BAGHDAD (AFP) – Four leaders of three Al-Qaeda linked groups were captured in a US-Iraqi operation that netted 67 suspected insurgents in the volatile southern Baghdad district of Dura, US and Iraqi officers told reporters.
“We captured some of the leadership of the Ansar al-Sunna group, Tawhid Wal Jihad (Unity and Holy War), and Ansar al-Islam,” said Colonel Ali al-Obeidi, commander of the Iraqi Army Sixth Division’s third battalion-first brigade.
“For these four, the crimes were murder, assassination, beheadings, bombings and attacks against Iraqi security forces and American forces,” said Colonel Edward Cardon of the Third Infantry Division’s fourth brigade combat team.
The other 63 detainees were still being grilled to determine their role in lawless’s Dura insidious mix of violence.
No further information on the men was immediately forthcoming.
The group Tawhid wal Jihad is the old named used by Islamist militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s group before it was formally recognised as Qaeda’s official branch in Iraq last fall. It then renamed itself Al-Qaeda Group in the Land of the Two Rivers.
Iraq troops have officially taken over a 16-square kilometer region of Dura, following Monday’s successful raid, Cardon and Ali said.
“Dura was under MNF (multinational forces) control. Today, I officially take over the area,” al-Obeidi said. “It is a great honor. It is our duty. It is time … for Dura to be settled just like Haifa Street.”
Cardon said the 600-man battalion was backed by 50 US military advisors as part of the new template already employed on Haifa street, once considered Baghdad’s deadliest neighborhood.
An Iraq army battalion has controlled the notorious street in central Baghdad since February.
The US military has been working directly with newly trained Iraq army brigades to help them take over security duties so the Pentagon can start reducing its troop levels.
The US and Iraqi forces claim to have netted more insurgents since the November offensive on the former rebel bastion of Fallujah due to increased intelligence and the growing confidence of Iraq troops.