- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2007

12:51 p.m.

BAGHDAD — U.S.-led forces killed a senior al Qaeda operative in Iraq believed responsible for the kidnappings of Westerners, including a Christian Science Monitor reporter and a peace worker from Virginia who was slain, a military spokesman said today.

The U.S. Embassy, meanwhile, said a rocket attack on Iraq’s Green Zone yesterday killed four foreign contractors — one from the Philippines, one from Nepal and two from India — who were working for a U.S. government contractor. It was the third straight day that extremists used rockets or mortars to hit the area where Iraq’s parliament meets.

U.S. Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said the killing of Muharib Abdul-Latif al-Jubouri, described as al Qaeda’s information minister, apparently had led to confused reports that al Qaeda’s top leader or the head of an umbrella group of Sunni insurgents had been killed.

Gen. Caldwell said the military had conducted numerous operations against al Qaeda in Iraq in the previous six days but did not have the bodies of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub Masri and did not know “of anybody that does.”

U.S. and Iraqi forces have stepped up operations against the terrorist network following a series of car bombings and suicide attacks that have killed hundreds in recent weeks despite a security crackdown in Baghdad and surrounding areas.

Al-Jubouri was killed early Tuesday while trying to resist detention in an operation about four miles west of the Taji, a town near an air base north of Baghdad, and the body initially was identified by photos, then confirmed by DNA testing yesterday, Gen. Caldwell said.

Al-Jubouri was believed to have been deeply involved with the kidnapping of Jill Carroll, the Christian Science Monitor reporter who was released unharmed, and Tom Fox of Clear Brook, Va., one of four men from the Chicago-based peace group Christian Peacemaker Teams who was found shot to death in Baghdad on March 10, 2006, Gen. Caldwell said. Al-Jubouri also was involved in the kidnapping of two Germans in January 2006, he said.

Today, mourners gathered at al-Jubouri’s house in Duluiyah, 45 miles north of Baghdad, as a huge funeral tent went up in the street, police said.

The Interior Ministry said earlier that al-Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State of Iraq, had been killed and released photos of what it said was the body of the leader of the umbrella group, which includes al Qaeda.

However, Gen. Caldwell said al-Baghdadi’s death could not be confirmed.

“If that person even exists, again, we have no body in our possession or know of anybody that does, alive or dead, that is going through any kind of testing or analysis at this point with respect to those two individuals,” he said.

On Tuesday, officials said Masri, the head of al Qaeda in Iraq, had been killed by rivals north of Baghdad, but the body had not been recovered.

Regarding Masri, Gen. Caldwell said “we in fact do not have in our possession nor do we know of anybody that has any body or person at this time that we think is him.”

“His overall status whether he is dead or alive is actually unknown to us at this point,” he added.

The U.S. Embassy statement gave no other details about yesterday’s attack that killed the four contractors in the Green Zone, which is home to the U.S. and British embassies and thousands of American troops as well as key Iraqi government offices.

Insurgents routinely fire rockets and mortar rounds into the sprawling Green Zone.

The attacks seldom cause casualties or damage because they are poorly aimed and there is a lot of open space in the zone, but two Americans — a contractor and a soldier — were killed in March in a rocket attack on the area, and two suicide vests were found unexploded less than a week after that.

The adequacy of security in the area also came into question after the April 12 suicide bombing in the parliament building’s dining hall. One lawmaker was killed in the blast, which was claimed by an al-Qaeda-led amalgam of Sunni insurgents.

Yesterday, Rear Adm. Mark Fox, a U.S. military spokesman, said the latest round of Green Zone attacks appears to be part of a strategy by extremists “to score a spectacular hit or try to obtain some sort of a headline-grabbing direct hit.”

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