U.S. airstrike in Fallujah kills al-Zarqawi aide
Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – A U.S. airstrike in Fallujah on Tuesday killed an aide to Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the military said, while Iraqi officials investigated whether insurgents got inside information that helped them kill about 50 U.S.-trained soldiers.
The U.S. military said the early-morning raid struck a safe house used by al-Zarqawi’s group. U.S. forces have stepped up aerial and artillery assaults on Fallujah in recent weeks in an attempt to root out insurgents.
Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, fell under rebel control after the Bush administration ordered Marines to lift their three-week siege of the city in April.
The United States has offered a $25 million bounty for the capture or killing of al-Zarqawi, whose group has claimed responsibility in numerous suicide bombings and beheadings of foreign hostages, including three Americans.
“Recent strikes and raids targeting the Abu Musab al-Zarqawi network have severely degraded its ability to conduct attacks,” the U.S. statement said. It did not identify the slain al-Zarqawi aide.
In London, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the interim government is working to achieve a political solution to the military standoff around Fallujah.
“We are trying to exhaust all political channels and avenues before any final decision is made,” Zebari told British Broadcasting Corp. radio. “Fallujah is one hot spot that we need really to resolve before getting to elections” scheduled for January.
Meanwhile, Iraqi officials said an investigation was launched into the deadly ambush of about 50 U.S.-trained Iraqi soldiers Saturday.
“The investigation is under way and we are still collecting information. … The investigation is mainly to know whether there was any information leakage,” Defense Ministry spokesman Salih Sarhan said.
The attack on the soldiers, who were returning home on leave, occurred on a remote eastern highway when their buses were stopped by insurgents at a fake checkpoint, police and defense officials said.
Some of the bodies were found in rows – shot execution-style in the head – at a site about 95 miles east of Baghdad, the Defense Ministry said. Other bodies were found on a burned bus nearby.
Iraqi police and soldiers have been increasingly targeted by insurgents, mostly with car bombs and mortar shells. However, the fact that the insurgents were able to strike at so many unarmed soldiers in such a remote region suggested the guerrillas may have had advance word on the soldiers’ travel.
“There was probably collusion among the soldiers or other groups,” Diyala province’s Deputy Gov. Aqil Hamid al-Adili told Al-Arabiya television. “Otherwise, the gunmen would not have gotten the information about the soldiers’ departure from their training camp and that they were unarmed.”
Last week, a U.S. defense official in Washington described Iraq’s security forces as “heavily infiltrated” by insurgents, saying some Iraqi soldiers and police have developed sympathies and contacts with the guerrillas. In other instances, infiltrators were sent to join the security services, the official said on condition of anonymity.
Al-Zarqawi’s group, renamed al-Qaida in Iraq, claimed responsibility for the attack on an Islamic Web site, but there was no way to verify its authenticity.
Dozens of suspect police officers and Iraqi soldiers have been arrested for insurgent ties, although U.S. and Iraqi officials declined to release numbers.
In September, U.S. troops arrested a senior Iraqi National Guard commander, Lt. Gen. Talib al-Lahibi, for insurgent ties. Al-Lahibi was arrested in Diyala province near where Saturday’s massacre occurred.
Also, U.S. troops arrested an Iraqi National Guard battalion commander, Col. Daham Abd, allegedly for providing ammunition, money and information to the insurgents near the northern city of Kirkuk.
A mortar attack Oct. 19 on an Iraqi National Guard compound near Baghdad is being viewed as a probable inside job. The attackers apparently knew when and where the unit’s members were gathering and dropped mortar rounds in the middle of their formation. At least four Iraqis were killed and 80 others were wounded.
In other developments:
– Jordan’s official Petra news agency reported that kidnappers released Jordanian businessman Ziad Jabr Abu Irfai on Tuesday, two weeks after he was taken hostage in Iraq. He was at the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad and is expected to return home later Tuesday, Petra said, quoting an unnamed Foreign Ministry official.
Irfai’s father, Jabr Abu Irfai, said last week the kidnappers demanded ransom of $150,000. It was not clear whether that was paid.
– A Croat truck driver is missing in Iraq after a weekend attack on a convoy in which he was driving, his colleagues and family said in Croatia.
Dalibor Burazovic, one of the seven Croat drivers in the convoy, failed to turn up at Turkey’s border after gunmen opened fire on mostly Turkish trucks in the center of Mosul, another driver identified only as Mladen told the Vecernji List daily. Officials in Iraq said two drivers – one Turkish and one Yugoslav – were killed, while two others were wounded.
Burazovic’s sister told state-run Croatian radio she has not heard from him since last week.