WASHINGTON: US and Iraqi security forces may have come close to capturing Iraqi Al Qaeda leader Abu Musab Al Zarqawi in the past two weeks and are weakening his network, Iraq’s interior minister said yesterday.
“We are following him,” Interior Minister Falah Al Naquib told Pentagon reporters in a videoconference from Baghdad.
“I think we missed him twice or three times, but hopefully next time we will be able to capture him.
“I think we arrived a bit late. Maybe we missed him by one hour. … You know, he is not staying in one place. He is moving from one area to another. So, we will get him – very soon, hopefully,” Naquib added.
Rumours of Zarqawi’s capture have surfaced in recent weeks, including reports a month ago that he had been apprehended in the insurgent stronghold of Baquba, north of Baghdad.
The minister declined to provide details of the latest raids, including where they occurred and whether they involved joint US-Iraqi operations.
But he said Zarqawi’s support network had been weakened with the arrests of more than 350 “terrorists” in the three weeks before last Sunday’s election.
“We have weakened them very much and we are continuing to weaken them, and hopefully in a very short time nobody will hear about Zarqawi and his group,” the interior minister said.
Zarqawi is a Jordanian Sunni Muslim who leads the Al Qaeda network in Iraq. The group has claimed responsibility for numerous car bombings and other deadly attacks on US-led forces in Iraq and on Iraqi police and other security forces.
Naquib declined to say when US-led military coalition forces should begin withdrawing from Iraq, but said Iraqi security forces – helped by American military trainers – were making major strides and would be ready to take over security of the country and its borders in 18 months.