- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2004

BAGHDAD (AP) — A Jordanian extremist suspected of planning suicide attacks in Iraq was killed some time ago in U.S. bombings and a letter outlining plans for fomenting sectarian war is a forgery, a leaflet signed by a dozen reputed insurgent groups said. A senior U.S. official denied the contention.

Abu Musab Zarqawi was killed in the Sulaimaniyah mountains of northern Iraq “during the American bombing there,” according to the eight-page leaflet circulated this week in Fallujah, a city 30 miles west of Baghdad that is a hotbed of anti-U.S. insurgency activity.

The leaflet appeared aimed at countering assertions by U.S. civilian and military officials that foreign fighters, especially Zarqawi’s al Qaeda-linked group, Ansar al-Islam, are responsible for the recent spurt in attacks in Iraq.

U.S. officials said a series of suicide bombings during a Shi’ite religious procession Tuesday that killed almost 200 Iraqis were carried out by foreign fighters, but some Iraqi Shi’ites blame rival Sunnis.

U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer said yesterday that it was “increasingly apparent” that terrorism was coming from outside Iraq, but some U.S. generals were far less certain about the extent of the foreign role.

The brutal sophistication of the bombings in Karbala and Baghdad pointed to a foreign influence on an insurgency that is mainly homegrown, said Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey, commander of the 1st Armored Division, which controls Baghdad.

Another military official in Baghdad, who asked not to be named, said intelligence “strongly suggests” that Zarqawi was behind the blasts Tuesday, the bloodiest day since Saddam Hussein’s regime collapsed.

The Iraqi Governing Council said 271 persons were killed in the attacks; the U.S. coalition said 181 persons were killed and 573 wounded.

The leaflet distributed in Fallujah this week was signed by 12 groups, including several cited by U.S. officials in the past, such as the Ansar al-Sunna Army and Muhammad’s Army.

It said Zarqawi was unable to escape U.S. bombing because of his artificial leg.

U.S. officials rejected the contention. But in Washington, a military official said he couldn’t be sure the Jordanian is alive.

“There is no direct evidence whether he is alive or dead at this point, that we have,” Brig. Gen. David Rodriguez, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon news conference.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said yesterday that the alliance was ready to send troops to Iraq if the new sovereign government that is to take over on July 1 made the request, Agence France-Presse reported.

Mr. de Hoop Scheffer added that the United Nations should provide a mandate for a stabilization force for Iraq under such a government.

“If both elements are met, the alliance will approach this question with a very positive attitude,” he said, after talks in Warsaw with Prime Minister Leszek Miller.

Iraqi officials and sources close to the 25-member Governing Council said the interim government is likely to expand to 100 members and include members from political parties and regions overlooked when the council was appointed by the United States eight months ago.

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