Iraq Officials: Zarqawi Is Hurt

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Iraq's interior and defense ministers said Thursday that they have information that Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has been wounded.

"We have information in the Ministry of Interior that al-Zarqawi was wounded, but we don't know how seriously," Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said during a news conference. "We are not sure whether he is dead or not but we are sure that he is injured."

"Yes, it is true," said Iraqi Defense Minister Saadoun al-Duleimi when asked if al-Zarqawi had been wounded. Asked how he knew, he said: "It is my job."

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A Web site statement posted Thursday and signed in the name of al Qaeda in Iraq said the militant group has appointed an interim leader for al-Zarqawi. But a subsequent posting shortly afterward disputed the claim.

The authenticity of either statement could not be verified, though the second was posted in the name of the person who usually handles the group's Web site claims and announcements.

Wednesday's back-and-forth on the same Web site, known as a clearinghouse of Islamic militant material, could be a sign of confusion or competition within al Qaeda in Iraq. It follows speculation about the Jordanian-born militant that has been unusual in size and scope.

"It makes me wonder if al-Zarqawi's injury is severe enough that they are afraid to lie about it, and are instead just trying to minimize the impact," said Washington-based counterterrorism expert Evan Kohlmann. "In other words, they 'steal the thunder' from the Western media ... a crude form of defusing a potential public relations disaster."

The latest furor over al-Zarqawi began Tuesday when an Internet statement called on Muslims to pray for his life, followed by competing statements on his health and whereabouts.

The rumors and claims in recent days have pointed to al-Zarqawi possibly being wounded by a bullet penetrating his lung and some imply that he may have died or been taken out of Iraq for medical care.

The first statement Wednesday was signed in the name of Abu Doujanah al-Tunisi of the media committee of al Qaeda in Iraq — an unfamiliar name from past statements.

"The leaders met after the injury of our sheik, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi ... and decided to appoint a deputy to take the lead until the return of our sheik," it said in a posting on a militant Web site that two days earlier announced al-Zarqawi had been injured.

The statement said the new leader would be Abu Hafs al-Gerni, "deputy of the holy warriors."