The shadowy leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, an al Qaeda-inspired group that challenged the authority of Iraq's government, was captured Friday in a raid on the western outskirts of Baghdad, an Iraqi military spokesman said.
Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was arrested along with several other insurgents in a raid in the town of Abu Ghraib, said Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, spokesman for the Baghdad security operation. U.S. officials had no confirmation of the capture and said they were looking into the report.
Al-Moussawi said al-Baghdadi admitted his identity, as did another "of the terrorists" who confirmed "that the one in our hands is al-Baghdadi."
The arrest of al-Baghdadi would be a major victory for U.S. and Iraqi forces in their fight against Sunni insurgents, especially the hardcore religious extremists who have shown no interest in negotiating an end to their struggle.
But some analysts have pointed out that the al Qaeda-linked extremists rebounded following the death last June of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the charismatic al Qaeda in Iraq leader who died in a U.S. air strike in Diyala province.
The self-styled Islamic State of Iraq was proclaimed in October, when a militant network that includes al Qaeda in Iraq announced in a video that it had established an Islamic state in six provinces including Baghdad that have large Sunni populations, along with parts of two other central provinces that are predominantly Shiite.
Unlike al-Zarqawi, virtually nothing is known of al-Baghdadi, including his real name. It is widely assumed that the name al-Baghdadi was taken as part of a campaign to make al Qaeda appear more of a homegrown Iraqi movement rather than an organization dominated by foreigners.
In a tape released last November, al-Zarqawi's successor, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, called on Sunni Muslims to pledge their allegiance to this new state and said al-Baghdadi was "the ruler of believers" with al Qaeda in Iraq fighters under his command.
Since then, the trappings of an Islamic shadow state with al Qaeda as its base has been taking shape in some towns and cities of Anbar province where a government presence hardly exists, according to Sunni residents.
In Other Developments From Iraq:
President Bush's troop buildup in Baghdad apparently will be bigger and more costly — and perhaps last longer — than it seemed when he unveiled the plan in January as the centerpiece of a new Iraq strategy. The total number of troops required for the plan, while still uncertain, is climbing. When Bush announced the boost of 21,500 combat troops, the Pentagon said still others would be required to go with them in support roles. Its initial estimate of 2,400 support troops has doubled and may go higher still.
U.S. forces killed a suspected militant and captured 16 others in raids across Iraq, the military said. Among those detained were a man accused of working in al Qaeda's media wing and another believed to be responsible for kidnappings, beheadings and suicide attacks.
International envoys on Friday were preparing for Saturday's international conference in Baghdad, which will be held at Iraq's Foreign Ministry just outside the heavily-fortified Green Zone. Mohammed Shakeel, a Middle East analyst with the risk consultancy firm Global Insight, said the March 10 conference was "the first realization on the part of all of the parties involved" that the situation within Iraq could not be resolved by factors and influences within the country alone. "The input of Iran is essential here, the input of Syria and the rest of the neighbors, Saudi Arabia included. The fact that they have all been brought together is a realization that more needs to be done to bring the violence under control," he said.
Prime Minister al-Maliki strolled Baghdad's streets and visited police checkpoints Friday to showcase security ahead of Saturday's conference. He chatted with residents, shook hands with Iraqi soldiers and bent down to kiss children who lined up behind cement barriers in the street. But the tour — during a weekly four-hour vehicle ban every Friday for the Muslim holy day — also pointed out Baghdad's inherent risks. Al-Maliki's office did not release any advance details of the outing because of safety concerns, but issued photos afterward.
A civilian contractor who dismantled explosives in Iraq for an environmental management consulting and technical services company has been killed. Donald Neil, 44, of Marston, Mass., was handling an explosive when it detonated. It was Neil's second tour in Iraq as a civilian; he had served in the U.S. Army for more than 20 years.