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U.S. military: Terrorist associate seized in Iraq

14 dead in new wave of violence

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A newly promoted associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was arrested in Iraq on Saturday, the U.S. military reported, while elsewhere, two suicide car bombings and a drive-by shooting killed at least 14 people in separate incidents.

The al-Zarqawi associate was seized early Saturday along with five other terrorists in southern Falluja, the insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad, the military said.

Their identities were not disclosed.

Initially, the al-Zarqawi associate was thought to be a minor member of the terrorist's circle, however "due to a surge in the number of al-Zarqawi associates who have been captured or killed by [multinational forces] strikes and other operations, the member had moved up to take a critical position as an al-Zarqawi senior leader," the U.S. military said.

Falluja has been the site of intensified U.S. attacks in recent weeks, with American forces stepping up their efforts against al-Zarqawi and his Unification and Jihad group, which has staged attacks against U.S. forces, Iraqi police and civilians.

The U.S. State Department is offering $25 million for the capture or death of al-Zarqawi, blamed for the recent series of beheadings and who last week swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden.

In another development, al-Zarqawi's followers have dispersed to Falluja's outlying areas, where they are attempting to hide among the civilian population, according to a U.S. military news release.

Iraqi interim government officials Saturday told reporters at a news conference that the government was trying to maintain ongoing discussions with leaders of Falluja.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have threatened to launch a new offensive on Falluja if its tribal and religious leaders fail to hand over al-Zarqawi and other militants.

As for Saturday's attacks, the deadliest took place in western Iraq near Haditha, Camp Al-Asad, which is located along the Euphrates River about 124 miles west-northwest of Baghdad.

U.S. Marine spokesman Lt. Lyle Gilbert said the suicide attacker killed 10 Iraqi police and wounded at least five others, and there were no U.S. casualties.

But an Iraqi journalist on the scene said at least 30 people were wounded in the blast.

The car bomb targeted a police station, where dozens of Iraqis were lined up to surrender their weapons and/or join the police force, several witnesses told the journalist.

Several hours later, a suicide car bomb detonated at a highway checkpoint near Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad.

Two Iraqi national guard members were killed and another was wounded, a U.S. military spokesman said.

In the third attack, in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, insurgents in a vehicle fired on a five-truck convoy, killing two Turkish drivers and wounding two other Turks, local officials said.

An Iraqi national guard official said that attackers in a BMW fired at the convoy, which was arriving from Baghdad around 12:30 p.m. The trucks had delivered food to U.S. military bases in Baghdad, the national guard official said.

In another development, Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih said the weapons handover program -- an arms for cash plan -- in Baghdad's Sadr City has been "very successful" and he reiterated a comment earlier in the week by the government that it intends to expand it to other cities.

Also, the Marines reported on Saturday the deaths of three Iraqi civilians, killed Thursday when insurgents using small arms and a roadside bomb attacked a U.S. Marine patrol near the south-central city of Iskandariya.

Other developments

  • About $500 million in unaccounted funds from Saddam Hussein's former regime is being used to finance a growing insurgency in Iraq, a U.S. military intelligence official said Friday. (Full story)
  • Margaret Hassan, the kidnapped director of CARE International in Baghdad, was shown on a videotape broadcast by Al-Jazeera pleading for her life. In the video, Hassan spoke to the camera, sobbing and crying. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called the video "extremely distressing." (Full story)
  • U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has "serious doubts" that the special tribunal chosen to try Saddam Hussein and his top associates could meet judicial standards for fair and open proceedings, a U.N. spokesman said Friday. "It's doubtful whether U.N. officials should be involved in the establishment of a tribunal that is not a U.N. body," Stephane Dujarric said. "We have serious doubts regarding the capability of the Iraqi special tribunal to meet the relevant international standards."
  • A military judge ordered a U.S. reservist to stand trial January 7 in Baghdad in connection with inmate abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison. He is Spc. Charles Graner Jr. of the 372nd Military Police Company of Cresaptown, Maryland, the one-time boyfriend of Pfc. Lynndie England, who had appeared in the most widely publicized photos from Abu Ghraib. (Full story)
  • CNN's Barbara Starr, Jamie McIntyre and Nermeen Mufti contributed to this report.

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