June 8, 2006 — -- Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was a vicious killer and the most prominent face of terrorism in Iraq, but U.S. and Iraqi officials debated whether his death would trigger a renewed vigor in the Iraq insurgency.
The al Qaeda in Iraq group that al-Zarqawi led claimed today that his death was good news -- that he would be seen as a martyr whose death will motivate them to carry on in their jihad.
It's a message that concerned some local officials.
"I anticipate that in the coming hours and days, the terrorists will seek to increase their attacks to demonstrate they are still relevant, and to take revenge," Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador in Iraq, told ABC News' Brian Ross.
But former White House terror czar Richard Clark, now an ABC News consultant, doubted that al-Zarqawi's death would be an effective recruitment tool to lure new terrorist and insurgent recruits.
"He doesn't have the kind of potential martyrdom people that bin Laden does," Clarke said. "This man was really a thug. He had been arrested at age 18 for rape and drug use. He personally was involved in a lot of street fighting."
Despite his international infamy, Zarqawi controlled only one of 14 major insurgent groups.
"Zarqawi had several hundred foreign fighters out of somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 insurgents," Clarke said.
Clarke conceded that al-Zarqawi's death will not hasten the end of the war in Iraq.
"Unfortunately for the loved ones of troops over in Iraq, this is not going to mean a big difference," said Clarke.
This morning President Bush hailed the death of al-Zarqawi as a "severe blow to al Qaeda" and "significant victory in the war on terror."
Clarke said the modest size of the terrorist leader's organization and his minimal involvement in the daily bomb attacks on coalition forces made that claim unlikely.
Though al-Zarqawi was a symbol of terrorism, he commanded only a few hundred people out of tens of thousands involved in the insurgency, Clarke told "Good Morning America."