- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2006

4:09 p.m.

Some Democrats, breaking ranks from their leadership, today said the death of terrorist leader Abu Musab Zarqawi in Iraq was a stunt to divert attention from an unpopular and hopeless war.

“This is just to cover Bush’s [rear] so he doesn’t have to answer” for Iraqi civilians being killed by the U.S. military and his own sagging poll numbers, said Rep. Pete Stark, California Democrat. “Iraq is still a mess — get out.”

Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat, said Zarqawi was a small part of “a growing anti-American insurgency” and that it’s time to get out.

“We’re there for all the wrong reasons,” Mr. Kucinich said.

Officially, Democratic leaders reacted positively to the news and praised the troops that successfully targeted al Qaeda’s leader in Iraq with 500-pound bombs at his safe house 30 miles from Baghdad.

“This is a good day for the Iraqi people, the U.S. military and our intelligence community,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

President Bush said that yesterday’s killing of the 39-year-old Jordanian-born terrorist offers an opportunity to “turn the tide” in the war and that Tuesday he will discuss with Iraqi leaders “how to best deploy America’s resources in Iraq.”

A senior White House official cautioned that Mr. Bush was not hinting at possible early reductions in U.S. troops there, according to Reuters news agency.

Meanwhile, Democrats sprinkled caveats throughout their praise.

“That is good news; he was a dreadful, vicious person,” said Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat. Mr. Conrad added that he hopes the military can get Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, another top al Qaeda leader.

“They’re even more important,” he said.

Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Michigan Democrat, said it was good news but added, “I think we have a long way to go.”

Republicans called Zarqawi’s death a positive step and thanked Iraqi citizens for standing up to a threat against their nascent Democracy.

“I am more optimistic than ever that a free and stable Iraq can be achieved,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee.