture in Pakistan of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, operations chief for Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network, was accomplished with no U.S. military involvement.
"I think that the Pakistani people should be delighted that their security forces have completed such a sophisticated operation," the general said. "Remember, this guy tried to kill their president twice. He was their No. 1 terrorist, and now their commandos have taken him down and put him behind bars."
Conway said that with Libbi now in custody, other terrorists have something to think about. "I think it should send a strong message to bin Laden and his followers that you are not going to rest in peace as long as this global war on terrorism is in search of you and your compatriots," he said. "We will hunt you to your dying days and either capture you, or kill you if you resist."