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Iraq says captures No. 2 al Qaeda leader
U.S. and Iraqi forces have arrested the second most senior figure in al Qaeda in Iraq, National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie said on Sunday.
"I can say al Qaeda in Iraq is severely wounded," he told a news conference.
He named the man as Hamed Juma Faris al-Suaidi, also
known as Abu Humam or Abu Rana, and said he was the deputy to Abu
Ayyub al-Masri, who took over the insurgent group after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. air strike in June.
The U.S. military says Sunni Islamist al Qaeda is a "prime instigator" of sectarian conflict between Iraq's Sunni minority and Shi'ite majority that threatens all-out civil war, but that it has been left reeling by U.S. and Iraqi operations that have killed or captured scores of its militants in recent weeks.
But despite the U.S. and Iraqi military successes, violence continues to tear Iraq apart.
A 63-page Pentagon report said on Friday attacks rose by 24 percent in the past three months. Iraqi casualties soared by 51 percent and the violence was extending north beyond Baghdad.
The announcement of the arrest came as talks between the United States and Iraq over the transfer of operational command of Iraq's armed forces remained deadlocked, with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki demanding more independence from the U.S. military.
A day after the dispute forced an embarrassing delay of a signing ceremony in Baghdad, an Iraqi Defence Ministry source said disagreements remained over the wording of a document that outlines the new relationship between U.S.-led occupying forces and Iraq's military.
"There are some disputes between the two parties. We have our own point of view and they have theirs. We want thorough control and want the freedom to make decisions independently," the source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Rubaie said al Qaeda leader Suaidi was captured a few days ago but did not say where in Iraq he was found.
"He was hiding in a building used by families. He wanted to use children and women as human shields as our forces attempted to capture him," he told a news conference.
U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell said this week that U.S. and Iraqi security forces were enjoying success in "the systematic disruption and disorganisation of the al Qaeda in Iraq network".
He said operations in August against the group, blamed for some of the deadliest suicide bombings in Iraq, had involved more than 140 assaults in which at least 17 suspects were killed and more than 300 detained.
Exposing an increasingly bitter rift between Arabs and Kurds, Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki issued a stern rebuke to ethnic Kurds on Sunday over a ban on flying the national flag over Kurdish government buildings.
Reacting to the ban on flying the Iraqi tricolour, Maliki's office issued a statement that not only defended the national flag but implied that the Kurds' own banner was illegitimate.
"The Iraqi flag is the only flag that should be raised over any square inch of Iraq," read the brief message, which did not refer directly to the controversy.