U.S. Won't Confirm Al Qaeda In Iraq Arrest

Al Qaeda and man in shackles, terrorist AP / CBS

The U.S. is not confirming Thursday's reported capture of a man with suspected links to al Qaeda in Iraq.

A Pentagon spokesman said the U.S. is trying to confirm the arrest of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, head of the Islamic State of Iraq. He adds that he hopes the report is true because that "would be very good news."

Word of the arrest comes as two suicide bombings in Iraq today leave more than 50 people dead and dozens more wounded.

Al-Baghdadi has been a key target for U.S. and Iraqi forces for years, though little is known about him. Iraqi officials have reported his arrest or death in the past, only to retract their statements.

Iraqi officials told CBS News terrorism consultant Ali al-Ahmed Thursday that Al-Baghdadi had been arrested.

Arabic media outlets were also reporting the arrest, citing senior sources in the Iraqi military. Iraqi state television quoted military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi as saying that al-Baghdadi was in custody.

If true, the arrest could deliver a significant blow to an intensified campaign of attacks - the latest which included two separate suicide bombings that killed at least 54 people Thursday.

Al-Baghdadi leads the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group of Sunni militant factions that is believed dominated by Al Qaeda in Iraq. However in the past, Iraqi officials have reported al-Baghdadi's arrest or killing, only to later say they were wrong. The U.S. military has even said al-Baghdadi could be a fictitious character used to give an Iraqi face to an organization dominated by foreign al Qaeda fighters.

Al-Baghdadi has been a key target for U.S. and Iraqi forces for years. But little is known about his origins or real influence over insurgent groups. The insurgents have staged a series of high-profile attacks in recent weeks, apparently including the two suicide blasts Thursday in Baghdad and north of the capital in Diyala province.

In March, a 17-minute audio message attributed to al-Baghdadi called Washington's announcement of a combat withdrawal timetable from Iraq "recognition of defeat." The statement was carried on militant Web sites.

Meanwhile, two separate suicide attacks in Iraq killed scores of people, Iraqi officials said Thursday. One attack was in Baghdad, the other in Muqdadiyah, 60 miles northeast of Baghdad.

The attacks were the latest in a series of high-profile bombings that have raised concern of an uptick in violence as the U.S. military scales back its forces before a planned withdrawal by the end of 2011.

A previously undisclosed Iraqi government tally obtained by The Associated Press shows that at least 87,215 Iraqis have been killed in violence since 2005.

An in-depth AP review shows the total for the entire war exceeds 110,000 Iraqis. That figure is based on the government tally and counts of casualties from earlier years from hospital sources and media reports.

A government official shared the Iraqi death tally on condition of anonymity, providing the most authoritative accounting to date of the war's toll.

It still excludes thousands of people who are missing and civilians who were buried in the chaos of war without official notice.
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