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Iraq Announces Info From Al-Zarqawi Raid

 

Jun 15, 6:22 AM (ET)

 

By KIM GAMEL

 

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - Iraq's national security adviser said Thursday a "huge treasure" of documents and computer records was seized after the raid on terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's hideout, giving the Iraqi government the upper hand in its fight against al-Qaida in Iraq.

 

National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie also said he believed the security situation in the country would improve enough to allow a large number of U.S.-led forces to leave Iraq by the end of this year, and a majority to depart by the end of next year. "And maybe the last soldier will leave Iraq by mid-2008," he said.

 

Al-Rubaie said a laptop, flashdrive and other documents were found in the debris after the airstrike that killed the al-Qaida in Iraq leader last week outside Baqouba, and more information has been uncovered in raids of other insurgent hideouts since then.

 

He called it a "huge treasure ... a huge amount of information."

 

When asked how he could be sure the information was authentic, al-Rubaie said "there is nothing more authentic than finding a thumbdrive in his pocket."

 

"We believe that this is the beginning of the end of al-Qaida in Iraq," al-Rubaie said, adding that the documents showed al-Qaida is in "pretty bad shape," politically and in terms of training, weapons and media.

 

"Now we have the upper hand," he said at a news conference in Baghdad. "We feel that we know their locations, the names of their leaders, their whereabouts, their movements, through the documents we found during the last few days."

 

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, meanwhile, pressed forward with his initiative to crack down on violence in Baghdad. Government forces fanned out across Baghdad for a second day, setting up checkpoints and frisking motorists.

 

Al-Maliki has promised the crackdown would not target any ethnic or sectarian group.

 

Gunmen killed an engineer and kidnapped another, and a detergent factory worker was shot to death as he was headed to work elsewhere in western Baghdad, police said, but no major violence was reported in the capital, a day after al-Maliki's major security operation was launched.

 

Elsewhere, however, gunmen stormed a Sunni mosque near Tikrit, killing four people and wounding 15, including a fundamentalist Sunni cleric who has spoken out against the killing of Iraqis as part of the insurgency.

 

In addition to announcing the security crackdown, al-Maliki opened the door Wednesday for talks with insurgents opposed to the country's political process as part of a national reconciliation initiative, but he said any negotiations would exclude terrorist groups. The plan could include a pardon for some prisoners.

 

A senior White House official said the Iraqis have indicated that they are looking for "models" in national reconciliation. Another official said al-Maliki had inquired whether Bosnians or South Africans might be able to provide expertise.

 

"There is also a space for dialogue with insurgents who opposed the political process and now want to join the political process after offering guarantees," al-Maliki said. "But on the other hand we are not going to negotiate with the criminals who have killed the innocent."

 

A top al-Maliki adviser told The Washington Post the plan could include pardons for those who had attacked U.S. troops. Adnan Ali al-Kadhimi told the Post "there is a patriotic feeling among the Iraqi youth and the belief that those attacks are legitimate acts of resistance and defending their homeland. These people will be pardoned definitely, I believe."

 

The security crackdown in Baghdad includes a curfew extended by 4 1/2 hours - from 8:30 p.m. until dawn - and a weapons ban. The government did not say how long the crackdown would last and declined to give precise numbers about checkpoints and troops.

 

Operation Forward Together, involving 75,000 Iraqi army and police forces backed by U.S. troops, began Wednesday at a crucial time - one day after Bush visited Baghdad to reassure Iraqis of Washington's continued support and exactly a week after al-Zarqawi's death in a U.S. airstrike.

 

During Bush's visit, Iraq's Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi asked him for a timeline for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq, the president's office said.

 

"I supported him in this," President Jalal Talabani said in a statement released Wednesday. Al-Hashimi's representatives could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

 

Bush made it clear that a U.S. military presence - now at about 132,000 troops - would continue, although he stressed the fate of the Iraqis was in their own hands.

 

Al-Hashimi also said there were "promises to free about 3,500 detainees" by June 26, the statement from Talabani's office said. That number that would be above the 2,500 to be freed as part of a bid by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to soothe Sunni Arabs over allegations of random detentions and maltreatment at the hands of the Shiite-led government.

 

More than 450 detainees were being released Thursday as part of al-Maliki's national reconciliation efforts, according to the U.S. military.

 

Many Baghdad residents were hopeful about al-Maliki's efforts, although some were clearly impatient as they waited for 15 minutes or more to get through the checkpoints.

 

"The reconciliation plan should exclude those responsible for bloodshed of the Iraqi people," resident Abdul-Sada Ali told AP Television News. "It is a very good step by Mr. Nouri al-Maliki."

 

The security operation was al-Maliki's first major action since his new government of national unity was sworn in on May 20, and a week after he gained the consensus he needed from Iraq's ethnic and sectarian groups to fill three key posts - defense, interior and national security.

 

---

 

Associated Press writers Sameer N. Yacoub and Qais al-Bashir contributed to this report.

 

http://apnews.myway.com/article/20060615/D8I8JAC80.html

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