Was Zarqawi alive when U.S. troops got there? (Update: Yes!)

A tantalizing tidbit buried by WaPo:

Several discrepancies emerged in various accounts of Wednesday’s events. Police and witnesses at the scene told a Washington Post special correspondent that Zarqawi was only wounded in the attack and was whisked away by U.S. forces, dying in their custody. Caldwell said he was killed instantly.

Died in American custody? Wait ’til the Huffington Post hears. I hope it’s true; the thought that the last thing he might have seen before he closed his eyes was an American soldier staring down at him is, shall we say, highly satisfactory. Gen. Caldwell is giving a briefing as I write this in which he confirmed that Z-man was alive when the Iraqi police got there, so he’s already retreated from his earlier assumption about instant death. Stay tuned.

But there are other fish to fry now. Needless to say, you don’t need 17 raids if all you’re after is the guy in charge. From this morning’s NYT:

“On a scale of 1 to 10, the intelligence gathered was about an 8,” said the official, declining to give specific details and speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the subject for attribution. “The next 36 to 48 hours will be very crucial in prosecuting other targets. Our goal now is to target as many Qaeda members as possible and keep them off balance.”

To boost morale, Zawahiri and Mullah Omar(!) released statements this morning praising Zarqawi. Zawahiri’s was recorded before Z-man’s death, proving once again that the only person with a greater reserve of unreleased recordings than Al Qaeda is Prince. The FBI is doing DNA tests today to confirm his identity, although they say it’s purely a formality.

The major papers have details about the raid itself, the most vivid account of which is the Times’s. It wasn’t clear yesterday whether Zarqawi was betrayed intentionally or inadvertently; the early reports said the U.S. found him by following Sheikh Abd al-Rahman to the safe house, but Rahman didn’t know he was tailing them. Today’s Times article says it was intentional — not on Rahman’s part but on the part of an anonymous tipster who told Jordanian intelligence about Rahman’s links to the big Z and suggested they might want to start watching him. The Guardian and WaPo supply names: the former says the key tipster was a deputy named Kassim al-Ani who was arrested three days ago while the latter claims the breakthrough came last month when Ziad Khalaf al-Kerbouly, another deputy, was caught. It sounds like Kerbouly is the guy the Times was talking about whereas Ani, perhaps, was the one who provided the info about the specific when and where of the meeting with Z-man.

I guess they’ll be splitting the $25 million bounty. Update: Check that. Kerbouly won’t.

Meanwhile, back in Zarqa, Jordan, the good townspeople are mourning their favorite son:

“His body will not be coming back to Zarqa,” a member of the secret police said, before telling The Daily Telegraph that it was not safe for western journalists to approach the funeral preparations.

Children had stoned reporters’ cars and relatives of Zarqawi made it clear that representatives of foreign media were not welcome.

Fadil al-Khalayleh, Zarqawi’s elder brother, also told a Palestinian journalist to go away, accusing him of associating with a non-believer.

“May God have mercy on my brother,” he said. “He is a martyr and is in Heaven. You must go; you are not safe.”

The reaction among Iraqi Shiites and Iraqi bloggers is a bit more upbeat. I have to highlight this one from WaPo, though:

[A]n argument erupted on al-Jazeera itself. One of its guests, Hassan Salman, a Beirut-based Iraqi analyst, accused al-Jazeera of organizing what amounted to condolences for Zarqawi. When the anchor, Jamil Azer, said all parties were being interviewed, including Americans, Salman retorted: “We’re not Americans, we are the Iraqi people and today is a wedding day for us. This man was a nightmare to all of us, and especially to the Sunnis.”

More from WaPo with this op-ed by Prime Minister al-Maliki and this impossibly pretentious bit of wankery from Philip Kennicott.

Update: Gen. Caldwell just said at the briefing that 39 new raids were conducted last night, mostly around Baghdad. Michael Ledeen, writing for NRO, is also impressed by the sheer scale of Wednesday’s operations, calling them “the greatest counterterrorist operation in history.”

Update: One of our commenters was watching Caldwell’s briefing and says this:

A General in Iraq said this morning on Fox that he was indeed alive and that he tried to roll off the gurney when he saw the U.S. troops come in the room. He died shortly thereafter; so you can rest assured that one of the very last things he saw was U.S. troops staring down at him.

Awesome. I’ll try to find the exact quote.

Update: That didn’t take long. Sweet schadenfreude, rain down o’er me

“Zarqawi was alive when U.S. forces arrived on the site,” Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said in a satellite interview from Iraq. “The Iraqi police arrived first, they found him in the rubble, put him on a gurney of some type.”

Caldwell, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said Zarqawi tried to roll off the gurney to escape once he became aware of the fact that he was being taken into custody by coalition troops Wednesday night after two 500-pound precision guided bombs blew up his safehouse near Baqouba.

U.S. forces immediately identified him as Zarqawi but were unable to interrogate him because he died “shortly after” being pulled from the rubble, Caldwell said.