By Gerry J. Gilmore
WASHINGTON, July 5, 2006 – The new al Qaeda in Iraq leader is an explosives expert who could opt to increase insurgent attacks using car and truck bombs, a senior U.S. military officer said in Baghdad today. Army Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, a spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq, told reporters that it would be prudent to expect a rise in attacks with such devices in light of Egyptian Abu Ayyub al-Masri's reputation.
Masri's predecessor as the head of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was killed June 7 during a U.S. aerial bombing raid. Caldwell said security is being stiffened at Baghdad traffic checkpoints, which are among the key targets for attacks with car bombs. "Checkpoints continue to be modified, moved around the city," Caldwell said. However, he acknowledged, vehicle-borne attacks like the July 1 explosion that killed more than 60 Iraqis in a Baghdad marketplace can still occur.
"But, we're making every effort, along with our Iraqi security forces, to stop that," Caldwell said, noting Iraqi soldiers and police are getting much better at preempting and disrupting terrorist activities. Caldwell highlighted a recent incident in which Iraqi forces stopped an insurgent vehicle at a Baghdad traffic checkpoint and rescued three kidnapping victims who were held inside.
"The two kidnappers attempted to escape, but were picked up shortly thereafter by Iraqi security forces," Caldwell recalled. "This is one of the first things you start seeing when you see the positive results of all these different checkpoints operating throughout the city." In addition, U.S., coalition and Iraqi security forces continue to put pressure on insurgents, Caldwell said, noting that June was "a pretty active month."
He also noted that about 420 foreign fighters are currently being detained in Iraq. Most are from Egypt and Syria, with others hailing from Sudan and Saudi Arabia. Caldwell also commented on the U.S.-conducted criminal investigations involving a small number of American service members who've been accused of committing high crimes against Iraqi citizens, including murder.
"Clearly we've got four cases that we're investigating very thoroughly here right now," Caldwell said, "but they are not at all indicative of the great performance of the men and women that are serving in the armed forces of the United States." Caldwell confirmed that one of the cases involves former Army Pfc. Steven D. Green, who was arrested June 30 in North Carolina and faces federal rape and murder charges