- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The top assassin for terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi has been captured in Iraq, as the U.S. military ratchets up pre-election raids to find and destroy the insurgency’s ability to make its main weapon — deadly improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The Iraqi government yesterday announced the Jan. 15 arrest of Abu Omar al-Kurdi (also known as Sami Mohammed Ali Said al-Jaaf), a member of Zarqawi’s al Qaeda in Iraq terror operation that specializes in suicide car bombings.

The government thinks al-Kurdi, a skilled bomb maker, executed some of the most deadly assassinations and mass killings across the country.

A Pentagon adviser said that although it is difficult to judge whether the capture disrupts the Zarqawi organization, it does provide intelligence benefits.

“A very important side benefit from capturing that senior fellow is that it lights up the Christmas tree,” the adviser said. “What that means is, it starts them talking. They start communicating with each other, and it increases the chances of electronic intercepts. Plus, he knows names. He knows people. He knows contacts. He knows sources. It could be very damaging.”

Added a Special Forces soldier who has been overseas hunting terrorists, “These dirtbags have been used to the thought that they are anonymous and invulnerable.”

But “when caught, they squeal like pigs and give up their ‘brothers.’ It demoralizes those that take their place. To many of them, being caught and humiliated is worse than death/martyrdom,” he said.

With the Iraq war approaching the two-year mark, the Bush administration will ask Congress today for a new supplemental budget of $80 billion for 2005. It will cover costs in Afghanistan, as well as Iraq, bringing the combined cost for both wars to more than $300 billion.

A regular fiscal defense budget for 2006 of more than $400 billion will be presented to Congress next month.

An Iraqi government spokesman said al-Kurdi admitted to conducting 32 of the bloodiest bombings in Iraq. He had been personally ordered by Zarqawi to unleash more bloodshed to disrupt Sunday’s national elections.

But U.S. officials were cautious in predicting that his capture will reduce attacks, because Iraqi insurgents and Zarqawi employ dozens of bomb experts who can fashion an explosive out of old artillery or mortar rounds.

The government said al-Kurdi has confessed to planning the August 2003 car bombing that killed U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 others. He launched another attack that same month that struck a shrine in the Shi’ite city of Najaf, killing 85 persons.

Zarqawi, in a letter obtained by U.S. authorities last year, said killing Shi’ites was an attempt to ignite a religious civil war between Shi’ites and Sunnis.

Al-Kurdi apparently was Zarqawi’s means to that end. The spokesman for Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said al-Kurdi was responsible for 75 percent of car bombings since the coalition ousted Saddam Hussein in April 2003.

The al-Kurdi capture stood as the sort of pre-election coup that the military command was seeking to try to take some steam out of the insurgency, which relies greatly on roadside and vehicle IEDs to kill Americans and Iraqi allies.

In recent months, U.S. soldiers and Marines have raided dozens of bomb-making factories in a effort to deny the insurgents their weapon of choice.

“There is a big, concerted effort to take these things away,” said an Army officer at the Pentagon.

The campaign not only involves raids on factories, but also the use of detectors and electronic jammers to defuse the hidden bombs before they are remotely touched off.

“We don’t really talk about it,” the Army officer said.

Said a U.S. command statement: “Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces have captured or killed many expert bomb makers, and captured large amounts of bomb-making material. Consequently, we are having an effect on quality, organization and planning.”

The command said that in December alone, the coalition found and destroyed more than 300 IEDs.

Last month, commanders noticed a change in bombing tactics. Insurgents reduced the number of deployed IEDS, but increased their firepower.

Defense sources said the insurgents might have two objectives: Make bigger explosives to dent the increasing number of armored vehicles and try to compensate for reduced production rates as the coalition takes away assembly facilities.

The Jordanian-born Zarqawi is a multitask terrorist, able to recruit, train and organize foreign jihadists and carry out killings himself, while evading authorities as the most-wanted man in Iraq.

The U.S. command has been able to kill or arrest some of Zarqawi’s top lieutenants. Before al-Kurdi’s capture, the ground forces and air strikes in Fallujah killed several top Zarqawi operatives. The terrorist referred to two of the dead in a message on an Islamic Web site, saying they had decided to stay in Fallujah in November and fight to the end.

But of all the Zarqawi killed or captured operatives, al-Kurdi seems to have been the deadliest.

The Iraq government issued a list of his crimes. Besides the U.N. and Shi’ite targets, al-Kurdi orchestrated the attack that killed the head of the disbanded governing council, Izzedine Salim.

Al-Kurdi, a government statement said, was “the most lethal of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s lieutenants.”

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