Some Democrats, breaking ranks with their leadership yesterday, said the death of terrorist leader Abu Musab Zarqawi in Iraq wasn’t significant and is being used to divert attention from an unpopular, unsuccessful war that should be ended.
“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.”
“This insurgency is such a confused mess that one person, dead or alive at this point, is hardly significant,” said Rep. Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat. “Our troops are no safer today than they were yesterday. And no American is safer today.”
White House officials “can spin it all they want,” he said.
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 of Iraq. “We’re there for all the wrong reasons,” he said.
Democratic leaders and most rank-and-file Democrats, however, reacted positively to the news and praised the troops who successfully targeted the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.
“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.
“I salute the efforts of the American troops who have worked tirelessly to track down the evil terrorist al Zarqawi,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.
“It’s great news; our military did a great job,” said Rep. Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat.
“I think it’s significant,” said Rep. Melvin Watt, North Carolina Democrat.
President Bush said yesterday’s killing of the 39-year-old Jordanian-born terrorist offers an opportunity to “turn the tide” in the war and that on 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 early reductions in U.S. troops there, according to Reuters news agency.
Meanwhile, several Democrats hedged their praise with caveats.
“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 his top lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
“They’re even more important,” he said.
“It’s certainly good news,” said Rep. Albert R. Wynn, Maryland Democrat. He added, however, that “we have to get to the bottom of these civilian deaths” in Iraq.
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.
“I believe this is truly a significant development for the future of Iraq and the global war on terror,” said Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican.