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Death of insurgent leader a political boost for Bush
McClatchy Newspapers


June 09, 2006

WASHINGTON - In tracking down and killing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, U.S. and Iraqi forces may have given President Bush a political boost at a time he needs it badly.

Against a relentless drumbeat of bad news and historically low approval ratings for Bush, the fatal air strike on the leader of Iraq's al Qaeda insurgency is one accomplishment neither the second-term president's Democratic foes nor his conservative allies who have turned a cold shoulder of late can criticize.

"This is a good day for the Iraqi people, the U.S. military and our intelligence community," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Thursday. "Zarqawi was a cold-blooded killer who got what he deserved."




House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters, "It's good news, and frankly, with all of the news that we have had out of Iraq for some time, good news has certainly been welcomed."

Bush, making the announcement early Thursday morning from the White House Rose Garden, seemed as if he were still trying to absorb the news. He called Zarqawi's killing a "remarkable achievement" and, while anticipating violence would continue, added that "the developments of the last 24 hours give us renewed confidence in the final outcome of this struggle."

White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters he didn't expect tensions over domestic policy to evaporate as a result.

"There are a lot of people on the Hill who support the president on the war and don't support him on immigration," he said. "I don't think they're suddenly going to say, 'Whoop, changed my mind.' Those are still legislative issues that involve people's passions and political beliefs."

Indeed, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y., and Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., two of the most acerbic critics of proposals backed by the president that would allow millions of illegal immigrants to seek citizenship, held their fire on the border security front, refocusing their attention on praising the troops.

Snow also was sensitive to speculation about how this would help the administration politically.

"This is not PR," he said. "PR is selling soap. This is trying to build a basis for democracy."

But if Zarqawi's killing is part of a larger pattern that convinces Americans the new government in Iraq can begin to lead on its own, he said, "It gives people a chance to say, 'OK, let's take a look at what's happening here.' We'll have to see what happens in weeks ahead."

Should Zarqawi's death mark a turning point in containing the insurgency and stabilizing the forming democratic government in Iraq, analysts said, it could have a lasting benefit for Bush and his party back home.

But the killing - if it is an isolated accomplishment - may bring only temporary relief.

The capture of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in December 2003 gave Bush's approval rating a 7-point boost, from 50 percent to 57 percent, a Pew survey then found. But by April 2004, with the lawlessness worsening, Bush's job approval numbers slipped to 48 percent and continued sliding.

"We found it was fairly short-lived in that case because the violence really kind of took off," said Pew's associate director, Carroll Doherty.

Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio said that to restore public confidence in the war and the president, "Really, it takes more than one event like this to occur."

"On the pure political terms, 'Kill Zarqawi,' or 'Not kill Zarqawi,' I'd take 'Kill Zarqawi' any day of the week," Fabrizio said. "The thing that has been lacking for the president in Iraq is that a good thing will happen followed by two or three bad things.

"Hopefully, the killing of al-Zarqawi is a strike on the war on terrorism in and of itself, and it has a direct relationship to the stability of Iraq," Fabrizio said. "If that government can stay together, and calm sectarian violence, that would certainly be a good thing leading up to election day in the U.S."


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