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."
The Jordanian-born terror leader was behind many high-profile attacks and beheadings, Clarke said, but was not involved in most of the roadside bombings that have made Iraq so dangerous for coalition troops.
"Al Qaeda in Iraq was probably the smallest of the 14 major insurgent groups," Clarke said.
Despite the name of his group, al-Zarqawi acted independently of bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network, Clarke noted.
"He had his own group that he was making a network in Europe and the Middle East."
'A Circuit Breaker for the American People'
White House officials hope al-Zarqawi's death will provide new momentum to coalition operations in Iraq and to the Iraqi government itself, ABC News Chief Washington Correspondent George Stephanopoulos said.
"They said Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had more American blood on his hands than even Osama bin Laden and, as they say, it doesn't get any better than this," Stephanopoulos said.
"No. 1, they think it could be a real booster shot for the Iraqi government -- that new Iraqi government, which is now expected to also announce new defense and interior ministers, a crucial move," Stephanopoulos said.
"Secondly, they hope this is going to be what they describe as a circuit breaker for the American people, allow them to look at Iraq with new eyes and start to look for the progress in Iraq."
Back in Iraq, the U.S. ambassador was hopfeul that al-Zarqawi's killing could prevent a civil war.
"It is a very positive development for those in Iraq who are trying to reconcile with each other while he was trying to increase the distance, the gap, the chasm between two major communities here, Sunni and Shia," ambassador Khalilzad said.