Insurgent Chief Wounded, Aide Says

By Ellen Knickmeyer and Saad Sarhan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, May 25, 2005

BAGHDAD, May 24 -- Insurgent leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, the most-wanted man in Iraq, was shot and wounded in a weekend ambush by U.S. and Iraqi forces, according to one of his lieutenants and a statement attributed to his organization, al Qaeda in Iraq.

The accounts of Zarqawi's injury came on a day when the U.S. military reported the deaths of nine Americans. Four soldiers were killed by a bombing and gunfire in Baghdad on Tuesday, four were killed on Monday by an explosive device in Haswah, south of the capital, and a Marine was killed by mortar or rocket fire Monday at a base in western Iraq.

The Zarqawi lieutenant, who identified himself as Abu Karrar, said in an interview Tuesday that Zarqawi's aides were helping him choose someone to lead the group if he died.

Abu Karrar and fighters in Zarqawi's group said the insurgent leader had been shot between his shoulder and his chest during fighting Saturday and Sunday around the western city of Ramadi. A top Zarqawi aide and several Arab fighters were killed in the clash, Abu Karrar said.

The U.S. military said it had no immediate confirmation that Zarqawi had been wounded or that such a fight had occurred. Some Iraqis and Americans said they suspected the reports were a ruse, either to boost Zarqawi's popularity or to trick his pursuers.

Zarqawi's injury was first reported in a statement, attributed to al Qaeda in Iraq, posted on a Web site used by the organization in the past. The statement urged Muslims to "pray for the recovery of our Sheik Abu Musab Zarqawi from an injury he suffered for the sake of God."

"Let those far and near know that the injury of our leader is an honor, and a means to close in on enemies of God, and a reason to increase attacks against them," it said. The statement, purportedly issued by the information section of al Qaeda in Iraq, did not describe the injury or how it was inflicted.

Other Iraqis welcomed the news wholeheartedly.

"We are very happy to hear that Zarqawi is wounded, and by the will of God we will hear the news of his death at the hands of the Iraqi army," said Mohammed Hakim, a spokesman in Najaf for Ayatollah Mohammed Saeed Hakim, a spiritual leader of Iraq's Shiite Muslims. Shiites have frequently been targeted by insurgent attacks, including one last week in which one of the ayatollah's aides was shot to death.

While insurgents gave no proof of the Zarqawi report, it raised the prospect of one of the top goals of U.S. officials and Iraqi government leaders: incapacitation or death of the most feared figure in Iraq's insurgency. A glowering photograph of Zarqawi, a Jordanian, has been the face of foreign insurgents in Iraq. A video released on the Internet last year showed what it said was a masked Zarqawi slicing off a hostage's head -- one of several such executions for which his group has asserted responsibility.

Several previous reports have had Zarqawi wounded or ill, noted Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, a military spokesman in Baghdad. "We don't know whether it's fact or fiction," Boylan said of Tuesday night's claim. "He continues to be our No. 1 target."

Asked about the reports, State Department spokesman Richard A. Boucher said in Washington, "I don't know."

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