Iraqi security forces have arrested the "most lethal" top lieutenant of al Qaeda's leader in Iraq — a man allegedly behind 75 percent of the car bombings in Baghdad since the U.S.-led invasion, the prime minister's office said Monday.
Sami Mohammed Ali Said al-Jaaf, also known as Abu Omar al-Kurdi, was arrested during a Jan. 15 raid in Baghdad, a government statement said Monday. Two other militants linked to Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's terror group also have been arrested, authorities announced Monday.
Al-Jaaf was "the most lethal of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's lieutenants," the statement said.
The announcement Monday came a few hours after a suicide driver detonated a car bomb at a guard post outside the Iraqi prime minister's party headquarters in Baghdad, injuring at least 10 people. Zarqawi's group claimed responsibility for the attack.
Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi heads al Qaeda in Iraq, the terror network's local affiliate. The group is behind many of the car bombings, beheadings, assassinations and other attacks driving the insurgency in Iraq.
Al-Jaaf was responsible for 32 car bombing attacks that killed hundreds of Iraqis, the statement said.
"Abu Omar al-Kurdi claims responsibility for some of the most ruthless attacks on Iraqi police forces and police stations," said Thaer al-Naqib, spokesman for interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.
The statement said al-Jaaf "confessed to building approximately 75 percent of the car bombs used in attacks in Baghdad since March 2003," al-Naqib said.
Authorities also announced Monday that Iraqi security forces had arrested a man described as the chief of al-Zarqawi's propaganda operations.
And in the northern city of Mosul, Iraqi forces seized one of al-Zarqawi's weapons suppliers.
In other developments:
Mortar rounds slammed into an Iraqi National Guard camp near Baghdad International Airport on Monday, as the rumble of distant explosions reverberated through the capital. There was no report of casualties in the mortar attack.
The suicide bomber struck at a police checkpoint on the road leading to Allawi's Iraqi National Accord offices in central Baghdad, shaking the city center with a thunderous explosion. Among the wounded were eight policemen and two civilians, said Dr. Mudhar Abdul-Hussein of Yarmouk Hospital.
Al Qaeda's wing in Iraq said in a Web posting that "one of the young lions in the suicide regiment" carried out the attack against the party office of Allawi, "the agent of the Jews and the Christians."
The attacks occurred six days before Iraq's crucial national elections, the first since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Insurgents have condemned the elections and vowed to disrupt them.
In an audiotape posted Sunday on the Web, a speaker claiming to be al-Zarqawi declared "fierce war" on democracy and said anyone who takes part in next weekend's Iraqi elections would be considered "an infidel."
"We have declared a fierce war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology," the speaker said. "Anyone who tries to help set up this system is part of it."
The speaker warned Iraqis to be careful of "the enemy's plan to implement so-called democracy in your country." He said the Americans have engineered the election to install Shiite Muslims in power. Al-Zarqawi, who is a Sunni Arab like most of the insurgents here, has in the past branded Shiites as heretics.
The United States has offered a $25 million reward for al-Zarqawi's capture or death — the same amount as for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
During weekend appearances on American television, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq acknowledged there were serious security problems ahead of this weekend's landmark ballot, in which Iraqis will choose a national legislature that will run the country and draft a permanent constitution. Legislatures in 18 provinces and a regional parliament in the Kurdish-run areas of the north will also be elected.
American and Iraqi officials have warned they expect rebels to unleash bloodshed and mayhem to keep voters from the polls in what supporters are advertising as the first free election in this country since the overthrow of Iraq's monarchy in 1958.
During the weekend talk shows, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte acknowledged an increase in rebel intimidation of Iraqi officials and security forces and said serious security problems remain in the Sunni Triangle north and west of Baghdad.
Monday's blast in Baghdad rattled buildings along the Tigris River in the center of the city and sent black smoke rising above the skyline. U.S. military helicopters cut through overcast skies above the scene.
Splintered police vehicles were engulfed in flames, and gunfire rattled after the explosion.