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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Iraq says captures local al Qaeda deputy

By Ibon Villelabeitia and Mussab Al-Khairalla

From Al Reuters via the Scotsman

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq said on Sunday it had arrested the second most senior figure in al Qaeda, "severely wounding" an organisation the U.S. military says is intent on plunging the country into sectarian civil war.

The announcement came as talks between the United States and Iraq on transferring operational command of Iraq's forces to the Defence Ministry were deadlocked. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was demanding more independence from the U.S. military.

Maliki was also at loggerheads with the leader of ethnic Kurds, who brandished the threat of secession in a growing row over the symbolic issue of flying the Iraqi national flag at government buildings in the autonomous Kurdish north.

Hours after an "embarrassed" U.S. military again postponed a ceremony to hand command of Iraqi troops to the government, the National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie summoned reporters to a hastily arranged news conference to announce that al Qaeda leader Hamid Juma Faris al-Suaidi had been seized some days ago.

Also known as Abu Humam or Abu Rana, he was captured hiding in a building with a group of followers.

"Al Qaeda in Iraq is severely wounded," Rubaie said.

He said Suaidi had been involved in ordering the bombing of the Shi'ite shrine in Samarra in February that unleashed the wave of tit-for-tat killings now threatening civil war. Iraqi officials blame al Qaeda for the attack. The group denies it.

Rubaie did not give Suaidi's nationality or say where he had been captured, though he did say he had been tracked to the same area, north of Baghdad near Baquba, where U.S. forces killed al Qaeda's Jordanian leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June.

"He was hiding in a building used by families. He wanted to use children and women as human shields," Rubaie said.

Little is publicly known about Suaidi. Rubaie called him the deputy of Abu Ayyub al-Masri, a shadowy figure, probably Egyptian, who took over the Sunni Islamist group from Zarqawi.

The U.S. military says al Qaeda is a "prime instigator" of the violence between Iraq's Sunni minority and Shi'ite majority but that U.S. and Iraqi operations have "severely disrupted" it.

The U.S. military has reported killing or capturing scores of al Qaeda militants since Zarqawi's death.


Despite these reported successes, violence has continued. A Pentagon report said this week attacks had risen by 24 percent in the past three months as violence extended north beyond Baghdad. Iraqi casualties soared by 51 percent over the quarter.

The Rest is Here


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