Official: Al Qaeda In Iraq Leader Wounded

Zarqawi's successor, Abu Ayyub Al-Masri aka Sheik Abu Hamza Al-Muhajer
Dept. of Defense
The leader of al Qaeda in Iraq was wounded and an aide was killed Thursday in a clash with Iraqi forces north of Baghdad, the Interior Ministry spokesman said.

The clash occurred near Balad, a major U.S. base about 50 miles north of the capital, Brig. Gen Abdul-Karim Khalaf said.

Khalaf said al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri was wounded and his aide, identified as Abu Abdullah al-Majemaai, was killed.

Khalaf declined to say how Iraqi forces knew al-Masri had been injured, and there was no report on the incident from U.S. authorities. Deputy Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Hussein Ali Kamal said he had no information about such a clash or that al-Masri had been involved.

Al-Masri took over the leadership of al Qaeda in Iraq after its charismatic leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was killed in a U.S. air strike last June in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad.

Meanwhile U.S. and Iraqi forces pushed deeper into Sunni militant strongholds in Baghdad — where cars rigged with explosives greeted their advance — while British-led teams in southern Iraq used shipping containers to block suspected weapon smuggling routes from Iran.

The series of car bomb blasts, which killed at least seven civilians, touched all corners of Baghdad. But they did little to disrupt a wide-ranging security sweep seeking to weaken militia groups' ability to fight U.S.-allied forces — and each other.

The attacks, however, pointed to the critical struggle to gain the upper hand on Baghdad's streets. The Pentagon hopes its current campaign of arrests and arms seizures will convince average Iraqis that militiamen are losing ground.

It will take a lot of convincing.

Iraqis, such as Sunnis living on Haifa Street in central Baghdad, still live in mortal fear, reports CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan.

"Right now it is very difficult with the enemy that is around here in this area — it is a real hostile area," says Lt. Juan Cantu, whose Crazyhorse Troop is guarding Haifa Street. "These people are scared just to go outside their front door."

In other developments:

  • Another round of conflicting reports deepened the mystery about the whereabouts of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose loyalists include the Mahdi Army militia. A top adviser to Iraq's prime minister, Sami al-Askari, said al-Sadr traveled to Iran "a few days ago," but gave no further details on how long he would stay. He denied that al-Sadr left the country in fear of arrest under the security crackdown. But a lawmaker loyal to al-Sadr, Saleh al-Ukaili, insisted that al-Sadr is in Iraq and claimed the accounts of his departure were part of a "campaign by the U.S. military" to track down the elusive cleric. A statement from the office of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani quoted him saying that he has no information on al-Sadr's location, but he believed "many of the Mahdi Army commanders have been instructed to leave Iraq to facilitate the mission of the security forces."
  • A U.S. Marine was killed in combat operations in Iraq's western Anbar Province, a Sunni militant stronghold. The soldiers name was not released pending notification of relatives.
  • Iraqi interpreters have to keep their faces hidden to survive working so closely with U.S. troops. They are the eyes and ears of American soldiers, but as CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan reports, for that, they are hunted down and murdered. There are close to 10,000 translators in Iraq alone — but until now, only 50 special visas to the U.S. have been available each year for both Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Most of the latest resistance has come from Sunni factions, which perceive their Saddam Hussein-era influence slipping away as the majority Shiites extend their political muscle and bolster ties to Iran.

    In Baghdad's Dora neighborhood — a longtime Sunni militant hotbed — two parked cars wired with explosives were triggered as a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol rolled pass. The convoy was unharmed, but the blast killed at least four civilians and injured 15.

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      Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.