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Originally published Monday, January 12, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Iraq says terror commander tied to bombings captured

Iraqi officials said Iraqi forces had captured the leader of Ansar al-Sunna, one of the most active and deadly of the terrorist groups operating in Iraq and one whose origins were believed to be linked to al-Qaida.

The New York Times

BAGHDAD — Iraqi officials said Iraqi forces had captured the leader of Ansar al-Sunna, one of the most active and deadly of the terrorist groups operating in Iraq and one whose origins were believed to be linked to al-Qaida.

The U.S. military had no comment on the capture and did not say whether it agreed with the Iraqi security forces' identification of the man as an Ansar al-Sunna leader. One of the most heinous crimes to which that man confessed was the car bombing in the Huriya neighborhood last June 16 in which 40 people were killed, the security-plan spokesman said.

At the time, the U.S. military said the type of explosives used indicated Iranian-backed "special groups" were likely to have been responsible.

If accurate, the capture of Ansar al-Sunna's leader would be a significant development. The group, initially based in the mountains of Kurdistan, became active in 2001, before the U.S. invasion. It was first made up of Kurdish extremists and attacked Kurdish soldiers.

After 2003, Ansar al-Sunna moved into northern and central Iraq and claimed responsibility for some high-profile attacks, including the December 2004 suicide bombing of an Army mess tent in Mosul that killed 18 Americans and four others, and the suicide bombing of the political-party headquarters of the two Kurdish political parties in Irbil in February 2004, which killed 109 people.

"The national police arrested the general commander of armed forces for Ansar al-Sunna in Iraq in the Yarmouk neighborhood, acting on intelligence," said Qassim Atta al-Moussawi, a spokesman for Baghdad security officials.

The Ansar al-Sunna commander, who goes by the name Thayer Kadhim Abid Salman al-Surawi, was captured Dec. 18, the spokesman said. After questioning, he added, the commander confessed he was involved in 13 crimes from 2006-08, including suicide bombings and executions.

Al-Moussawi said al-Surawi also admitted he had connections to some Iraqi political figures, suggesting some Iraqi politicians had had ties to violent extremists. "We have the names of those helping this terrorist. They work inside Iraq and unfortunately some of them are part of the political process," al-Moussawi said. "Their aim is to shake stability."

Also

Soldier killed: The U.S. military said Sunday that a soldier was killed Saturday by a roadside bomb in eastern Baghdad. As of Sunday, at least 4,224 members of the U.S. military have died in the Iraq war, according to an Associated Press count.

Lawmakers disagree: The Iraqi parliament delayed the selection of a new speaker Sunday as Sunni lawmakers squabbled over which Sunni faction should get the post. For the past three years, the position has been held by a Sunni under an informal arrangement that allocated the top political jobs by sect and ethnicity to ensure that all groups were represented. There is no argument about whether the post should go to a Sunni; the disagreement is over which Sunni party will fill it.

Press coverage: Iraq has lifted a requirement that journalists must sign a binding code of conduct to cover key events in the upcoming provincial elections after a flood of complaints, an official said Sunday. Critics claimed the threat of punishment for reports perceived as unfair could undermine independent coverage of Iraq's first election in three years. The vote is expected to redistribute power among Iraq's ethnic and religious groups.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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