LAHOOD 'PREDICTION' TARGETED TERRORIST
Peoria congressman recently told Bush the U.S. needed to catch Zarqawi
Peoria Journal Star June 9, 2006
U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood was among about 20 lawmakers, all recently returned from Iraq, who were invited to the White House late Wednesday afternoon to discuss the war with President Bush.
When it was his turn, the Peoria Republican had a suggestion.
"Mr. President, the best thing that could happen, the best thing that would really help the country and new leaders, is if we could catch (terrorist leader) Zarqawi," LaHood said in recounting the white House meeting on C-Span's "Washington Journal" Thursday morning.
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow told reporters "there was a little snickering in the room at the time." Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the terrorist leader who, Osama bin Laden called the prince of al-Qaida in Iraq, had long been a key target of the U.S. military.
Little did LaHood or the other lawmakers know he was bout to get his wish.
Even as the lawmakers were meeting with the president, National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley excused himself from the group several times. At 2:45 p.m. CDT, Hadley took a phone call from U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalizad in Baghdad, who said he thought Zarqawi had been killed in an air strike.
At 3:20 p.m. CDT, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called to say the same thing. The president wasn't told until after the meeting with lawmakers had concluded. It wasn't until after 8 p.m. CDT that forensic experts confirmed the body was indeed Zarqawi's, Snow said.
On Thursday, LaHood flipped on the television news to hear that Zarqawi had been killed by U.S. military forces.
"This is the best news we've had since the time that we sent in" to Iraq, LaHood said on C-Span. "It's as good as bringing down Saddam (Hussein), as good as capturing Saddam, all of the things that are going on with the Saddam trial." LaHood said it gives the new Iraqi government " the energy and the feeling that they can really move the country ahead."
Just before the C-Span appearance, LaHood said, he received a call from President Bush thanking him for his "prediction."
" 'You're now a part of our team and your prediction," he said, "take all the credit for it," ' recounted LaHood, who visited Iraq for the first time last weekend as part of congressional delegation led by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Yorkville.
Later in the day, LaHood elaborated on the president's call.
"He said something like, "LaHood, when history is written on this, you are going to get credit for bringing down Zarqawi and you should take credit for it," LaHood wrote in an e-mail, "I laughed and told him that I would not be taking credit for it, but that he should and what a great day it is for him and for the people of Iraq."
LaHood, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, has been a strong supporter of the bush administration's policy in Iraq.
"I knew that Zarqawi has been a source of murder and terrorism for entirely too long. And the fact that he is now gone from the scene holds out the hope that we can move towards a more peaceful resolution in Iraq," said Sen. Dick Durbin.
But, he added, "the real test of our success in Iraq is when American troops have been safely redeployed and begin coming home. That is when the American people will know that our investment - all the lives and sacrifices - has been well-placed."
Sen. Barack Obama called Zarqawi "a brutal monster whose single-minded goal was to sow3 instability and the death of innocent Iraqis and American forces."
"While this successful attack will not completely end the insurgency in Iraq, it does strike a makor blow against al-Quaida and gives hope to the possibility of a secure and stable Iraq. It is an encouraging development that should fill Americans and Iraqis with pride," Obama said.