ABOARD E-4B AIRCRAFT EN ROUTE TO WASHINGTON, June 8, 2006 - It's ironic that terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed yesterday just as the Iraqi government he tried to derail scored some significant successes, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said today.
Rumsfeld announced the Jordanian terrorist mastermind's death during a session of a NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels earlier today. He expanded on the subject on the flight home.
"This has to be a shock to the al Qaeda system, not just in Iraq but elsewhere. The benefit is enormous for the Iraqi people," Rumsfeld told reporters traveling with him.
"Here's a man who has killed literally thousands of people -- innocent men, women and children. He has incited sectarian violence. He was a center of the financing network and of the operational network, and the link between the Iraqi operation and elements outside of Iraq."
This blow, coupled with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki today announcing he had named people to the key Cabinet positions of defense and interior, is "a stunning shock" to the insurgency in Iraq, Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld noted that Maliki had come under criticism for the delay in naming Cabinet ministers to these crucial posts. Ministers of defense and interior are vital because these two posts oversee the military and police forces, respectively.
But Rumsfeld today praised the Iraqi leader for the careful way he made his decisions. He said Maliki made the right decision in naming Cabinet officers who were not part of the "spoils system" of politics but who would perform their duties fairly.
"The success of the government is dependent upon those people being competent and those people being willing to behave in a way that assures the people of that country that they are, in fact, going to be fair to all elements of the society -- the Kurds, the Shiia, the Sunnis and others," Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld also said he was particularly impressed that Maliki proposed a reconciliation process and that he announced he would make it a top priority to deal with militia forces within Iraq to try to end violence there.
"(Maliki has) demonstrated he's the kind of person who can make decisions; he can make tough decisions," Rumsfeld said. "He's willing to stick to his guns, and I think his early months as a relatively new political leader in Iraq, one has to give him very high marks."
The secretary added that he's optimistic about the political process in Iraq because of the decisions Maliki is making.
Rumsfeld also praised Army Gen. George Casey Jr. and the coalition forces who carried out the mission that killed Zarqawi yesterday.
"General Casey and his team just deserve a lot of credit," he said. "They have been tracking that individual for a good long time -- come very close on a number of occasions."