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U.S. Military Attempting To Verify Reports About Zarqawi

26 May 2005

Pentagon says it has no independent corroboration terrorist is wounded

Washington -- Army Brigadier General Carter Hamm says the U.S. military has no independent corroboration that the Jordanian terrorist in Iraq linked to al-Qaida, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has been wounded or spirited out of the country.

During a May 26 briefing at the Pentagon, the deputy director for regional operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said efforts are under way to determine the veracity of reports on the Internet and elsewhere about Zarqawi’s condition and whereabouts.

Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said it is difficult to determine what is accurate in the reports coming out of the Middle East.  The principal deputy assistant secretary of defense noted that al-Qaida and its affiliates have used reports about its operatives in the past for purposes of misinformation and disinformation.

Even though Di Rita described Zarqawi as an important and wanted figure in the War on Terrorism, Hamm pointed out that he is only one individual in a very large organization.  He described Zarqawi’s operation as a network of cells spread throughout Iraq.  Although Zarqawi’s cells are located regionally, the general said, they are reliant, to a degree, on centralized funding.  Efforts to disrupt that financing are under way.

Even if Zarqawi is removed from the power structure, Hamm said his network of followers will remain lethal.  His organization is resilient and “won’t crumble or cease to exist” without him, the military official said.

Hamm also said Iraqi counterinsurgency operations that are under way reflect “the growing confidence and capability of the Iraqi security forces.”  They are also increasingly making effective use of intelligence being passed to them by local Iraqi citizens, he said.  This comes as Iraqi and U.S. forces searched for three inmates who escaped from Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad May 26.

Asked about reports of gunfire on the long and porous Iraqi-Syrian border, Hamm described such occurrences as unusual and infrequent.

In response to a question about the size of the U.S. force in Iraq, the general said it totals around 139,000.  Troops are being rotated in and out of the country and, in the existing transition, he said, “the number of boots on the ground” will increase a bit. 

When asked about FBI reporting on allegations that the Quran was not properly respected inside a naval detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2002, Di Rita responded that the detainee who made the original allegation has been identified and interviewed in the past two weeks.  The unidentified detainee now says, “it didn’t happen,” according to the Pentagon spokesman.

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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