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U.S. says top insurgent aide killed in raid

Coalition forces find suicide vests, passport material

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

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U.S. Army

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A man believed to have been a top aide of an insurgent with links to al Qaeda has been killed in a U.S. raid in the central Iraqi town of Habbaniya, an Army spokesman said Tuesday.

Abu Mohammed Hamza, an explosives expert, was carrying a Jordanian passport when the military found his body after a raid Thursday, the Army said.

The United States believes Hamza was one of the top lieutenants of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian suspected of writing a letter to al Qaeda leadership seeking help to combat the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Iraqis who work with it. The U.S. military said it intercepted the letter last month with an al Qaeda courier. The letter's author claims responsibility for attacks in Iraq.

Coalition forces found bomb-making material, suicide vests, passport materials, electronic components, pro-Saddam Hussein material and pictures of Zarqawi in the house where Hamza was staying, said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt at a briefing in Baghdad.

Hamza likely was killed during an exchange of fire between U.S. soldiers and guerrillas, Kimmitt said.

The U.S. military arrested other people in the raid and are questioning them about insurgent operations and Zarqawi's whereabouts.

"What we're doing right now is evaluating the material that we got from that raid that we did the other day, and hopefully we'll be able to go ahead and get some good leads on Zarqawi," said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Charles Swannack Jr. "If not, we'll find him some day, we'll track him some day and get him."

The coalition has issued a $10 million bounty for information leading to Zarqawi's arrest.

The purported Zarqawi letter depicts insurgents as worried about what effect Iraqi self-rule, scheduled for this summer, will have on their efforts. It also expresses frustration over the lack of cooperation between Iraqis and foreign fighters, the Americans' staying power and the growing solidification of Iraqi security forces. (Full story)

The United States suspects Zarqawi of planning the 2002 killing of a U.S. diplomat in Jordan, and American officials said last month they have mounting evidence that he was involved in a November attack on Italian troops in Nasiriya and the August bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the 4th Infantry Division announced the arrest of a former Baath Party official with links to Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the highest-ranking fugitive remaining on the U.S. list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis. Members of the division apprehended Khatan al-Anber during a raid Monday night in Baqubah.

U.S. briefs Security Council

The United States said Tuesday that it hopes the United Nations will continue to play a role in Iraq as the country moves toward elections next year.

In a briefing to the U.N. Security Council, John Negroponte, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, also said the hunt for banned weapons in Iraq is ongoing.

"Additional work remains before the question of Iraq's stockpiles can be fully and completely addressed," Negroponte said.

Former top U.S. weapons inspector David Kay has said it's unlikely any significant stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction will be found in Iraq.

But Negroponte said the U.S. team of inspectors called the Iraq Survey Group continues to interview scientists and look for evidence of "WMD program activities."

The Security Council meeting followed the release of a report Monday by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan from a special fact-finding team that studied the issue of direct elections in Iraq. (Full story)

The report said that direct elections for a transitional legislature could not take place before June 30, the deadline for the transfer of sovereignty back to Iraqis, and likely could not be held until next year. It also ruled out the U.S. proposal for caucus-style elections instead of a direct vote.

Negroponte said that the United States was studying the report and that the details of how Iraq will be governed between June 30 and the date for direct elections remained unclear.

He said the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council is working on a transitional administrative law that would be the basis for a permanent Iraqi Constitution.

A coalition spokesman in Baghdad said Tuesday that he is hopeful Iraqi authorities will complete an interim constitution by the end of the month, as called for in the November 15 handover agreement.

"We're hopeful that the deadline will be met," said Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor. "The Governing Council has given us every indication that it will."

The Iraqi Governing Council has decided to wait to negotiate agreements on the presence and status of coalition forces in Iraq after the return of sovereignty, Senor said. The agreements originally were scheduled to be struck by the end of March, he said.

Other developments

• A car bomb attack on a police station Monday killed eight police officers and wounded 35 others in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, the U.S. military said. Thirty-three police officers and two children were wounded in the attack. The blast came as U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made an unannounced visit to Baghdad, where he praised Iraqis who have stepped forward to maintain security in their nation.

• The U.S. military said Monday that 17 military personnel have been relieved of duty pending the results of a criminal investigation into alleged abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, two senior officials said. Criminal charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice could be filed within two weeks, sources said. Sources have said the allegations came to light based on reports from other soldiers and possible photographs. The photos reportedly included images of partially clothed prisoners and others allegedly showing them being struck by guards.

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