By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, May 2, 2009
BAGHDAD, May 1 -- U.S. military officials said Friday that the Iraqi government has not allowed them to interrogate a detainee the Iraqis contend is the leader of the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Iraqi officials have identified the suspect, who was taken into custody April 23, as Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. Some U.S. intelligence officials view Baghdadi as a fictional figure created by non-Iraqi Arab leaders of the insurgent group to give it an Iraqi identity.
"We have not had any access to him," Maj. Gen. David G. Perkins, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said Friday. "We are in discussions with the Iraqis to determine how we can confirm or deny who he is."
Iraqis have hailed the arrest, which they say was carried out with no assistance from U.S. troops, as a testament to their readiness to take control of security as the U.S. military starts withdrawing from urban areas. Civilian and U.S. military deaths have spiked as U.S. troops have begun closing inner-city outposts to meet a June 30 deadline Iraqi officials set as part of a bilateral agreement.
Two Marines and a sailor were killed Thursday in Anbar province, in western Iraq, the U.S. military announced Friday, making April the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Iraq since September. Eighteen troops were killed in April, a twofold increase compared with March. But the number remained low compared with most months of the six-year war.
However, a wave of suicide and car bombings over the past few weeks has sharply increased civilian deaths. At least 371 Iraqis and 80 Iranian pilgrims were killed violently in April, according to a tally by the Associated Press. The civilian death toll has increased every month this year.
Five people were killed in a suicide bombing Friday at a coffeehouse near the northern city of Mosul, an Iraqi police official said.
Perkins said the recent bombings, most of which have targeted Shiites, were an effort by al-Qaeda in Iraq to foment sectarian violence.
"The purpose is to generate ethno-sectarian violence, because ethno-sectarian violence is what generally escalates into an out-of-control situation," Perkins said. "The more chaos they generate here in Iraq, the better it is for them because they sort of thrive in a chaotic environment."
Speaking to Western journalists at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Perkins said U.S. military officials are concerned about the recent bloodshed, but he pointed out that it has so far not triggered a response from Shiite militias. A pattern of sectarian retaliatory responses drove Iraq to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007.
Although the recent violence has called into question the readiness of Iraq's security forces, Iraqi and U.S. officials have said they see no need to alter the withdrawal timeline.
Also Friday, U.S. soldiers shot and killed two men during a raid near the northern city of Tikrit. Soldiers opened fire after two suspects failed to heed orders to drop their weapons, the military said in a statement, adding that the men were suspected of planting roadside bombs.
Police officials in Tikrit said U.S. and Iraqi soldiers were targeting Arkan al-Shujairy, 26, a government employee. They said American soldiers opened fire on the man's cousin, Imad al-Shujairy, 27, a policeman, when he walked out of a house as troops were approaching. The soldiers later shot Arkan al-Shujairy inside the house, police said.
Fatin Abdel-Qader, a provincial council member, said local leaders consider the raid a violation of the security agreement.
"All military operations in the province should be implemented in coordination with the police and provincial government," she said. "If the Americans do not respond to this, we will end our relationships and dealings with them."
Maj. Bassim al-Hadithi, an official at the provincial security coordination center, said U.S. officials told him the raid was based on faulty intelligence. "They are apologizing for that," he said.
Special correspondents Zaid Sabah in Baghdad and Dlovan Brwari in Mosul and a special correspondent in Tikrit contributed to this report.