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For the moment, Bush advisers say, a drawdown of U.S. forces isn't imminent. Bush plans to hold a two-day summit at Camp David this week in which Iraqi leaders will be beamed in by secure video lines for discussions about how to curb sectarian violence and kick-start reconstruction. Aides stressed this will not be a troop-withdrawal meeting--but the White House still faces pressure to show some kind of progress toward reducing U.S. involvement in Iraq. In Congress, both parties are scrambling to find ways to convince voters that they can bring troops home soon. Though Republicans on Capitol Hill danced giddily on al-Zarqawi's crater, they complain privately that what they consider Bush's stubbornness--his conviction that to withdraw would be to admit error--could cost them control of the House, if not the Senate. "If the war goes well, Republicans do better," says Connecticut G.O.P. Representative Chris Shays, who faces a tough re-election fight this year. "If the war goes badly, then Republicans will not fare as well. That's the reality." Democrats, though eager to congratulate the troops for knocking out such a heinous enemy, were just as eager to move on to the larger picture, arguing that al-Zarqawi's demise would have limited impact on the sectarian killings tearing Iraq apart. In the Senate, Democrats John Kerry of Massachusetts and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin are planning to offer amendments to a defense-spending bill that will call for U.S. combat forces to be withdrawn. "Our troops have done their job in Iraq, and they've done it valiantly," said Kerry, Bush's opponent in the 2004 presidential election. "It's time to work with the new Iraqi government to bring our combat troops home by the end of this year." Kerry told TIME, "Our troops did an incredible job killing this thug, and now he's out of the way."
Evaluating when the U.S. might be able to draw down its forces may hinge on the answer to another question: What will the absence of al-Zarqawi mean on the ground? U.S. military officials caution that the death of al-Zarqawi may not do much to erode the insurgency's strength in the short term, if measured by the number of attacks and casualties. Abu al-Bara, an al-Qaeda commander in Iraq, spoke to TIME and claimed the organization has a succession plan in place. "Let them be ready for our revenge in the name of our brothers and sisters who became martyrs on Iraqi soil," he says. Al-Zarqawi's foreign fighters always were merely a sliver of the bad guys in Iraq: intelligence estimates suggest al-Zarqawi commanded a few hundred men, of whom only a fraction were foreign jihadis. By most estimates that's less than 5% of the 25,000 to 50,000 insurgents believed to be operating inside the country. While al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq faction has been linked to some of the worst attacks in Iraq, homegrown Iraqi insurgents have shown themselves perfectly capable of building and deploying the improvised explosives that continue to bedevil and kill fellow citizens and U.S. troops. The sectarian violence al-Zarqawi helped spark with brutal attacks on Shi'ite "infidels" has taken root in the lawless country, with illegal militias and death squads murdering thousands of Iraqis in the past six months.