US forces kill Al Qaeda leader in Iraq

Two helicopters collide on base; 1 dead, 4 injured

By Jeffrey Fleishman
Los Angeles Times / October 5, 2008
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BAGHDAD - An Al Qaeda leader in Iraq suspected of executing a Russian official and orchestrating a recent wave of bombings in Baghdad has been killed by US forces in a shoot-out, the military said yesterday.

Mahir Ahmad Mahmud Zubaydi and his wife were killed Friday when US troops surrounded a building in an attempt to capture him in Baghdad's Adhamiya neighborhood.

Security officials asserted that Zubaydi, also known as Abu Rami, was a leader in the insurgency behind near-simultaneous bombings at two Shi'ite mosques Thursday that killed at least 24 people and wounded dozens. They said Zubaydi was responsible for all terrorist operations in eastern Baghdad.

In a separate development yesterday, the military said two US helicopters collided while landing at a base in Baghdad, killing one Iraqi soldier and wounding two American troops and two other Iraqis.

The UH-60 Black Hawks crashed shortly before 9 p.m. in a northern section of the capital, the military said. The wounded included two American troops and two other Iraqis, but the total number of people on board was not yet known, a statement said.

The crash did not appear to have been caused by hostile fire, said Captain Charles Calio, military spokesman. An investigation was underway.

It was the second US helicopter crash in Iraq in two weeks. A CH-47 Chinook crashed in the southern desert about 60 miles west of Basra on Sept. 18, killing all seven American soldiers on board. The military said the crash apparently was the result of a mechanical problem, not hostile fire.

Rear Admiral Patrick Driscoll, a US military spokesman, said the death of Zubaydi "will send shock waves through Baghdad's terrorist bombing networks."

US forces and coalition forces closed in on Zubaydi after receiving tips from insurgents in custody, the statement said. American troops came under fire while trying to arrest him, and "acting in self-defense, coalition forces returned fire, killing Abu Rami and a female," the statement read.

The US military said Zubaydi was a former member of the Sunni Muslim militant group Ansar al Islam and had been responsible for bombings and other attacks in Baghdad for at least two years. He is alleged to have carried out the 2006 kidnappings and executions of four Russian Embassy workers, including one who was videotaped allegedly being shot by Zubaydi.

The mosque bombings last week followed a significant drop in violence and raised concerns among Iraqi and US officials about a possible reprise of sectarian bloodshed from Sunni insurgency groups targeting Shi'ites.

The US military has tried to ease tensions between the two sects, including the recent American-backed plan for the Iraqi government to absorb up to 100,000 Sunni fighters known as the Sons of Iraq.

Army General Ray Odierno, the new US commander in Iraq, told reporters in Diwaniyah Province that coalition forces have made "good inroads inside the network" behind the recent attacks. The general added, "I feel confident that we will continue to go after them and make it very difficult for them to continue."

Also yesterday, Poland turned over control of an area south of Baghdad to American troops, making it the latest in a string of countries to leave the dwindling US-led coalition.

But even as Polish troops head home from Iraq, their government is boosting troop levels in Afghanistan and preparing for a US missile defense base in Poland.

Polish soldiers hoisted their nation's flag on a parade field at their main base, Camp Echo, just outside Diwaniyah.

Odierno said "the timing is right" for Poland's withdrawal, thanks to a sharp drop in violence.

Polish special forces fought in the initial 2003 invasion, and the country went on to command an international coalition (that at its peak included troops from more than 20 other countries) and oversaw five provinces south of Baghdad.

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.

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