Iraq Cites Arrest of a Top Local Insurgent

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 4, 2006

BAGHDAD, Sept. 3 -- U.S. and Iraqi forces have captured a top al-Qaeda leader who ordered the bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine in Samarra that triggered a wave of ferocious sectarian killings, Iraqi officials said Sunday.

The arrest of Hamed Jumaa Faris Juri al-Saeidi, described by Iraqi officials as the No. 2 leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, was the latest in a series of blows to the Sunni Arab insurgent group, believed responsible for numerous suicide attacks on civilians and other deadly violence. The group's former leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was killed by U.S. forces in June and replaced by Abu Ayyub al-Masri.

"The al-Qaeda organization in Iraq has been seriously weakened and is now suffering from a leadership vacuum," Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, said at a news conference. Twenty senior al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters have been captured or killed based on information from Saeidi since his arrest within the past few weeks, Iraqi officials said.

The Mujaheddin Shura Council, an insurgent coalition that includes al-Qaeda in Iraq, denied that Saeidi was a member of al-Qaeda. A leader of another group in the council, however, confirmed that Saeidi belonged to al-Qaeda.

"But he is not that famous or any sort of leader," Abu Abdullah, a leader of the Islamic Army of Iraq, said in a phone interview from Salahuddin province. "He is only a normal fighter."

Iraqi officials said Saeidi, an intelligence officer for ousted president Saddam Hussein, was captured within the past few weeks as he hid among women and children in an unspecified location just north of Baghdad. Saeidi, who is in his early forties, confessed that he had joined al-Qaeda in Iraq three years ago and is being held by U.S.-led coalition forces, the officials said.

In an attempt to thrust Iraq into a full-scale civil war, Saeidi supervised Haitham al-Badri, an operative under his command, in carrying out the Feb. 22 bombing of a revered golden-domed Shiite shrine in Samarra, officials said. That attack sparked brutal reprisal killings by both Shiites and Sunnis that have left thousands of people dead.

"Why did you kill hundreds of people?" Saeidi was asked during a recent interrogation, according to Ali al-Dabbagh, an Iraqi government spokesman.

"What do you mean 'hundreds of people?' I've killed thousands," Dabbagh said Saeidi responded.

If the Iraqi government's depiction of Saeidi is accurate, he would be the highest-ranking al-Qaeda in Iraq figure killed or captured since June 7, when U.S. forces killed Zarqawi by dropping two 500-pound bombs on his hideout north of Baghdad.

A U.S. military official said Saeidi was "one of the top five al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders" but declined to identify him as the second-highest official in the group. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the Geneva Conventions could be construed as forbidding the public discussion of detainees.

In a statement posted on the wall of the al-Tameem Mosque near Ramadi, where there is strong support for al-Qaeda, the Shura Council attacked government officials and denied that Saeidi, also known as Abu Humam or Abu Rana, was a member of al-Qaeda.

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