Top al-Qaida officer dies in U.S. attack

Man sets off suicide vest

post-2008 security pact advances

October 16, 2008|By Ned Parker and Saif Hameed | Ned Parker and Saif Hameed,Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD -

A Moroccan fighter identified by the U.S. military as the No. 2 commander in al-Qaida in Iraq detonated a suicide vest rather than surrender when American soldiers attacked his hide-out last week in the northern city of Mosul, a military spokesman said yesterday.

The fighter, known as Abu Qaswarah or Abu Sara, led al-Qaida in Iraq's northern operations and was the point man for smuggling foreign fighters into that region, according to the military.

U.S. forces were raiding a building where Abu Qaswarah was holed up Oct. 5 when a gunfight erupted, the military spokesman said. The wounded militant leader moved upstairs with his fighters and some women and children and exploded his suicide vest.

The gunfight and blast killed four other fighters, three women and three children, said the spokesman, who requested anonymity. "It was a crazy scene," he said. "It's not clear who died from what."

The U.S. military announced the incident the day it occurred, mentioning that five militants had died along with the women and children, and said one of the fighters had blown himself up. But Abu Qaswarah's name was revealed only yesterday, after the military had confirmed his identity.

Also yesterday, senior Iraqi leaders confirmed that they are seeking to present the long-stalled U.S.-Iraq security agreement to the country's Political Council for National Security as soon as tomorrow. The body includes Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the heads of major political blocs in parliament.

Officials said that if the council approves the text in its current form, it probably would be submitted to parliament. However, a deal is far from certain.

The agreement, which U.S. officials had hoped to conclude in July, would provide a framework for U.S. forces to stay in Iraq after the U.N. mandate authorizing them expires at the end of the year.

Naseer Ani, the chief of staff for Iraq's three- member presidency council, cautioned that the Political Council for National Security might seek further changes to the document.

The agreement, with minor alterations, has been in its current form since late summer. According to a copy read to the Los Angeles Times in August by an Iraqi politician, it calls for all U.S. forces to leave Iraq by the end of 2011 unless Iraq requests otherwise. Till then, American troops would move to bases outside major population centers by the end of June, unless Iraq asks them to stay in the cities.

Iraqis have described the question of legal immunity for U.S. troops accused of crimes in Iraq as the most sensitive point. The current compromise language for the most part exempts soldiers from Iraqi law when they are on combat missions or on base. However, if a soldier commits an act that could be considered a premeditated crime or gross negligence against an Iraqi, the U.S. and Iraqi sides would convene a joint panel to decide whether the case should be referred to an Iraqi court, a senior Iraqi official familiar with the text said this week.

Iraqi lawmakers have cautioned that the compromise might not be enough to get the deal approved.

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