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Tipster helped US soldiers catch Iraq insurgency leader

RAMADI, Iraq -- A tip led the US Army to capture the guerrilla leader directing attacks in one of Iraq's most dangerous regions, a US military commander said in an interview yesterday.

Now, the tipster who turned in Khamis Sirhan al-Muhammad could collect a reward of up to $1 million.

Muhammad, whose mug shot depicts a man with tousled black hair and a grizzled beard, has reportedly been directing bloody ambushes against US troops in the restive cities of Fallujah and Ramadi in Anbar province.

His guerrillas also have dynamited electric pylons and oil pipelines, and derailed and robbed freight trains.

"We've been tracking this guy for a long time," said Major General Charles H. Swannack, commander of the Army's 82d Airborne Division, based in Ramadi, west of Baghdad.

The capture of Muhammad appears to have crippled the network that kept guerrillas funded and armed, Swannack said.

"The insurgency in Anbar province has been substantially disrupted," the general said. "I'm watching to see if someone can replace Khamis Sirhan."

It was the middle of the night Sunday when troops from the 82d Airborne and US Special Forces found a weary, submissive Muhammad hiding in a mud brick farmhouse in the flatlands north of Fallujah, Swannack said.

Intelligence analysts had tracked Muhammad for months, harrying the former regional Ba'ath Party chairman and militia commander. Troops made almost a dozen raids, some of which may have missed Muhammad by minutes.

"We were able to keep him moving," Swannack said. "We caused him to take risks he shouldn't have been taking. That's how we got him."

Analysts started closing in on Muhammad when they traced his tribal roots around the village of Saqlawiyah, near Fallujah, said Lieutenant Colonel Steve Grove, the 82d Airborne's chief intelligence officer.

"We located family members and tribal members and worked up the tree," he said.

Muhammad's importance far outweighed his original position as No. 54 on the 55 list of most-wanted Iraqis, Grove said. At the time of his capture, he had become the fourth most-wanted man among the 13 remaining fugitives.

Muhammad received cash and orders directly from Saddam Hussein -- who was captured Dec. 13 -- to mount attacks on US troops, Swannack said.

Judging by the number of attacks on US forces in Anbar province, Muhammad led a deadly and persistent guerrilla resistance -- even as he was being chased. Since his arrest, Muhammad has divulged details of the 20 guerrilla cells in the region; as a result, US troops have captured 41 insurgents and two former Iraqi generals, Grove said.

One of the generals, Mahmoud Khudair Younes, was linked to the downing of a Black Hawk helicopter last week that killed nine US soldiers, the division said. The other, Khalil Ibrahim Fayal al-Dulaymi, helped coordinate guerrilla operations in Baghdad and Anbar province.

Muhammad was under interrogation yesterday at a detention camp.

"He's talking. He's very cooperative. He's giving us lots of good information," Grove said. The man who divulged Muhammad's whereabouts, an Iraqi civilian whom the division declined to identify, is being considered for the reward.Lieutenant Colonel Tom Ayers, the division's judge advocate, said US officials were analyzing the man's contribution to the arrest. "It's very likely that he won't get the full million," Ayers said.

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