(AP) BAGHDAD, Iraq – A U.S. airstrike in Fallujah on Tuesday killed an aide to Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the military said, while Iraqi officials investigated whether insurgents got inside information that helped them kill about 50 U.S.-trained soldiers.
The U.S. military said the early morning raid struck a safehouse used by al-Zarqawi’s group. U.S. forces have stepped up aerial and artillery assaults on Fallujah in recent weeks in an attempt to root out insurgents.
Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, fell under rebel control after the Bush administration ordered Marines to lift their three-week siege of the city in April.
The United States has offered a $25 million dollar bounty for the capture or killing of al-Zarqawi, whose group has claimed responsibility in numerous suicide bombings and beheadings of foreign hostages.
“Recent strikes and raids targeting the Abu Musab al-Zarqawi network have severely degraded its ability to conduct attacks,” the U.S. statement said. It did not give the name of the slain al-Zarqawi aide.
Meanwhile, Iraqi officials said there was an investigation underway into the deadly ambush of about 50 U.S.-trained Iraqi soldiers Saturday.
Defense Ministry spokesman Salih Sarhan said, “The investigation is underway and we are still collecting information. …The investigation is mainly to know whether there was any information leakage.”
The attack on the soldiers, who were returning home on leave, occurred on a remote eastern Iraq (news – web sites) highway when their buses were stopped by insurgents at a fake checkpoint, according to police and defense officials.
Some of the bodies were found in rows — shot execution-style through the head — at a site about 95 miles east of Baghdad, the Defense Ministry said. Other bodies were found on a burned bus nearby.
Iraqi police and soldiers have been increasingly targeted by insurgents, mostly with car bombs and mortar shells. However, the fact that the insurgents were able to strike at so many unarmed soldiers in such a remote region suggested the guerrillas may have had advance word on the soldiers’ travel.
“There was probably collusion among the soldiers or other groups,” Diyala province’s Deputy Gov. Aqil Hamid al-Adili told Al-Arabiya television. “Otherwise, the gunmen would not have gotten the information about the soldiers’ departure from their training camp and that they were unarmed.”
Last week, a U.S. defense official in Washington described Iraq’s security forces as “heavily infiltrated” by insurgents, saying some members of the Iraqi security services have developed sympathies and contacts with the guerrillas. In other instances, infiltrators were sent to join the security services, the official said on condition of anonymity.
Al-Zarqawi’s group, renamed al-Qaida in Iraq, claimed responsibility for the attack on an Islamic Web site, but there was no way to verify the claim’s authenticity.
Dozens of suspect police officers and Iraqi soldiers have been arrested across Iraq for insurgent ties, although U.S. and Iraqi officials declined to release numbers.
In September, U.S. troops arrested a senior Iraqi National Guard commander, Lt. Gen. Talib al-Lahibi, for insurgent ties. Al-Lahibi was arrested in Diyala province near where Saturday’s massacre occurred.
And last month, U.S. troops arrested an Iraqi National Guard battalion commander, Col. Daham Abd, allegedly for providing ammunition, money and information to the insurgents near the northern city of Kirkuk.
A recent mortar attack Oct. 19 on an Iraqi National Guard compound near Baghdad is being viewed as a probable inside job.
The attackers apparently knew precisely when and where the unit’s members were gathering and dropped mortar rounds in the middle of their formation. At least four Iraqis were killed and 80 wounded.
On Monday, the International Atomic Energy Agency said 377 tons of conventional explosives that could be used for car bomb attacks had vanished from a former Iraqi military installation about 30 miles south of the capital.
The U.N. agency based in Vienna, Austria, said it had been informed on Oct. 10 by Iraq’s Ministry of Science and Technology that the explosives were missing from the former Al-Qaqaa facility south of Baghdad.
Al-Qaqaa is near Youssifiyah, an area rife with ambush attacks. An Associated Press Television News crew that drove past the compound Monday saw no visible security at the gates of the site, a jumble of low-slung, yellow-colored storage buildings that appeared deserted.