- The Washington Times - Monday, September 4, 2006

BAGHDAD — Authorities yesterday announced the capture of al Qaeda in Iraq’s No. 2 leader, accusing him of “brutal and merciless” terror operations, including the bombing of a Shi’ite shrine that touched off the sectarian bloodletting pushing Iraq toward civil war.

Iraq’s national security adviser said Hamed Jumaa Farid al-Saeedi, known as Abu Humam or Abu Rana, was arrested a few days ago as he hid in a residential building southwest of Baqouba.

The arrest has left al Qaeda in Iraq suffering a “serious leadership crisis,” Mouwaffak al-Rubaie said. “Our troops have dealt fatal and painful blows to this organization.”

He accused al-Saeedi of supervising the creation of death squads and ordering assassinations, bombings, kidnappings, and attacks on Iraqi police and army checkpoints. “The operations were brutal and merciless,” Mr. al-Rubaie said.

Not much is known about al-Saeedi, but Mr. al-Rubaie said he was the second-most important al Qaeda in Iraq leader after Abu Ayyub Masri. Masri is thought to have taken over the group after a U.S. air strike killed leader Abu Musab Zarqawi north of Baghdad on June 7.

Mr. al-Rubaie said al-Saeedi was “directly responsible” for Haitham Sabah Shaker Mohammed al-Badri, an Iraqi whom authorities have accused of leading the Feb. 22 bombing of the Shi’ite shrine in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad.

The attack inflamed tensions between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims and triggered reprisal attacks that have killed hundreds of Iraqis.

The U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi authorities have announced numerous arrests after Zarqawi’s death that officials say have thrown al Qaeda in Iraq into disarray.

But rampant sectarian violence and other attacks have continued, with at least 20 Iraqis killed in bomb attacks and shootings yesterday.

The U.S. military command announced that four U.S. troops had been killed — two soldiers killed by a roadside bomb yesterday in Baghdad and two Marines in incidents Friday and yesterday in the volatile Anbar province, west of the capital.

A senior coalition official said coalition forces were involved in al-Saeedi’s arrest, but would not give details about their role.

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because announcements were being made by Iraqi authorities, said al-Saeedi and three others had been arrested near Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. Zarqawi was killed on the outskirts of Baqouba.

Tensions, meanwhile, rose in the north, after the president of the Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani, threatened secession yesterday, two days after he ordered the Iraqi flag replaced with the Kurdish one, sparking harsh words in Baghdad.

“If we want to separate, we will do it, without hesitation or fears,” Mr. Barzani said during an address to the Kurdish parliament.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued a terse statement that the national flag should be hoisted throughout the country.

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