Iraqis arrest former top aide in Saddam's regime

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 12, 2009 

BAGHDAD -- Iraqi security forces seized a top aide to the most wanted man in Iraq, capturing him Sunday in a helicopter raid in Diyala province, an Iraqi security official who participated in the raid said Monday.

Ayad Jalal Abdulwahab has been working closely with Izzat al Douri, the vice president under the regime of the late dictator Saddam Hussein, the security official said. Douri is still at large and is viewed by U.S. officials as Saddam's successor in the resistance movement. The Iraqi force that captured Abdulwahab turned him over to U.S. forces, which brought him to Baghdad, where he's undergoing interrogation, Iraqi officials said.

Abdulwahab was in charge of operations in Salahuddin province, the capital of which is Tikrit, Saddam's hometown, said the Iraqi official, who requested anonymity because he isn't authorized to speak to reporters.

The U.S. Multi-National Corps-Iraq, which is responsible for tactical military operations, said Iraqi special constables, with U.S. advisers, arrested a suspected explosives specialist thought to be "a key provider" of explosives throughout Diyala province. The explosives were used in multiple attacks against Iraqi and U.S.-led international forces.

The U.S. military spokesman didn't identify the arrested person by name but said he was suspected of having ties with networks in northern Iraq and having distributed explosive devices to terrorist cells.

Maj. Joe Scrocca of the joint operations center said the detainee had ties with the Jaysh Rijal al Tariq al Naqshabandi, a group that he said operates in northern Iraq. He gave no additional details about the group, which is little known in Iraq.

U.S. and Iraqi forces captured Abdulwahab in the town of Qara Tappa, 55 miles northeast of Baquba, the capital of Diyala province, by rappelling from helicopters onto a residence in the town, said the officer who took part in the raid.

The soldiers didn't have to fire their weapons. The U.S. Multi-National Corps-Iraq said the operation was carried out by the Iraqi Emergency Response Battalion, which operates under direct orders from Baghdad. However, the security officer who participated in the raid said this was done to avoid involving the local security forces, which often are infiltrated by armed groups.

Local government and security officials in Diyala and Salahuddin provinces said they had no information about the raid.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry confirmed the operation and said that the Baghdad-based Central Investigative Court had issued a warrant for Abdulwahab's arrest, based on intelligence indicating his involvement in terrorist operations.

"He is accused of making, distributing and planting improvised explosive devices that have killed and injured many people," said Col. Alaa Saeed, the ministry's media liaison. "He is now in the custody of special American forces in Baghdad, and the interrogation is ongoing," he said.

Al Douri was the vice president and deputy chairman of Saddam's Revolutionary Command Council until the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. During the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, he served as a high-ranking military commander.

Following the fall of Baghdad, al Douri went into hiding. U.S. officials claimed that he was involved in the subsequent Iraqi insurgency against U.S. forces, directing and funding guerrilla attacks as well as brokering an alliance between Baathist insurgents and militant Islamists. Four days after Saddam's execution on Dec. 30, 2006, the Baath party confirmed al Douri as its new leader.

Al Douri is the "King of Clubs" in the "most-wanted Iraqi playing cards" issued by U.S. forces after the invasion. Following the capture of Saddam, he became the most wanted man in Iraq.

(Issa is a McClatchy special correspondent. Roy Gutman in Baghdad and a McClatchy special correspondent in Diyala province, who asked not to be identified for security reasons, contributed to this article.)

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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