- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 5, 2004

BAGHDAD — U.S. and Iraqi forces captured more than 100 insurgency suspects in raids across the country, arresting a former Iraqi general and another Iraqi thought involved in a suicide bombing last month, the U.S. command said yesterday.

Insurgents lobbed a mortar shell at a checkpoint near the airport in Baghdad yesterday, killing a U.S. soldier and wounding another, the command said.

The attack outside the airport, which serves as a major U.S. military base, brought to 529 the number of American troops killed since the Iraq war began in March.

Meanwhile, sources close to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani denied media reports of an assassination attempt on the top Shi’ite cleric who has been pushing for immediate direct elections in Iraq.

Among those arrested in the raids was Abu Aymad al-Tikriti, a former brigadier general and head of military intelligence in northern Iraq. He was captured early yesterday with three persons near Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said.

Mr. Al-Tikriti is suspected of having led a cell of anticoalition insurgents.

Gen. Kimmitt, deputy chief of staff for operations, also said U.S. forces captured Majid Ali Abbas al-Dazi, thought to have been involved in a suicide truck bombing Jan. 24 in the central town of Samarra. He was apprehended Wednesday, officials said.

Gen. Kimmitt said, however, that the U.S. military had made little progress in determining who was behind the twin suicide bombings in Irbil on Sunday that killed 109 persons, despite claims of responsibility from a shadowy insurgent group.

Kurdish leaders have blamed Ansar al-Islam, an Iraqi group purportedly linked to al Qaeda, for the attacks. But a lesser-known group, the Jaish Ansar al-Sunna, claimed responsibility in a statement in Arabic posted on a Web site that frequently carries statements by Islamist militants.

Gen. Kimmitt said the U.S. military is aware of the claim and thinks Jaish Ansar al-Sunna is a splinter group of Ansar al-Islam.

He said the group also claimed responsibility for a car bombing outside a police station in the northern city of Mosul on Saturday that killed nine persons.

Meanwhile, in the southern holy city of Najaf, bodyguards and political allies of Ayatollah al-Sistani denied Arab media reports of an attempt on his life, and his associates said the cleric was in good health.

“We have contacted the office of his eminence … in Najaf and it transpired that the report is a lie and the whole issue is fabricated and baseless,” the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq said in Baghdad.

The Arabic television station Al Jazeera had reported that unidentified gunmen fired on the ayatollah yesterday morning. CNN reported that four attackers with AK-47s injured an unspecified number of his bodyguards during the attempt.

One of the ayatollah’s guards, who identified himself as Abu Mohammed, told said that “there’s no truth to this news” of an assassination attempt, adding, “these are all lies.”

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