U.S. forces killed al-Qaida's top lieutenant in Iraq, Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in an airstrike northeast of Baghdad.
The news has been met with jubilation in much of Iraq, and been welcomed by world leaders.
First word of Zarqawi's death came from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at a news conference in Baghdad.
He said, "Today, Zarqawi was eliminated."
U.S. military commanders in Iraq showed cockpit video from one of two American warplanes, each of which dropped a precision-guided bomb on a farmhouse that had been used by Zarqawi and his associates as a terrorist safe haven near the provincial capital, Baqouba.
Major General William Caldwell:
"We had absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Zarqawi was in the house. There was 100 percent confirmation. And that was the deliberate target we went to get strike."
The commander of coalition forces in Iraq, General George Casey, said Zarqawi's body had been conclusively identified by fingerprint matching, facial recognition, and scars the terrorist mastermind was known to have.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari proclaimed, "It is a great day for the people of Iraq." At the White House, President Bush also welcomed the news.
"Zarqawi personally beheaded American hostages and other civilians in Iraq. He masterminded the destruction of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad."
Mr. Bush cautioned that terrorists and insurgents will likely carry on in Iraq without Zarqawi. British Prime Minister Tony Blair had similar words.
"The death of al-Zarqawi is a strike against al-Qaida in Iraq, and therefore a strike against al-Qaida everywhere. But we should have no illusions. We know that they will continue to kill. We know there are many, many obstacles to overcome."
Speaking in Brussels, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said American forces had been tracking Zarqawi for some time.
Once located, they opted against a ground assault on the terrorist den out of concern that Zarqawi might escape.
Word of Zarqawi's death prompted a somber response from Michael Berg, the father of U.S. businessman Nick Berg, who was kidnapped in Iraq and believed to have been personally beheaded by Zarqawi in 2004.
"It brings me no joy to see him [Zarqawi] dead. It would bring me far greater joy to see this conflict in Iraq come to an end."
Some pro-al-Qaida Internet sites mourned Zarqawi's death, while others celebrated what they called his martyrdom.
Zarqawi's death came as Iraq's parliament approved Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's nominees for the ministries of defense and interior, ending weeks of political gridlock over the posts in Iraq's new unity government.