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A long trail to finding Zarqawi

Weeks of gathering a broad range of intelligence led to the successful strike.

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Before two 500-pound bombs were dropped onto a small house north of Baghdad Wednesday, American military officials "had absolutely no doubt whatsoever" that they had at last found their man.

The statement by Maj. Gen. William Caldwell was as provocative as it was vague. The effort was, he told reporters, an "exploitation of intelligence, information gathering, human sources, electronics, [and] signal intelligence that was done over ... many, many weeks."

Yet the details of what is perhaps the coalition's greatest tactical success of the war were largely omitted or conspicuously avoided. The certainty exuded by General Caldwell - and the success of the air strike - points to a deep penetration into whatever security measures Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had relied on to stay alive.

How the coalition managed to finally pin down a man who had become renowned for his hairsbreadth escapes, however, is a story that is only beginning to emerge.

What is certain at this point is that at 6:15 p.m. Iraqi time, American fighter jets dropped two bombs on a house near Baquba. Iraqi police were the first at the site after the bombing. Coalition troops arrived soon after. They confirmed that Mr. Zarqawi was dead, identifying him by fingerprints, facial features, and known scars and tattoos.

In his press conference, Caldwell insisted on spreading the credit as widely as possible, acknowledging both Iraqi and American contributions. Indeed, the immediate scramble to discover how coalition forces connected the dots leaves much unanswered.

In his speech announcing the success of the strike, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the operation was based upon tips given to Iraqi soldiers by local informants.

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