BAGHDAD, Iraq – The leader of Iraq’s most feared terror group fled Baghdad about two weeks ago because a U.S.-Iraqi military operation in the capital was threatening his al-Qaida movement, Iraq’s interior minister said in a television interview aired Friday.
Bayan Jabr told the U.S.-owned Al Hurra television that the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and many of his al-Qaida in Iraq followers fled Baghdad because of the success of Operation Lightning, launched May 28.
Despite claims that the operation was successful, at least 30 people were killed in a wave of car-bombings and roadside explosions in the capital Friday. Jabr said “the terrorists” often have more weapons than the police.
He nonetheless claimed many al-Qaida members had left the capital “because they have lost the battle.” Al-Zarqawi fled Baghdad 12 days ago after several car-rigging factories were discovered in a security operation, he said.
“Al-Zarqawi is in his last months,” Jabr added.
In the past, Iraqi officials have variously placed al-Zarqawi in the Fallujah area west of Baghdad and in eastern Iraq. Some accounts claimed he had even been wounded and had fled to
Iran, a charge the Iranians deny.
Jabr also confirmed that several detainees had suffocated in a police vehicle last weekend because it was new and officers did not know how to use the air conditioner.
Major Sunni Arab groups expressed outrage over the deaths of about 10 Sunnis who were detained after a gunfight and suffocated after being locked in a van without air conditioning for hours in 115-degree heat. The minister said three officers had been arrested in the case and that there were also allegations of torture.