By Donna Miles
WASHINGTON, Sept. 14, 2006 – Iraqi and coalition forces captured a key al Qaeda operative and some 70 more terror suspects in Iraq during a series of 25 raids in and around Baghdad Sept. 12, a senior Multinational Force Iraq spokesman told reporters in Baghdad today. The raids netted a personal associate of Abu Ayyoub al-Masri, Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said. Masri took control of al Qaeda in Iraq after a U.S.-led air strike killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in early June.
While not revealing the detainee's name, Caldwell called him "the leader of assassination, kidnapping and IED (improvised explosive device) cells in Baghdad." He "is known to have directly participated in numerous terrorist acts" and to have contributed to sectarian violence throughout the city, Caldwell said.
In addition, the detainee played a key operational role in terrorist activities leading up to and during operations in Fallujah in November 2004, he said.
The Sept. 12 raids, which also netted dozens of other terror suspects and multiple weapons caches, is part of an ongoing effort to help secure Baghdad during Operation Together Forward, Caldwell told reporters.
Iraqi and coalition forces have been focusing on five specific neighborhoods that were experiencing the most sectarian violence. During the past two weeks, more than 150 focused operations resulted in 66 terrorists killed and 830 terror suspects detained, Caldwell said.
The focus expanded today into the Shaab and Ur neighborhoods, he said.
This approach appears to be working in the focus areas, where violence is down, Caldwell said.
However, he acknowledged that violence in other parts of Baghdad experienced a "spike" yesterday and noted that terrorist death squads "are clearly targeting civilians outside the focus areas."
"Overall, Baghdad's level of sectarian violence has been reduced," he said, "but remains above the levels of violence we saw before the Golden Mosque bombing in Samarra in late February."
Iraqi and coalition forces are working together to help bring these levels down, particularly with Ramadan just 10 days away. "As we approach Ramadan, we know there is generally an increase in violence, and the government of Iraq has ongoing plans to address this," Caldwell said.