Zarqawi Killed in Iraq

ZARQAWI KILLED IN IRAQ….News reports this morning confirm that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed last night in Iraq.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the mastermind behind hundreds of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings whose leadership of the insurgent group al- Qaeda in Iraq made him the most wanted man in the country, was killed Wednesday evening by an air strike near Baqubah, north of Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Thursday.

The stated aim of the Jordanian-born Zarqawi, in addition to ousting U.S. and other forces from Iraq, was to foment bloody sectarian strife between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, a prospect that has become a grim reality over the past several months.

Iraqi and U.S. officials agreed that his death would not necessarily stem the violence and insurgency — and as if to prove the point, an explosion ripped through a busy outdoor market in Baghdad just a few hours after Zarqawi’s killing was announced. Regardles, when a dangerous terrorist can no longer wreak havoc, it’s good news.

One relevant angle to this story, however, that has not been emphasized (or even mentioned) by most news outlets this morning is that Zarqawi could have been taken out years ago, on several occasions, but Bush decided not to strike.

NBC News has learned that long before the war the Bush administration had several chances to wipe out his terrorist operation and perhaps kill Zarqawi himself — but never pulled the trigger.

In June 2002, U.S. officials say intelligence had revealed that Zarqawi and members of al-Qaida had set up a weapons lab at Kirma, in northern Iraq, producing deadly ricin and cyanide.

The Pentagon quickly drafted plans to attack the camp with cruise missiles and airstrikes and sent it to the White House, where, according to U.S. government sources, the plan was debated to death in the National Security Council.

“Here we had targets, we had opportunities, we had a country willing to support casualties, or risk casualties after 9/11 and we still didn’t do it,” said Michael O’Hanlon, military analyst with the Brookings Institution.

This NBC report was later confirmed by the Wall Street Journal and Australian journalists who got on-the-record comments from the former head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit.

So, while it’s no doubt good news that Zarqawi is no more, it’s worth remembering that Bush wasn’t willing to hit this known al-Qaeda terrorist in a known location based on air-tight intelligence before the war even began.