- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Pentagon yesterday said Abu Musab Zarqawi’s deadly terror network in Iraq will go on killing even if Zarqawi has been wounded, as has been reported by Islamic Web sites.

Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, who earlier this year commanded troops in Mosul, said the U.S. has not confirmed the Internet reports, or a statement from the Iraqi defense minister that the No. 1 fugitive in Iraq is seriously wounded.

Gen. Ham said the U.S. prefers to capture Zarqawi rather than kill him. This preference is presumably based on the prospect that he would provide information on his al Qaeda network in Iraq, which is recruiting hundreds of jihadists from around the region.

“We do not have an independent corroboration of the statements from the Iraqi government officials,” said Gen. Ham, the deputy director for regional operations for the Pentagon’s Joint Staff.

“While Zarqawi certainly is an important character, his organization is bigger than just one guy,” Gen. Ham added. “So his demise, whether he be captured, which would be preferable, or if he’s killed or wounded, that will not cause al Qaeda in Iraq to cease to function. … If he’s killed or captured, it won’t cause the organization to necessarily crumble.”

Chief Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita said all the Internet chatter could be disinformation about a fugitive the U.S. is hunting with a number of intelligence assets and special operations troops.

“We know al Qaeda is active on the Internet,” he said. “We know that they have used it for information and for disinformation. … There’s a lot of theories going around as to whether there may be a desire to spread information that’s inaccurate, for a variety of reasons.”

Joint U.S.-Iraqi forces have been hot on Zarqawi’s trail for months, especially since the capture of Fallujah last November that denied him a sanctuary.

Marines and special operations forces came within minutes of capturing him last March, but he jumped off a truck and ran to safety before his convoy was stopped near Ramadi.

U.S. officials say the Jordanian-born Zarqawi is a bloodthirsty multipurpose terrorist, able to recruit suicidal jihadists, raise money and plan deadly attacks while he stays continually on the move.

He has pledged allegiance to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, renamed his network Al Qaeda in Iraq and orchestrated scores of suicide car bombings the past month that have killed hundreds of civilians and coalition troops.

A recent audio message attributed to Zarqawi justified the killings of civilian Iraqis, including children, as a way to rid Iraq of Americans. The U.S. captured a letter intended for Zarqawi from a lieutenant who wrote that their ultimate goal is to turn Iraq into an Islamic state.

“He’s an important figure,” Mr. Di Rita said. “There isn’t any question about that … We just don’t have the information as to where he is presently.”

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