BAGHDAD, Iraq – Al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi survived catastrophic internal injuries and bone fractures for nearly an hour after his safe house was struck last week by two 500-pound bombs, according to autopsy results provided Monday by the U.S. military.
Concussive blast waves from the U.S. airstrike caused massive hemorrhaging in his body and ruptured his lungs, causing his death, the report says.
Despite those injuries, al-Zarqawi still was fading in and out of consciousness when U.S. forces arrived at the shattered house near Baqubah less than half an hour after the bombing. Medics attempted to clear his airway of blood and re-establish his failing pulse, but he died 52 minutes after the initial blast, the autopsy indicates.
Sheik Abdel Rashid Rahman, the spiritual adviser who unwittingly led U.S. forces to al-Zarqawi, died of more severe injuries. They included shrapnel wounds and a fatal skull fracture that may have been caused by shrapnel or from being catapulted against a hard surface.
U.S. officials said both men have been identified using DNA testing.
Army Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, a military spokesman in Iraq, also said that between Saturday and Monday, U.S. and Iraqi forces conducted 140 operations nationwide, of which 11 were driven by intelligence gleaned after the bombing of al-Zarqawi’s safe house.
American officials have said they found a “treasure-trove” of information about al-Qaida in Iraq amid the shattered remains. Raids driven by that information were focused within an eight-mile radius of Baghdad, Caldwell said.
U.S. and Iraqi troops killed 32 suspected insurgents and detained 178 others, including a “high-value” individual with a $50,000 bounty, Caldwell said. U.S. officials declined to identify that person, but the general said an Iraqi tipster had helped American troops make the arrest.
Caldwell also confirmed that U.S. troops inadvertently killed two boys – a 6-month-old and a 6-year-old – when American soldiers engaged in a gunbattle with suspected insurgents in Baqubah.
U.S. forces killed suspected insurgents and detained one man. The insurgents were on top of a building and had fired on U.S. servicemen, Caldwell said.
Iraqi army Brig. Gen. Qassim Musawi said many of the U.S.-led raids relied on intelligence gathered before the attack on al-Zarqawi. He said at least three Iraqi army divisions participated in the operations in Baghdad and Baqubah.
A recent increase in U.S. military activity in the western city of Ramadi was unrelated to al-Zarqawi’s death, Caldwell said, and had been planned before the airstrike against the insurgent leader.
Also on Monday, a militant Islamic Web site announced that the leadership council of al-Qaida in Iraq has chosen a new leader, Sheik Abu Hamza, also called “Al Muhajir,” or “The Immigrant.” U.S. officials said last week they expected a shadowy operative known as Abu Ayyub Masri to take the reins of the organization.
In the attack on al-Zarqawi, a U.S. Air Force F-16 dropped the first of two 500-pound bombs at approximately 6:12 p.m. Wednesday, Caldwell said. A short time later, the second bomb was dropped.
Iraqi police, who rushed to the bomb site after hearing the explosions, were the first on the scene.
Caldwell said Iraqi police were not notified beforehand of al-Zarqawi’s whereabouts and were not part of the airstrike operation.
According to U.S. sources, Special Operations soldiers were the first Americans to arrive. Caldwell said American troops were at the scene by about 6:40 p.m.
Medics immediately attended to al-Zarqawi, Caldwell said, by securing his airway. At that point, al-Zarqawi, who was lapsing in and out of consciousness, spit out a large amount of blood, the general said. The militant leader’s breathing was “shallow and labored,” Caldwell said.
“The medic then checked his cardiac pulse, which was barely palpable and quickly deteriorated, and therefore he determined that al-Zarqawi’s death was imminent,” Caldwell said.
Rahman was already dead when Iraqi police arrived, U.S. officials said.
Caldwell said the Iraqi government eventually will receive al-Zarqawi’s and Rahman’s bodies and decide what to do with them.