Reports: Zarqawi Shot in Lung
Thursday, May 26, 2005
BAGHDAD, May 25 -- Insurgents said Wednesday in interviews and statements on the Internet that the leader of the group al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab Zarqawi, was struggling with a gunshot wound to the lung. One of Zarqawi's commanders said the Jordanian guerrilla was receiving oxygen, heightening suspicion that the groundwork was being laid for an announcement of his replacement or death.
In the volatile western province of Anbar, meanwhile, U.S. Marines clashed with gunmen in their second major offensive there this month. A combined U.S. and Iraqi force of roughly 1,000 troops killed 10 insurgents as it began a sweep of Haditha, the U.S. military said. The offensive followed an increase in insurgent attacks on Marines posted at a dam near that small city, 125 miles northwest of Baghdad.
Among the 10 dead fighters was a man identified by residents as a cleric who was shot as he fired on troops with an AK-47 assault rifle, the U.S. military said in a statement.
On the second day of reporting about Zarqawi's condition, insurgents offered no tangible evidence that he had suffered a potentially fatal wound. Some of Zarqawi's rank-and-file fighters and one of his top lieutenants have said he was wounded in an ambush by U.S. Marines and Iraqi forces over the weekend around the western city of Ramadi. A U.S. military official, Lt. Col. David Lapan, said Wednesday that he had found no record of such an ambush.
The insurgents' accounts suggested that steady U.S. and Iraqi military pressure was taking a toll on Zarqawi's group. In an interview Tuesday, the Zarqawi lieutenant, Abu Karrar, said his group was weighing both foreigners and Iraqis as possible successors to Zarqawi if he died.
Zarqawi has a $25 million bounty on his head, and he is the United States' most-wanted man in Iraq. He is blamed for instigating many of the beheadings, suicide bombings and other deadly insurgent attacks. U.S. and Iraqi forces say they have captured or killed about two dozen top-ranking members of Zarqawi's network in recent months.
Iraqi Sunni insurgents -- some of whom are allied with foreign fighters such as Zarqawi -- expressed the view Wednesday that the attrition among his top lieutenants may have undercut his support within the insurgency. Proponents of that view ascribed Tuesday's sudden announcement of his grave injury to a power struggle within his group.
Haitham Husseini, spokesman for the country's leading Shiite coalition, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, told the Associated Press that officials were trying to confirm reports that Zarqawi had been killed in western Iraq. He did not elaborate.
Hani Sibaie, who runs a London-based Islamic affairs research center, told the AP that al Qaeda in Iraq's call for Muslims to pray for Zarqawi meant he was in serious condition. "It is obvious that he is dying and his days are numbered," Sibaie said.
A leader in Zarqawi's organization, identifying himself by the battlefield name Abu Jalal Iraqi, said in an interview that Zarqawi's health "wasn't easy."
"He is wounded in his right lung, in which the bullets crossed and remained in his back," Iraqi said. Zarqawi, who is about 39, "is being given respiration," the aide said, without elaborating.
He suggested that if Zarqawi survived, he might become "a spiritual leader for the group, like Sheik Ahmed Yassin of Hamas." He was referring to the Palestinian cleric who, though paralyzed, helped found the Islamic Resistance Movement in the 1980s and remained its spiritual head until his assassination by Israeli forces last year.
Later Wednesday, radical Islamic Web sites gave accounts similar to Iraqi's, down to a description of Zarqawi being treated by Sudanese and Saudi doctors. A statement on one site denied he had been wounded in the lung.
Marines said their offensive in Haditha followed increased attacks in the town. Iraqi forces and units from the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, were carrying out Operation New Market in and around the city, a U.S. military statement said.
The operation was aimed at disrupting insurgent action in the town and keeping up pressure first applied in May during an operation farther west, Marines said. Fewer than 5,000 Marines and a handful of Iraqi forces have tried to maintain order over tens of thousands of square miles in Anbar believed crisscrossed by foreign and local insurgents.
Elsewhere, gunmen killed a local police chief, Col. Mikhlif Mosa, in a drive-by shooting south of Mosul, said Salwan Basil, a physician at the city's Jamhouri hospital.
[Early Thursday, two attacks in Baghdad killed nine Iraqis, including three policemen and a translator for the U.S. military, the Associated Press reported, citing officials.]
Special correspondent Dlovan Brwari in Mosul contributed to this report.