WASHINGTON – President Bush on Thursday said Iraqi and U.S. forces have "delivered justice to the most wanted terrorist in Iraq" after officials confirmed that the most wanted terrorist in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was killed.
"Through his every action, he sought to defeat America and our coalition partners and turn Iraq into a safe haven from which Al Qaeda could wage its war on free nations," Bush said during remarks made in the White House Rose Garden. "Now Zarqawi has met his end and this violent man will never murder again."
"Zarqawi was the operational command of the terrorist movement in Iraq. He led a campaign of car bombings, assassinations and suicide attacks that has taken the lives of many American forces and thousands of innocent Iraqis," Bush continued, adding that Usama bin Laden even called his recruit, "the prince of Al Qaeda in Iraq."
Although Zarqawi is dead, Bush warned that the "difficult and necessary" work in Iraq must continue as that country settles in with its new government that still faces seemingly increasing sectarian violence. Although that violence may continue, "the ideology of hate" that Zarqawi espoused has lost a key voice, the president added.
"Zarqawi's death is a severe blow to Al Qaeda, it's a victory in the global War on Terror and it's an opportunity for Iraq's new government to turn the tide of this struggle."
Zarqawi was killed along with seven aides Wednesday evening in a remote area 30 miles northeast of Baghdad in the volatile province of Diyala, just east of the provincial capital of Baqouba, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Thursday. The Jordanian-born militant had a U.S.-designated $25 million bounty on his head.
"No single person on this planet has had the blood of more innocent men, women and children than Abu Musab al-Zarqawi," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld later said during a NATO press conference in Brussels.
The defense secretary said the terror leader has exhibited "a behavior pattern that has been rejected by the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people ... and certainly by the overwhelming majority of Muslims worldwide."
White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters Thursday that the successful strike of Zarqawi — which was based primarily on intelligence provided by Iraqis themselves — "sends a message to terrorists that safehavens are going away."
"This is the kind of thing that can reinforce those who want to go ahead and stand up against terrorists in their midst," he added.
"I don't want people to get giddy about this or euphoric ... we need to understand it's still a war and there still is going to be complications"
'Evil People Meet Their Just Desserts'
Although the news of the terrorist's death came before daybreak in the United States, reaction was already streaming out of offices on Capitol Hill.
"To be able to wake up here … to having the No. 1 person on the most wanted list, the Al Qaeda leader in Iraq to be dead, is probably as good a news as any of us could have expected," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., told FOX News. "He's the operational guy … [Usama] bin Laden's in a hole somewhere, he's sort of like Saddam Hussein at this point, he's not giving orders."
"Sooner or later evil people meet their just desserts," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement. "The entire world of people who believe in freedom and peace can take solace in what happened."
"Al-Zarqawi has made his last video," added Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, chairman of the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee.
"Our military and intelligence forces have been patient, and their efforts have paid off in yet another success. They are relentless, and I have every confidence that, along with our Iraqi and coalition partners, they will succeed in destroying what remains of Zarqawi's terrorist network. ...The Iraqi people stood up against this threat to their nation, and in partnership with the U.S. military, ended Zarqawi's attempt to stop the march of freedom and democracy in Iraq."
"He was a terrorist thug who organized the bad guys against our soldiers, and the death of him is a step forward, but this isn't a silver bullet for Iraq or the war," added one senior Senate Republican aide. "A stable government, a secure environment, and people ready to work together to build a new Iraq and put the extremists and terrorists aside are still the parts of the recipe for success."
"The prince is no more. I think that's good news. I'm hoping that we will continue to pursue — I know we will — Usama bin Laden, we'll get him too," Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., told FOX News. "But this is what the troops are all about. They're doing a lot better than people think; they're pursuing, they're relentless, they have to be."
No Silver Bullet
Zarqawi developed ties to mujahedeen while fighting alongside them during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Intelligence officials believe he had cells or links to Muslim extremists in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Pakistan and Kuwait.
"The death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, while important, will not mean the end of violence in that country," Rumsfeld said. "But let their be no doubt, the fact that he is dead is a significant victory in the battle against terrorism in that country and, I would say worldwide, because he had interests well outside of Iraq. He was an integral part in the War on Terror."
Officials were also quick to note that with Zarqawi's death does not come a quick end to violence in Iraq or an easier path toward democracy.
"It's not the end all of what's going on. We'll continue to be challenged, we're up to the challenge," Shelby said. "It's turning the corner, it's not there but it's turning the corner …it's a long mountain to climb."
"The death of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi is a clear win against the forces of radical Islam in the Middle East," said House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who last week led a congressional delegation to Iraq. "While this is not the silver bullet to create peace and stability in Iraq, it is a victory over Al Qaeda and the murderous ideology of terrorism."
Added Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio: "While we must not become complacent, the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is indeed a major victory in the global War on Terror. Al-Zarqawi was a terrorist, a murderer and a coward. Usama bin Laden has lost his 'Prince of Al Qaeda in Iraq'. We will do everything possible to help Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki get his government off the ground and, God willing, move his country forward as we work to make Iraq truly free."
U.S. authorities are unclear who would succeed Zarqawi as the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq; a number of the ringleader;s deputies have been killed in recent months.
Bush will meet Monday at Camp David with members of his national security team and other members of his Cabinet to discuss the next steps in Iraq. On Tuesday, Iraq's new ambassador to the United States is scheduled to the group for a teleconference discussion with the prime minister and members of the Iraqi cabinet.
"The death of Zarqawi does not overnight change the situation but I think in the long run, it will have an affect ... nobody expects a snap change," Snow said. "There will absolutely be discussions of what lies ahead and how we can best support Iraqi forces."
He repeated an oft-said White House comment that Bush will base his decision on whether to pull out more U.S. troops from Iraq on what his military commanders on the ground recommend.
The president learned of the strike that killed Zarqawi late Wednesday afternoon during a meeting.
The U.S. ambassador to the Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, called Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, around 3:25 p.m. EDT Wednesday, saying that they had "solid intelligence" that a strike had hit Zarqawi and his senior aides in a safehouse near Baqouba. At that time, Bush was in a meeting with members of Congress who had just returned from Iraq. Just before Hadley got up to take the call, Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., told the gathering that Zarqawi needed to be taken down, White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters Thursday. Around 3:45 p.m., Hadley received a second phone call from Khalilzad with an update; Bush was still not aware of the airstrike.
"We had no idea what was going on but we suspected something pretty significant," LaHood later told FOX News. "The president called me this morning and said … 'hey, you might go down in history' … we had a good laugh about it."
At 4:20 p.m., Rumsfeld called Hadley from Brussels to say defense officials were increasingly confident this was the case.
At 4:35 p.m., Hadley told Bush about the airstrike. Also in the room were Vice President Dick Cheney, White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
If the news was true, Bush said, "that would be a good day." Snow said the president commented on the Special Forces Unit who had been tracking Zarqawi. They did not yet have confirmation that Zarqawi was dead; that didn't come until 9:20 p.m. from senior military commanders who said that fingerprints, facial features and scarring matched.
White House officials said they hope to have DNA evidence within 24 hours.
FOX News' Bret Baier and Trish Turner contributed to this report.