Officials Discuss Zarqawi, Al Qaeda

By Jim Garamone

Terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a shadowy figure affiliated with al Qaeda who is helping to plan and carry out anti-coalition attacks in Iraq, Defense Department officials said here today.

Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita and Joint Staff Operations spokesman Army Brig. Gen. David Rodriguez said Zarqawi is one of the 10 or 15 most important terrorists for the coalition to kill or capture. The two men spoke during a Pentagon news conference.

Their information follows Army Gen. John Abizaid’s revelation that Zarqawi was linked to attacks in Baghdad and Karbala that killed almost more than 100 Shiia pilgrims and wounded more than 500. Abizaid commands the U.S. Central Command.

How Zarqawi fits in the al Qaeda puzzle is a question U.S. officials are trying to work out. He is Jordan-born and has been affiliated with Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist group that has operated in Iraq for years. Zarqawi has known links to al Qaeda.

"The al Qaeda network is a huge puzzle," Rodriguez said. "It’s a network that’s tough to put all the lines and faces in places. Zarqawi has a long-term affiliation with al Qaeda."

What’s more, the tactics, techniques and procedures that the terrorists are using against Iraqis are straight out of the al Qaeda strategy. Abizaid said coalition intelligence pointed to a link between Zarqawi and former regime intelligence officials. Neither Di Rita nor Rodriquez would go beyond that statement.

Turning to Haiti, Rodriguez said about 1,000 U.S. Marines are in and around the capital of Port-au-Prince. They have been joined by about 600 troops from Canada, France and Chile. He said the Haitian police are back on the job and handling most law enforcement situations in the capital.

Rodriguez said U.S. Southern Command is working with friends in the region who wish to help the effort. Di Rita said the State Department also is speaking to allies about providing troops to stabilize Haiti.

The interim force – which the United States leads – is setting the groundwork for a United Nations Multinational Force. The interim force has a mandate for the next three months.