Officials were reluctant to speculate about the long-term impact of al-Zarqawi's death or the future of Iraq. The White House was careful not to predict that it will hasten the withdrawal of the more than 130,000 U.S. troops there.
"The death of Zarqawi does not change overnight the situation," White House spokesman Tony Snow said. "Nobody expects a snap change."
Al-Zarqawi, the most wanted terrorist in Iraq with a $25 million bounty on his head, was killed when U.S. warplanes dropped 500-pound bombs on his isolated safe house northeast of Baghdad, coalition officials said Thursday.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld also said that while the death of al-Zarqawi is a significant victory in the war on terror, it won't end terrorism.
"Given the nature of the terrorist networks, really a network of networks, the death of Zarqawi, while enormously important, will not mean the end of all violence in that country," Rumsfeld told reporters.
Rumsfeld, who has been under consistent fire from critics for his handling of the war in Iraq, took his time Thursday taking the stage for one of his military's most significant intelligence victories of late. When asked how the other defense ministers reacted to the news of al-Zarqawi's death, he adroitly said, "positively."
"But," he added, "let there be no doubt, the fact that he is dead is a significant victory in the battle against terrorism in that country, and I would say worldwide, because he had interests outside of Iraq. He was an integral part of the war on terror."
In Baghdad, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, flanked by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told a news conference that "al-Zarqawi was eliminated."
However, any hopes that the Jordanian-born terror leader's death would help stem the violence in Iraq immediately were dimmed hours later, when two bombs struck a market and a police patrol in Baghdad, killing at least 19 people and wounding more than 40. Later, a parked car bomb exploded in north Baghdad, killing six people and wounding 15.
The announcement of al-Zarqawi's death came six days after he issued an audiotape on the Internet, railing against Shiites in Iraq and saying militias were raping women and killing Sunnis and the community must fight back.
Al-Maliki said the air strike was the result of intelligence reports provided to Iraqi security forces by residents in the area, and U.S. forces acted on the information. Casey said the hunt for al-Zarqawi began two weeks ago, and his body was identified by fingerprints and facial recognition. The U.S. military also said a DNA analysis was also being performed, but emphasized there was no doubt that he was in the house that was hit.
CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reported that officials say the United States had been tracking a key aide to al-Zarqawi — his spiritual adviser, Sheikh Abed al Rahmen — to the area of Baqouba, a town about 30 miles northeast of Baghdad.
Iraq's foreign minister said the videotaped message al-Zarqawi released last week was also key in allowing intelligence experts to at least zero in on his location, CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reported.
A Jordanian official said Jordan also provided the U.S. military with information that helped in tracking down al-Zarqawi. Some of the information came from Jordan's sources inside Iraq and led the U.S. military to the area of Baqouba, the official said.