Atul Aneja

Fear of reprisal to Al-Zarqawi's killing

DUBAI: Fearing reprisals following the killing of wanted militant Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, Iraqi authorities banned vehicles from plying in the streets of Baghdad on Friday.

Al-Zarqawi, leader of the Al-Qaeda in Iraq, was killed in an air strike on Wednesday evening.

The ban on vehicular traffic was imposed in view of Friday prayers when crowds throng a string of mosques in the city. Al-Zarqawi's group has targeted Shia mosques in the past, raising sectarian tensions throughout the country.

Al-Zarqawi, who was of Jordanian origin, was killed when an F-16 aircraft fired two 500-pound laser guided bombs and destroyed a safe house where he was present along with his key supporters. The U.S. military authorities said on Friday the militant leader was still alive when Iraqi troops reached the safe house after the air raid.

Tip-off received

According to U.S. military spokesman, William Caldwell, Al-Zarqawi had tried to move off the stretcher where the Iraqi police had placed him. "Everybody resecured him back onto the stretcher, but he died almost immediately thereafter from the wounds he had received from this air strike." Al-Zarqawi had "mumbled something indistinguishable but it was very short," he said.

Efforts to nab Al-Zarqawi intensified in April when he made an appearance on video, filmed at a site, which could be identified. A tip-off about his meetings with his spiritual adviser Sheikh Abdul Rahman, helped to track him down. The real-time intelligence about his presence at a safe house in the village of Hibhib, 8 km from Baquba in central Iraq, appeared to have emerged from an "insider," prompting the precision air strike.

The U.S. military authorities claim that they have secured a "treasure trove" of information that would help in the extending their operations following Al-Zarqawi's killings. They acquired this data during the 17 raids that American forces and Iraq troops had mounted jointly.

There has been no drop in violence so far, following Al-Zarqawi's death. Three oil engineers have reportedly been killed while they were travelling on the road linking the refinery town of Baiji with Kirkuk, a key oil production centre in northern Iraq. An oil pipeline in Kirkuk has also been attacked, while an engineer from Iraq's state-oil company has been kidnapped.

At least 15 persons were killed when two car bombs exploded in Baghdad's mainly Shia areas on Thursday.