BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The United States has conducted at least 56 raids against targets connected with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq organization in the first 48 hours since his death, seeking to capitalize on his killing by disrupting his network of fighters, military officials said.
After bombing a dwelling where al-Zarqawi and five others were killed Wednesday, U.S. forces conducted 17 raids across Baghdad and struck 39 additional sites yesterday, said Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad.
Military officials showed off pictures of items seized in the raids, including weapons, uniforms and ammunition, and said at least 25 people were captured and one killed. But they did not provide an assessment of the extent of damage the raids inflicted on insurgent operations.
Like the White House, U.S. military commanders maintained a measured reaction to al-Zarqawi's death but expressed greater satisfaction yesterday, calling it "an important step forward." Iraqi officials banned vehicular traffic in Baghdad as they braced for retaliatory attacks, and reports indicated that a U.S. convoy was struck by a roadside bomb in Ramadi, touching off battles around the city between insurgents and U.S. and Iraqi forces.
U.S. officials also provided additional details of the al-Zarqawi attack, revealing that the insurgent leader survived for a few minutes after his safe house was hit by two 500-pound bombs. Caldwell said the Iraqi police first on the scene put al-Zarqawi on a stretcher, which was where he was found by the American forces arriving on the scene.
"Zarqawi attempted to sort of turn away off the stretcher," Caldwell said. "Everybody resecured him back on the stretcher, but he died immediately thereafter from the wounds he had received from the airstrike."
Before al-Zarqawi died, Caldwell said, he mumbled some words, but they were unintelligible. Caldwell also said al-Zarqawi had been badly bloodied in the bomb blast and that coalition forces had "cleaned up his face" for otherwise unaltered photographs of his corpse.
Describing the raids after al-Zarqawi's death, Caldwell said the first 17 operations were conducted against suspected al-Qaida personnel whom the coalition had been watching. However, no action had been taken against them previously "because they were giving us key indicators at different points in time as to where Zarqawi might be."
Information gathered from those raids and from the ruins of al-Zarqawi's safe house helped lead to another series of operations Thursday. Caldwell said some of the 39 operations were directly related to the information developed from the first series of raids.
An Iraqi army source said U.S. and Iraqi forces executed raids in Diyala, near where al-Zarqawi was killed. The forces also detained 25 people in the village of Hibhib, the army source said.
President Bush said yesterday that Muslim extremists in Iraq had "lost their general." Although Bush has been trying to temper his enthusiasm, in a news conference with the Danish prime minister, Bush showed exuberance over the death of the most prominent insurgent in Iraq.
"I am thrilled that Zarqawi was brought to justice," Bush said. "Zarqawi's death helps a lot. It's a big deal, but it's certainly not the end of the conflict."
One of the biggest questions confronting officials is the fate of al-Zarqawi's organization. Caldwell again indicated that military officials in Iraq believe that the leadership vacuum is likely to be filled by a shadowy al-Qaida operative known as Abu Ayyub Al Masri. Al Masri is Egyptian-born, and Caldwell said that he and al-Zarqawi met at the al Farouk training camp in Afghanistan in 2001 or 2002.
Despite Caldwell's comments, U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials in Washington said it is far from clear that Al Masri will emerge as the new leader of al-Qaida in Iraq.
Julian E. Barnes, Solomon Moore and Greg Miller write for the Los Angeles Times.