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Army general: Al-Zarqawi alive when U.S. troops arrived

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Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell speaks to reporters from Baghdad on Friday.

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(CNN) -- U.S. Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, spoke with reporters at the Pentagon on Friday via a video link from Baghdad, Iraq. Here is a partial transcript.

CALDWELL: I'm glad to be here today to help clarify and further elaborate on anything that's gone on in the last 48 hours here in Iraq. (Watch general explain how U.S. troops found al-Zarqawi -- 4:32)

As we stated the other day, it's very, very important for everybody to understand, the elimination of Zarqawi is not going to stop the violence here in Iraq. I mean, clearly, as General Casey stated -- and he's correct -- it is an important step forward; it's a big one. But at the same time, we still have some tough times ahead of us.

The Iraqi people are going to assume a great responsibility here. The prime minister himself has stated, those who elected and put them into power are the same ones now that have to rid Iraq of the violence -- of the violence like Zarqawi.

And so, the people have a big part to play, but there's a government in place, duly elected. We've appointed the minister of defense, interior and national security. The prime minister now has a full cabinet. He's got a plan for Baghdad he's announced, a Baghdad security plan. And we're actually very optimistic as we move forward here, having set a lot of conditions that give them that opportunity to take greater control of their country with us working in support of them.

QUESTION: ... Could you give us a definitive word on how many people were killed in the airstrike and also give us the rationale for choosing to take Zarqawi out, kill him outright, rather than try to capture him and exploit the intelligence value -- capture him alive?

CALDWELL: OK. ... I just flew back in here about two hours ago from a location where I was getting some of the debriefing material to look at so I can better answer ... questions.

What I would tell you is I have not sat and talked to them and asked them exactly why the decision was made to attempt to take him utilizing an airstrike. I have to go back and ask that question. But clearly that was the decision that was made by the commander on the ground.

I would assume if we would had gone in there and tried to have captured him, that would have taken some kind of overwhelming force at that point in time, and that perhaps they didn't have it read.

But we'll have to check on that.

QUESTION: And the first question, General, how many people were killed in the attack? And who was the commander on the ground that you referred to?

CALDWELL: The attack casualties, I was asking again about today to help clarify that. I was told that they're still giving me the final confirmation.

As with any operation that ever occurs, first reports are never 100 percent correct, and we do continue to follow up to make sure we have established exactly what the facts were on the ground.

I do know from what they told me this afternoon that there were six people that were killed in that airstrike: three males, three females.

Different than what I read in the report yesterday, and so I had asked them to go back and double-check it one more time so that we can be definitively sure exactly what it was. But the report that they were reading today and the back brief with me was three males and three females.

QUESTION: Also can you give us the definitive word now: Do you have any information that Zarqawi initially survived the airstrike, that he was alive at any point in the hands of either Iraqi or U.S. forces? And can you tell us if one of the women was identified as one of Zarqawi's wives, or someone related to him?

CALDWELL: What I can tell you, again, from the debriefs this morning, which gave us greater clarity than what we had before, is Zarqawi, in fact, did survive the airstrike. The report specifically states that nobody else did survive, though, from what they know.

The first people on the scene were the Iraqi police. They had found him and put him into some kind of gurney/stretcher kind of thing, and then American coalition forces arrived immediately thereafter on-site. They immediately went to the person in the stretcher, were able to start identifying by some distinguishing marks on his body. They had some kind of visual facial recognition.

According to the person on the ground, Zarqawi attempted to, sort of, turn away off the stretcher. Everybody resecured him back onto the stretcher, but he died almost immediately thereafter from the wounds he'd received from this airstrike.

As far as anybody else, again, the report says nobody else survived.

QUESTION: To clarify then, you can confirm that U.S. troops themselves saw and can confirm to you that Zarqawi was alive; that is confirmed by U.S. troops on the ground.

And his attempt to turn away, would you describe that as an attempt, even in the state he was in, to escape at that point? Why did you -- was he strong enough for anyone to have to resecure him?

CALDWELL: Again, I'm reading the report; I did not talk specifically to any uniformed person.

But according to the report, we did, in fact, see him alive. There was some kind of movement he had on the stretcher. And he died shortly thereafter.

But, yes, it was confirmed by other than the Iraqi police that he was alive initially.

QUESTION: Did anyone render medical assistance to him? Did U.S. troops try to render medical assistance?

CALDWELL: Again, as I was reading the report, they went into the process to provide medical care to him.

QUESTION: How ... many minutes was Zarqawi alive after the bombing and before he eventually expired? And had he been shot?

CALDWELL: When I was there today it became apparent that this kind of question would be asked. We're trying to put that exact minutes together from the time that we saw the Iraqi police arrive on site to when the first coalition forces arrived on site and when they were able to report that they thought he had died there. And we'll provide that -- we can put that together. We just don't have it at the moment.

QUESTION: Sir, had he been shot?

CALDWELL: There was nothing that I saw in the report, but I'll go back and specifically ask that. But, no, was there nothing in the report that said he had received any wounds from some kind of weapons system like that.

QUESTION: Will there be an autopsy performed, number one?

And number two, was Zarqawi able to speak? Did he say anything either to the Iraqi police or the American soldiers?

CALDWELL: If he said something to the Iraqi police I'm not aware of it.

According to the reports by the coalition forces that arrived on-site, he mumbled a little something, but it was indistinguishable and it was very short.

QUESTION: Will an autopsy be performed?

CALDWELL: They, in fact, have done some analysis of his body. I'll have to make sure I have the proper definition of what was done with Zarqawi's body, but I know they have done some kind of analysis. And I'll get that for you.

QUESTION: Two quick questions. How can you be sure that Zarqawi died as a result of the wounds he received from the explosion without a formal autopsy?

And secondly, when you were cleaning him up did you have to Photoshop his face or anything to make him more recognizable for the picture?

CALDWELL: To take your second question first, yes, his face was very, very bloodied. And we made a conscious decision that if we were going to take photographs of him and make them available publicly like we did in the press conference that we were going clean him up.

Despite the fact that this person actually had no regard for human life, we were not going to treat him in the same manner. And so, they did clean his face up for the shots that were shown publicly.

As far as the autopsy goes, I know that there was, quote, "an autopsy" done, but I'll go back and make sure it was performed by the certified kind of person that we're supposed to have so we can call it an autopsy and make sure I'm exactly correct before I tell you that.

QUESTION: Did you have to digitally enhance the photos at all to clean him up to show him to the world?

CALDWELL: No. The photographs there are the straight photographs. We did no digital enhancement from this end.

QUESTION: What's going to happen to Zarqawi's body after the autopsy? Does it get returned to Jordan to his family? And do you have anything on the identity of the others killed in the strike? Was it six victims total, including Zarqawi, or was it seven?

CALDWELL: Right now we are in consultation with the government of Iraq as far as the disposition of Zarqawi's body. I know that dialogue has been going on since after -- shortly after the strike and he was brought under coalition forces' control.

So that's still being deliberated. They may have made a decision late here this afternoon. They had not as of noon today.

As far as the identification of the other personnel goes, I know they're still working it. The only two that have been positively identified at this point, of course, is Zarqawi and al-Rahman. And, again, those we were able to do through fingerprint identification. DNA results have still not come back as of noon today, and we're waiting for those results, though, too.

The other four, they are trying to attempt to identify. But as of noon today, again, we had not.

QUESTION: The report yesterday that a child was killed in that, are you saying that that's not the case right now?

CALDWELL: I'm saying I'm not certain at the moment. Because the initial report that I was provided in fact said there was a child, and then when I went through the after-action review today -- again, as with any military operation, you get the first reports in. They're fairly accurate, but they're never complete. And then you give follow-on work to establish exactly what the factual facts are.

And the report today says it was six people, three males and three females; no children.

QUESTION: You mentioned yesterday that there were 17 raids conducting simultaneously in and around Baghdad after Zarqawi was confirmed dead. Can you give us any more information on this treasure trove of documents and information you got? And how many people were detained as a result of those raids?

CALDWELL: We, obviously, did conduct those 17 raids, and then last night we conducted an additional 39 operations across Iraq; some directly related to the information we had received, others have not a direct relationship.

I can show you some pictures from one of the raids. We did get some digital photos back from one site where they went in and they found a cache of things.

QUESTION: How many people you detained as a result of these raids?

CALDWELL: I was going through the figures today. I saw two different numbers. One showed a detention of 25 personnel with one killed. Another one had a different number. But I'll give you that number, that's lower of the two, until I can confirm it: 25 detained, one KIA. That's not a friendly. That's an enemy.

QUESTION: I was unclear whether you said it was six including Zarqawi that was killed, or whether Zarqawi makes seven.

And secondly, was there any plastic surgery used to reconstruct his face, to make it more presentable before yesterday's news conference?

CALDWELL: That number is six, which includes Zarqawi. So it's not seven, but just six total.

There was none that I know of. I'll verify that by going back and asking the question, but I did not see it stated anywhere that, in fact, that had occurred, so I don't think it did. But I'll verify that for you.

QUESTION: General, everybody's asking the question how possibly could he have survived seemingly intact after two 500-pound bombs were dropped on that facility.

Was he outside? Was he thrown clear? Is there any visibility on why he was able to survive those two bombs?

CALDWELL: Well, that's the exact same question I asked today when I sat down with several Air Force officers, to include some that were associated with the whole operation.

And they assured me that there are cases when people, in fact, can survive even an attack like that on a building structure. Obviously, the other five in the building did not, but he did for some reason.

And we do not know -- and I've looked through the report -- as to whether or not it was because he might have been right outside or whatever. We just don't have that granularity.

QUESTION: Two questions: One, the $25 million tip reward, what's the latest thinking on whether anybody will receive that?

CALDWELL: I think what everybody needs to understand is that when the coalition forces put together the information that led to this strike the other day, it was a painstaking effort, very focused over about three weeks. And during that time period there's a lot of information that came in allowing us to build that puzzle that led us to that evening when we were able to ascertain that Zarqawi was in that -- and Rahman were in that building together.

The information we had was never somebody coming forth and saying, "At this time, at this place you will find Zarqawi in this building." That did not occur.

In fact, it was the result of some tremendous work by coalition forces, intelligence agencies, partners in our global war on terrorism that all came together feeding different parts and pieces to allow us to build that puzzle to establish the patterns, the methods, the techniques which allowed us to track and then monitor things, which led us to that building that night to find Zarqawi in there.

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