Leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq Injured in Clash, Official Says

By Ernesto Londono
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 16, 2007

BAGHDAD, Feb. 15 -- The leader of the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, who is known by the alias Abu Ayyub al-Masri, was injured in a clash with Iraqi police Thursday night, a spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry said.

One of Masri's deputies, Abu Abdullah al-Mujamie, was killed in the gunfight, which occurred about 11 p.m. near Samarra, ministry spokesman Abdul Kareem al-Kinani said.

U.S. officials have said Masri took over the leadership of the insurgent group following the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed by U.S. forces in a June 2006 airstrike. In December, Iraqi officials said security forces had killed another aide to Masri, whom officials describe as a longtime associate of Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

A senior al-Qaeda in Iraq leader, Abu Amar al-Dulaimi, confirmed the death of Mujamie, whom he described as Masri's "personal escort," but questioned whether Masri was even in the area. "We don't know if [Masri] was with him or not, or if he was wounded or not," Dulaimi said Thursday night in a phone interview.

Kinani, the ministry spokesman, said Iraqi forces conducted the operation "without U.S. intervention," but Dulaimi said people in the area reported seeing helicopters and fighter planes roaming the sky afterward, a possible indication of a U.S. role in the clash.

Also Thursday, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has ordered his top deputies to leave Iraq in order to ease the implementation of the Baghdad security plan, which U.S. and Iraqi forces began to roll out this week.

Sadr, the leader of the powerful Mahdi Army militia, recently went to Iran, according to U.S. officials.

During a news conference Thursday night, Talabani said Sadr told government officials that he was "eager for the stability of the state and the success of the security plan. He gave the government the green light to detain any outlaws."

In Washington on Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he believed that Sadr's followers were concerned about the new operation to secure Baghdad and suggested that Sadr and his militia would "go to ground" over the coming months. "And the question is, during that space . . . can we and the Iraqis provide enough security so that economic development, improvements in governance, political reconciliation can all begin to make real progress in Iraq?" Gates said.

Gates said it was "an assumption" that Sadr has gone to Iran. "I haven't seen any factual proof of it at this point, but that's what people -- that's what I hear people think," Gates said.

In recent days, some of Sadr's aides in Iraq have denied that Sadr has left the country.

The security plan includes an increase in U.S. and Iraqi troops, a crackdown on civilians carrying weapons and increased security measures at the Iranian and Syrian borders. U.S. and Iraqi forces this week have been cordoning off sections of the city to root out insurgents and seize weapons. Several of the areas targeted recently are Sunni insurgent strongholds.

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