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U.S., Iraqi Forces Capture al-Qaida Leader in Mosul

16 June 2005

Muhammad Khalaf Shakar captured without a fight, U.S. general says

By Merle D. Kellerhals, Jr.
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Al-Qaida's top leader in the Mosul area of northern Iraq was taken without a fight by American and Iraqi military forces June 14, a senior U.S. general says.

Muhammad Khalaf Shakar, also known as Abu Talha, is considered al-Qaida's most trusted agent in Mosul, Marine Lieutenant General James T. Conway said June 16 at a Pentagon briefing.

Talha, who never spent more than one night in any one place, had vowed he would never be taken alive and wore a suicide vest loaded with explosives to make certain, Conway said.

Multiple intelligence sources led coalition forces to Talha's location in a quiet section of Mosul, according to a U.S. Central Command statement.  He gave up peacefully and is cooperating fully with American and Iraqi officials, the statement said.

U.S. officials have said that Talha was considered by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as one of his most trusted operations agents in Iraq.  Zarqawi, al-Qaida's top agent in Iraq, is the most wanted man in Iraq by coalition forces.

"This is a major defeat for the al-Qaida terrorist organization in Iraq.  Zarqawi's leader in Mosul is out of business," said Brigadier General Don Alston, director of strategic communications for Multinational Force-Iraq, at a separate briefing June 16 in Baghdad.

Alston said information from Iraqi citizens contributed to the capture of Talha, "further evidence this increasingly unpopular insurgency has ordinary people stepping up against terror, but not without a price."

"Over the past few months we've had considerable success taking apart the Abu Talha network in the Mosul area.  This success has included killing or capturing cell leaders, car bomb makers, financiers, extortionists, kidnappers, foreign fighters, as well as those Iraqis who support terrorists," Alston said.

Elsewhere in Iraq, Conway said that the total number of trained and equipped Iraqi security forces has reached 169,000 personnel.

"They continue to grow their operational capabilities.  I want to emphasize, however, that training and equipping are only part of the equation to building a capable and effective security force," Conway said.  "You need to have strong leadership, effective command and control, operational capability and, simply put, experience.  And that doesn't happen overnight."

Conway said the U.S.-led coalition has a plan for supporting the growing Iraqi security force capabilities.

"We're partnering our battalions with theirs, and our military transition teams are working with these units to enable them to operate independently," he said.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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