- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 11, 2006

BAGHDAD — Two U.S. military forensic specialists finished an autopsy yesterday on the remains of Abu Musab Zarqawi, part of the investigation to reconstruct the last minutes of his life before an American warplane bombed his hide-out, the U.S. Command said.

The examination comes after U.S. authorities acknowledged that the most-wanted terrorist in Iraq survived a Wednesday night air strike only to die in the presence of U.S. forces soon afterward.

“The autopsy is completed. However, we are not releasing results yet,” Maj. William Willhoite said. Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told “Fox News Sunday” he had not seen the autopsy results.

Meanwhile, Iran denied it had helped American forces to find Zarqawi. The Islamic republic welcomed his death, though, because it has close ties to the Shi’ite parties now dominating Iraq’s government, which Zarqawi had sought to topple.

“It is natural that we, like the Iraqi people, are happy from this occurrence,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said. “This doesn’t mean that we cooperated with the U.S. in getting him. We had no exchange of intelligence with the U.S. at all.”

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Baghdad, said Saturday the decision to fly in forensic specialists was made shortly after Zarqawi’s death. The air strike also killed five others, including Zarqawi’s spiritual adviser, Sheik Abdul Rahman.

“I think if we don’t do a full autopsy, then that might be irresponsible on our part,” Gen. Caldwell said. “I think we sort of owe that just for this reason: How did he actually die?”

He said the U.S. government thought it was important enough “that we grabbed two people in the last 48 hours and told them pack up and move to Iraq.”

Al Qaeda in Iraq, which Zarqawi had led, said in an Internet statement yesterday that its leading body had met to discuss strategy and renew a pledge to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

“We plan large-scaled operations that will shake the enemy and rob them of sleep, in coordination with the other factions of the Mujahedeen Council,” the statement said.

Nearly 40 people were killed in violent attacks yesterday, though it was not clear how many were the work of al Qaeda in Iraq.

A suicide car bomber slammed into a checkpoint near the city of Baqouba in one of the worst incidents, killing at least eight persons and wounding four. In the southern city of Amarah, attackers set a fire in a vegetable market to lure British soldiers into a gunbattle that left five civilians dead and more than a dozen injured by the crossfire.

An Iraqi man raised questions yesterday about Zarqawi’s death, telling AP Television News that he saw U.S. soldiers after the air strike beating an injured man resembling the dead terrorist until blood flowed from his nose.

Gen. Casey said the claim was “baloney.”

“He died while American soldiers were attempting to save his life,” Gen. Casey told “Fox News Sunday.” “So the idea that there were people beating him is ludicrous.”

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