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US says hot on heels of Iraq al Qaeda boss Zarqawi

By Staff
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BAGHDAD, May 4 (Reuters) The U.S. military said today it was close to capturing the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, after discovering documents and the unedited copy of a video he released last week.

Zarqawi was throwing all his resources into attacks in Baghdad and was probably somewhere close to the capital, U.S.

military spokesman Major-General Rick Lynch told a news conference.

''We believe it is only a matter of time until Zarqawi is taken down. It's not if, but when,'' he said.

''He's willing to pull his people from outside the perimeter of Baghdad into Baghdad to go full out on operations inside of Baghdad. Which leads us to believe his personal location is probably somewhere close to those operations. Zarqawi is zooming in on Baghdad, we are zooming in on Zarqawi.'' At his weekly media briefing, Lynch showed brief clips from what he said was the unedited video showing Zarqawi, wearing New Balance running shoes, struggling to handle the machine gun he was shown firing in the version posted on the Internet and aired on television.

Another clip appears to show his aides grabbing the gun's hot muzzle and fumbling with it after he had finished.

Each clip lasted only a few seconds and Lynch did not say how much more footage there was.

''So what you saw on the Internet was what he wanted the world to see 'look at me. I am a capable leader of a capable organisation and we are indeed declaring war against democracy in Iraq','' Lynch said.

''What he didn't show you were the clips that I showed you: wearing New Balance sneakers with his uniform, surrounded by supposedly competent subordinates who grab the hot barrel of a just-fired machine gun, ... a warrior leader, Zarqawi, who doesn't understand how to operate his weapons system.

''It makes you wonder.'' DEMOCRACY A FAILURE FOR ZARQAWI Zarqawi was now focusing his strategy on Baghdad to prevent the formation of a government of national unity, Lynch said.

Prime Minister-designate Nuri al-Maliki is forming a cabinet embracing majority Shi'ite Muslims as well as Sunni Arabs and Kurds, a move widely seen as vital in quashing the Zarqawi-led insurgency and mounting sectarian bloodshed.

''The person who has the most to lose in the formation of a government of national unity is Zarqawi,'' Lynch said.

''He's been told by his leadership that democracy equals failure for Zarqawi and al Qaeda in Iraq.'' The video and documents were captured during a series of raids around Yusufiya, just south of Baghdad, which Lynch said was a staging post for suicide and other attacks in the capital.

Washington says the edited video was a desperate bid by Zarqawi to win recruits and shore up support.

But analysts say it shows he has a long term strategy to challenge the government not based only on suicide bombers.

REUTERS PM PC2145

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