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US Military Doubts Al-Masri Wounded in Clash with Iraqi Police

16 February 2007

The U.S. military is casting doubt on reports that al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri has been wounded in a clash with government troops.

U.S. military officials in Baghdad say they have no indication that the reports are true.

Earlier, Iraqi television (al-Iraqiya) cited an Interior Ministry spokesman as saying al-Masri was wounded and his top aide was killed in a firefight with Iraqi police near the town of Balad, north of Baghdad. He did not provide further details.

Al-Masri - also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajer - is an Egyptian, who took over the leadership of al-Qaida in Iraq last year, after the group's top leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed.

Meanwhile, Iraqi, U.S. and British forces are continuing security sweeps in Baghdad and the southern city of Basra in a new effort to end sectarian and insurgent violence.

Thursday, seven people were killed in three car bomb blasts in the capital. And in northern Iraq gunmen killed three off-duty guards of Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari -- a Kurdish politician.

In other news, Iraq's borders with Syria and Iran have been closed since late Wednesday when the government ordered them closed for 72 as part of the new security crackdown.

And Iraq's President Jalal Talabani said Iraq's biggest Shi'ite militia, the Mahdi Army, ordered some of its members to leave Iraq temporarily.

The Mahdi Army is loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who Iraqi and U.S. officials say is already in Iran.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.

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