BAGHDAD -- A special Iraqi police unit arrested a senior Ba'ath Party leader on the US military's most-wanted list during a raid yesterday on his home in a Baghdad suburb.
The capture of Mohammed Zimam Abdul Razaq leaves only 10 top figures at large from the list of 55 issued after Saddam Hussein's regime fell. Abdul Razaq is number 41 -- the four of spades in the military's deck of cards depicting top fugitives.
Deputy Interior Minister Ahmed Kadhum Ibrahim touted the arrest as evidence that the still-rebuilding Iraqi police force "can be depended upon in the fight against terrorism," as he looked to give his unit a boost a day after police in the turbulent city of Fallujah were overwhelmed by dozens of gunmen in one of the most organized guerrilla attacks yet.
US officials gave conflicting reports yesterday on whether foreign fighters or Hussein loyalists carried out the bold daytime assault on the Fallujah police station.
At least 25 people, mostly police officers, were killed in the raid, more than 30 people were wounded, and the attackers freed dozens of prisoners at the station. The assault raised questions about whether Iraqi security forces are ready to take the front line against the insurgency when the United States hands over power to the Iraqis on June 30.
The top US administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, suggested yesterday on the ABC news program "This Week" that the Bush administration might be open to compromise on when the transfer of power will take place.
"The US is here for a long commitment," he said. "The job is to get a democratic, stable, unified Iraq at peace with itself and with its neighbors. And that will take time. It isn't going to end on June 30."
The captured Abdul Razaq once headed the Ba'ath Party in the northern provinces of Nineveh and Tamim, which include the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk. He earlier served as interior minister, and Ibrahim said he kept a "personal prison" behind the police academy where "innocent people" were held in dog cages.
Abdul Razaq was presented to reporters at the Interior Ministry, where he sat next to Ibrahim on a couch, wearing a black traditional Arab robe and a white headdress. He then was handed over to the US-led coalition, Ibrahim said at a news conference later.
Police caught Abdul Razaq's trail when they were tipped off that his son was trying to obtain weapons and fake passports, Ibrahim said.
Police watched the elder Abdul Razaq for 10 days before the special operations unit, trained by US specialists, moved in on his house in the Baghdad suburb of Saydiya yesterday afternoon and found him on the second floor, Ibrahim said. Abdul Razaq offered no resistance.
Ibrahim called on the highest-ranking figure at large from the US list, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, to surrender.
If Douri turns himself in, "he will be treated with dignity," Ibrahim said. Douri, the former vice chairman of the ruling Revolutionary Command Council and a member of Hussein's inner circle, is number six on the US most-wanted list.
Earlier yesterday, two US convoys were attacked nearly simultaneously in the same western neighborhood in Baghdad. A roadside bomb went off near one of the convoys, causing no injuries. But the soldiers opened fire, killing an Iraqi driver nearby and wounding six others, according to one of the injured and hospital officials.
Nearby, gunmen opened fire on another convoy, hitting a civilian sport-utility vehicle. The US command reported no casualties, but witnesses reported seeing three wounded people being taken from the vehicle.
In Qaim, near the Syrian border about 200 miles northwest of Baghdad, US troops backed by tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles clashed yesterday with Iraqi gunmen, but no casualties were reported.
US and Iraqi officials have blamed Hussein loyalists and foreign Islamic fighters infiltrating Iraq for the persistent campaign of attacks on American forces and their Iraqi allies. But pinpointing which guerrillas are responsible for individual attacks has proved difficult.
The stunning attack in Fallujah on Saturday was no exception.
Bremer said he thought fighters from outside Iraq participated in the assault. "There were foreigners apparently involved. We're still looking into that to try to find out what the implications are," he said on "This Week."
Two of at least four gunmen killed in the gun battle had Lebanese identification papers, Fallujah police said.