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Iraq Transition

Islamist Web site: Zarqawi 'well'

Baghdad prepares for massive sweep of insurgents

Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, appears in an undated photo.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Wanted militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- the man thought to be behind many of the insurgent attacks in Baghdad and across Iraq -- is "well and leading jihadi operations," an Islamist Web site posting claimed Friday.

The announcement surfaced as Iraqi forces got ready to crack down on insurgents in Baghdad in a push code-named Operation Lightning.

The head of al Qaeda in Iraq has eluded U.S. and Iraqi authorities for months.

The militant has a $25 million bounty on his head, and earlier this week, Islamist Web postings reported he was wounded. The report sparked speculation that someone would replace him.

The latest statement denies that any replacement has been named and says al-Zarqawi has always had one deputy, Abu Abdel Rahman al-Iraqi, as well as several advisers.

The statement urged "all media to go back and listen to an audio message from Zarqawi's deputy and other statements by him."

The statement is signed by Abu Maysara al-Iraqi -- the man who has played the role of media coordinator for al Qaeda in Iraq.

Baghdad sweep

Operation Lightning is bringing praise from the U.S. military, which has made building effective Iraqi armed forces a top priority.

Iraqi officials said 40,000 Iraqi troops will take part in the sweep, which will establish cordons and checkpoints, gather intelligence and initiate raids with the purpose of apprehending insurgents.

Brig. Gen. Donald Alston, the multinational forces' director of strategic communications, said the plan shows that the transitional Iraqi government is responding appropriately to the spike in insurgent attacks.

"I think it was important for them to communicate to the Iraqi people that they are changing from a defensive posture to an offensive posture, and Operation Lightning is how they're demonstrating that," he said.

"This has been an Iraqi-planned operation and an Iraqi-led operation. And I think that they're conveying that sense of confidence to the public," Alston said.

Insurgents have stepped up car bomb attacks in the capital of 6 million people since the transitional government chose a Cabinet in late April.

President Bush and other U.S. officials have stated repeatedly that the multinational forces will leave Iraq when the country can defend itself.

On Friday, in a commencement speech to U.S. Naval Academy graduates, Bush said, "We will train Iraqi forces so they can take the fight to the enemy and defend their own country, and then our troops will come home with the honor they have earned."

Raids net insurgents

The U.S. military said it's nabbed 21 suspected insurgents in Baghdad, Mosul and Tal Afar.

Among the 11 arrested during a raid in Baghdad early Thursday were two men described as "specifically targeted suspects."

The military identified one as a police officer who served under Saddam Hussein and is "thought to be involved in terror cells."

The military says the suspected insurgent scouts roads "for coalition convoys, then initiates and participates in attacks against them."

The other detainee "is thought to be involved with a terror cell that assassinates or kidnaps Iraqis" who work with the army, police or coalition forces, the military said.

Two raids around Mosul brought in nine more suspected terrorists; the remaining person was captured in Tal Afar.

Also Thursday, multinational forces from Task Force Freedom said soldiers took into custody six suspected terrorists south of Mosul and one in a raid in Tal Afar.

Another raid in western Mosul netted three suspected terrorists, the military said.

Meanwhile, insurgents killed a local police chief and two police officers at Mosul University, authorities said. Miklif Mussa was the police chief of nearby al Sharqat.

Other developments

  • The U.S. military said three U.S. soldiers were killed in action Thursday -- two soldiers when their helicopter was shot down near Baquba, and a Marine during an offensive in the western town of Haditha. That brings the U.S. death toll in the war to 1,652.
  • The Haditha operation, which involves U.S. and Iraqi forces, has netted five suspected insurgents, the U.S. Marines said Thursday. On Wednesday, the first day of Operation New Market, one Marine died and at least 10 insurgents were killed.
  • Britain's "routine turnover" in military deployment in Iraq will add 400 troops for a total of 8,500 troops deployed in the country by Monday, the country's defense minister said.

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