06/08/2006, 00.00
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Patriarch Delly sees ray of hope in al-Zarqawi's demise and in appointment of last Iraqi ministers

Six months since the elections the new prime minister appoints ministers to key defence and interior portfolios. Al-Qaeda confirms death of its chief operative in Iraq. Bush and Blair express satisfaction, but no one is under any illusion that terrorism is defeated.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – News that al-Zarqawi is dead and that the last posts in the Iraqi cabinet have been filled have given Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly "hope that violence may come to an end"; sadly, a man had to die. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari reacted to the news saying that it was a happy day for the Iraqi people, whilst US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed their satisfaction upon hearing of the death al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq. Another positive twist to the day's news also came when, six months since parliamentary elections, it was announced that Iraq finally had a full government after the key interior and defence portfolios were given respectively to Shiite Jawad Bulani and Sunni Abdul Qadir Mohammed al-Obeidi.

"There is great hope that the violence that is torturing us might end, "said Card Emmanuel III Delly, "but we reaffirm that the best solution is always dialogue and not killing. Murdering one another for personal reasons cannot bring anything good. Loving, not killing one another, this is the path to follow."

Al-Zarqawi, who had a US$ 25 million (€ 20 million) price on his head, died late yesterday afternoon in an air strike thanks to intelligence that led to a safe house in the village of Hephep, north of Baquba, in Diyala province, Coalition commander in Iraq, General George Casey, said.

Two US F-16 fighter jets hit the target at 6:15 pm. Units of the Iraqi army and police as well as US marines then followed. In addition to al-Zarqawi, six other people died, including a woman and a child apparently.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and General Casey held jointly the press conference announcing the news, which were received with applause by those present, to underline its importance. US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad was also present. Iraqi police and soldiers also rejoiced upon hearing the news.

Iraqi FM Zebari told the BBC that the elimination of the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq was devastating blow to terrorism but added that it won't stop the violence.

British PM Blair expressed his satisfaction, whilst US President Bush said that "last night, their [coalition and Iraqi forces'] persistence and determination were rewarded" and that al-Zarqawi's death was a severe blow to al-Qaeda. He warned however that "[w]e can expect the terrorists and insurgents to carry on without him".

"The death of our leaders is life for us and only makes us more determined to continue the jihad until God's name is raised high," said a statement released on the al-Qaeda-linked Al-Hisbah web site. This confirms Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death and, in its own way, shows Osama Bin Laden's group acknowledging the heavy blow it received in an attempt more to encourage its followers than to inform the world.

Although all agree that the blow was heavy indeed, experts warn against too much cheering. British defence analyst Paul Beaver, while praising the developments as the "first bit of good news for the coalition," was cautious saying that it might spark a wave of retaliatory strikes in the coming weeks. "This is not over by any means. There will be more violence," he told the BBC.

By contrast, Michael Clarke, director of the International Policy Institute at King's College London, said that because of the devotion al-Zarqawi inspired in his followers, his loss to al-Qaeda could be felt more keenly. "If Osama is captured or killed, I would say it probably would not make much of a difference to the movement. But in the case of Zarqawi being killed, it is quite a big blow, which will not be felt immediately."

"Al Zarqawi appeared to have influence over 10,000 fighters", and had a "big handle on the Sunni and external elements," Clarke said.

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