Press Avail. with Sec. Rumsfeld en route from Brussels to Washington, D.C.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: First of all, General Casey and his team just deserve a lot of credit. They have been tracking that individual for a good long time, come very close on a number of occasions. This has to be a shock to the al Qaeda system, not just in Iraq but elsewhere. The benefit is enormous for the Iraqi people. Here’s a man who has killed literally thousands of people; innocent men, women and children. He has incited sectarian violence. He was a center of the financing network and of the operational network, and the link between the Iraqi operation and elements outside of Iraq. To replace that is not impossible but it takes time, it takes effort, it takes building of relationships and it is unquestionably a shock. A stunning shock to the al Qaeda system. I think that the combination of that on almost the same day that the Iraqi prime minister has been able to complete his cabinet nominations to go to the parliament is ironic. Zarqawi tried to stop everything that the government of Iraq has been doing. They tried to stop the elections in January and the referendum on the constitution, and the elections in December, the formation of this government, and on the very day he gets killed the government gets formed. There was a lot of criticism of the government. The political process, for failing to get it done faster since the December 15th
election, but by golly that’s a tough thing to do and it’s particularly tough when you tell all of the political people that just selected you to be prime minister that the deal’s off. I’m going to have a minister of defense and a minister of the interior who are not going to be part of the spoils process. They’re not going to be people who are just going to be divvied out as part of this coalition. The success of the government is dependent upon those people being competent, and those people being willing to behave in a way that assures the people of that country that they are in fact going to be fair to all elements of the society; the Kurds, the Shia, the Sunnis and others. And he stuck by his guns, he made that decision, he stuck by his guns. It took months, but he got it done. And I think it’s to his credit. He’s not been in office very long at all, but if you think about what he’s done so far he made that decision, which was the right decision and an important decision. Second, he made it stick. He outlasted those who wanted to have it become their favorite people for each element of the country and divide them up. The other things he did was, he announced, which took some courage, that high on the priority list was to deal with the militias. And he went down and saw Sistani, and Sistani, the senior Shia cleric in the country announced that he agreed that they should deal with the militias. Fourth, he announced that he was going to fashion a reconciliation process. And that is a fourth key decision before he even really got his cabinet formed and in office. Now that’s not bad. He’s demonstrated he’s the kind of person who can make decisions, he can make tough decisions. He’s willing to stick to his guns, and I think his early months as a relatively new political leader in Iraq, one has to give him very high marks. So I’m optimistic about what they have as a possibility. I think the reconciliation process is going to be a very important thing. It’s not going to be easy to do. There are going to be people who will differ about how it should be done, but he is going to, I think, get it done. He’s got priorities, he knows what’s important, and he’s going after it. The only other thing I’d say is that about December when the election was over I started cautioning everyone that the United States and the coalition countries are going to have to get used to dealing with a democracy that’s been elected under their own constitution and that has a parliament, and get used to hearing discordant things in our ears from, “someone in parliament thinks this and someone from parliament thinks that, and they’re going to be arguing about this and arguing about that, and they’re going to be fussing at the United States and they’re going to be fussing at other countries, and they’re going to be asking for this and asking for that.” And it’s going to be very much like the United States and other democratic systems where you hear all of these different views. And thus far we haven’t heard much of any different views. And we’re going to have to get used to it, and we’re going to have to accept that and recognize that that’s part of a democratic political process. They’re going to end up with Iraqi solutions, they’re not going to end up with American solutions to what they’re doing, and I think they’ve got a darn good crack at making it. I’ll answer a few questions.
QUESTION: Do you think this is the kind of thing, that much like some of the elections and the other slight movements of the government that might trigger an initial upsurge in violence by people reacting to his death?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I don’t know. I doubt it. You can have an upswing in violence that has nothing to do with his death. These things tend to get planned well in advance, and they could be in the process and you could have some things happening in the next week, 2, 3, 4, that were in place before anyone knew Zarqawi was dead. And people will point with alarm and say oh my goodness, we killed this person who likes to behead people and murder innocent men, women, and children and it’s caused an upswing in violence. Utter nonsense. You can have an upswing but I think linking it to that would surprise me.
QUESTION: Was Zarqawi betrayed by his own people?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I’m not going to get into it. You can be sure that the people who found him, just as the people who find almost everybody, don’t find them by accident. They spend a lot of time talking to a lot of people and figuring out how they can piece these puzzles together and it’s very difficult to do and they do a terrific job.
QUESTION: A statement out of Baghdad said that tips came from senior leaders of this element. I was just wondering if you...
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I’m not going to get into it.
QUESTION: Did General Casey give you any indication of how the troops reacted when they started getting this news?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I haven’t talked to him today. I talked to him last night a couple of times, but not this morning.
QUESTION: Sir, do we know what Zarqawi was up to in his final weeks, what operations he was running, why he was in the Baquba area, what he was trying to do in Baghdad?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, the Baquba area is where they found the, whatever it was, 10, 12, 15, 17 heads. That’s probably what he was doing. No, I’m sure the people who were tracking him and putting pieces together had a sense of what he was doing.
QUESTION: You had mentioned in the news conference that he was killed with people around him. Do you know much about this?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: 10, total, they’re working that problem now. A total of 10, including Zarqawi, was the last time that I talked to
QUESTION: 10 killed?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Ten killed in the same dwelling from the air attack that our forces ordered knowing Zarqawi was in there.
QUESTION: Can you just walk us through, again, your conversation with Casey, because it wasn’t clear in the press conference whether he told you beforehand saying, “hey we’re going to go get him” or whether he called you after the bomb was dropped. Can you just walk us through that?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: He called me after he knew the air strike had hit the dwelling, and someone had gotten in on the ground and identified him 70-80%. Not fingerprints, not DNA, but the clothes, face, some body marks that we knew he had, a weapon that looked like the weapon in the videos, things like that. They had enough that General Casey had high confidence that this was Zarqawi, and we just decided, obviously, not to say anything about it until we were able to get the fingerprints and double check it.
QUESTION: Is there a designated successor for Zarqawi that we know of?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I’m sure that the intelligence people could probably tell you 2 or 3 people who had various roles and who would be likely prospects, but he’s Jordanian. It could also be somebody outside the Iraqi network. Time will tell. Thanks, Folks.