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Iraq Transition

Al-Zarqawi death seen as one victory in long war

Thousands of insurgency groups still at work in Iraq
Al-Zarqawi is seen in an image from a video aired in April by the Al-Jazeera network.



• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide


Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

(CNN) -- While the death of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a blow to the insurgency in Iraq, even top U.S. military leaders see it as one battle won in a long war.

"Although the designated leader of al Qaeda in Iraq is now dead, the terrorist organization will continue to try to terrorize the Iraqi people," Gen. George W. Casey Jr. said Thursday.

"The death of Zarqawi, while enormously important, will not mean the end of all violence in that country," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said. (Watch guarded optimism after the killing -- 2:59)

Reacting to al-Zarqawi's death, one Islamist Web site quoted an unnamed al Qaeda leader in Baquba as saying, "If Zarqawi is dead, there will be a thousand Zarqawis that will be ready to take over the helm of leadership."

Experts have said that although al Qaeda in Iraq received lots of attention and headlines in the Western press, there are thousands of small insurgency groups carrying out attacks in Iraq.

The effect of al-Zarqawi's death on those groups could have two effects, CNN's Octavia Nasr said.

"Some people say it will enrage the insurgency," Nasr said.

"Others say it will hurt pretty bad," Nasr said, because many Iraqis have tired of the presence and methods of the foreign fighters who make up most of al-Zarqawi's group.(Watch Arab world reaction -- 4:26)

Christiane Amanpour, CNN's chief international correspondent, said the "wholesale slaughter" of civilians by al-Zarqawi's foreign fighters had turned many Iraqis against the Jordanian-born leader. But many Iraqis remain committed to the campaign against U.S. troops.

"There is a very entrenched and very able and constantly adapting homegrown Iraqi insurgency," Amanpour said.

The challenge of Iraq's new government is to bridge the sectarian divide in Iraq and unite Shiites and Sunnis.

"Sunni insurgents, Shiite militias and death squads. That is what's really causing this cauldron there to boil, potentially out of control," Amanpour said.

U.S. Sen. Joe Biden, D-Delaware, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, echoed that view.

"There are basically three places where we have real problems," Biden said on CNN's "American Morning."

Biden cited the jihadists led by al-Zarqawi, "the 300,000 members of the [former Iraqi] military that disbanded but kept their weapons, and a significant portion of them are Sunnis, and they're the major part of the insurgency," and militia death squads "that have been roaming the country beheading people."

The latter two won't be slowed by the death of al-Zarqawi, Biden said, and the sectarian divide in Iraq remains.

"I don't think you're going to find anybody in the Sunni area turning in any Sunni for killing Shias. I don't think you're going to see anybody in the Shia area turning in anyone who is a Shia who is part of a death squad killing Sunnis," Biden said.

CNN's Henry Schuster called al-Zarqawi's group "the smallest but the most spectacular and bloodiest part of the insurgency." And Zarqawi's hands-on role -- he was suspected of being the person who beheaded American hostage Nicholas Berg in a video posted on the Internet -- was helping recruit new members.

"A tribal sheik had told us just how compelling Zarqawi had become as a figure to young Iraqis because he was a man of action," Schuster said.

While attacks cannot be expected to stop and some Iraqis may seek to emulate al-Zarqawi's martyrdom, CNN's Aneesh Raman reported that the death of al-Zarqawi may help build the confidence of average Iraqis in their government and in the ability of U.S. forces to protect them.

"When you speak to the soldiers on the front line trying to interact with Iraqis, the key is building confidence," Raman said, "not just in an Iraqi security force, but in the notion that the insurgency can and will end.

"When that confidence exists, Iraqis start to give information about people they know to be linked to the insurgency, attacks they know to be pending."

Sources say the intelligence that led to the attack on al-Zarqawi came from an Iraqi who was part of al Qaeda in Iraq.

CNN security analyst Richard Falkenrath, a former adviser to President Bush, said the al-Zarqawi operation may help U.S. intelligence agents get insurgents to turn on one another.

Captured insurgents, tricked into thinking "they've been ratted out," Falkenrath said, "reveal more information that can lead to further captures."

It's the kind of tactic agents "would use against the Mafia," Falkenrath said. "They try to get them from within."

Still, that approach takes patience, he said.

"For the moment we should celebrate," said U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, "and recognize that we have a tough, long haul ahead."

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