BAGHDAD, Iraq – A special Iraqi police unit arrested a senior Baath Party (search) leader on the U.S. military's most-wanted list during a raid Sunday on his home in a Baghdad suburb.
The capture of Mohammed Zimam Abdul Razaq (search) leaves only 10 top figures still at large from the list of 55 issued after the Saddam Hussein (search) regime fell. Abdul Razaq was No. 41, and the four of spades in the military's "deck of cards" of top fugitives.
Deputy Interior Minister Ahmed Kadhum Ibrahim touted the arrest as evidence that the still-rebuilding Iraqi police force "can be depended upon in the fight against terrorism" -- looking to give his troops a boost a day after police in the turbulent city of Fallujah were overwhelmed by dozens of gunmen in one of the best organized guerrilla attacks yet.
U.S. officials gave conflicting reports Sunday on whether foreign fighters or Saddam loyalists carried out the bold, daytime assault on the Fallujah police station.
At least 25 people, mostly police, were killed in the raid, more than 30 people were wounded, and the attackers freed dozens of prisoners at the station. The assault raised questions about whether Iraqi security forces are ready to take the front line against the insurgency when the United States hands over power to the Iraqis on June 30.
The top U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, suggested Sunday on ABC's "This Week" program that the Bush administration might be open to compromise on when the transfer of power to Iraq will take place.
"The U.S. is here for a long commitment," he said. "The job is to get a democratic, stable, unified Iraq at peace with itself and with its neighbors. And that will take time. It isn't going to end on June 30."
The captured Abdul Razaq once headed Saddam's Baath Party in the northern provinces of Nineveh and Tamim, which include the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk. He earlier served as interior minister, and Ibrahim said he kept a "personal prison" behind the police academy where "innocent people" were held in dog cages.
Abdul Razaq was presented to reporters at the Interior Ministry, where he sat next to Ibrahim on a couch, wearing a black traditional Arab robe and a white headdress. He was then handed over to the U.S.-led coalition, Ibrahim said at a press conference later.
Police caught Abdul Razaq's trail when they were tipped off that his son was trying to obtain weapons and fake passports, Ibrahim said.
Police watched the elder Abdul Razaq for 10 days before the special operations unit -- trained by U.S. experts -- moved in on his house in the Baghdad suburb of Saydiya on Sunday afternoon and found him on the second floor, Ibrahim said. Abdul Razaq offered no resistance.
Ibrahim called on the highest ranking figure still at large from the U.S. list, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, to surrender.
If al-Douri turns himself in, "he will be treated with dignity," Ibrahim said. Al-Douri, the former vice chairman of the ruling Revolutionary Command Council and a member of Saddam's innermost circle, is No. 6 on the U.S. most-wanted list.
Earlier Sunday, two U.S. convoys were attacked nearly simultaneously in the same western neighborhood in Baghdad. A roadside bomb went off by one of the convoys, causing no injuries. But the soldiers opened fire, killing one Iraqi driver nearby and wounding six others, according to one of the victims and hospital officials.
Nearby, gunmen opened fire on another convoy, hitting a civilian sport utility vehicle. The U.S. command reported no casualties, but witnesses reported seeing three wounded foreigners being taken from the vehicle.
In Qaim, near the Syrian border about 200 miles northwest of Baghdad, U.S. troops backed by tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles clashed Sunday with Iraqi gunmen, but there was no report of casualties.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have blamed Saddam loyalists and foreign Islamic fighters infiltrating Iraq for the persistent campaign of attacks on American forces and their Iraqi allies. But pinpointing which guerrillas are behind individual attacks has proven difficult.
The stunning attack in Fallujah on Saturday was no exception.
Bremer said he believed fighters from outside Iraq participated in the assault.
"There were foreigners apparently involved. We're still looking into that to try to find out what the implications are," he told ABC's "This Week."
Two of at least four gunmen killed in the gun battle had Lebanese identification papers, Fallujah police said. Some policemen said they heard attackers speaking a language other than Arabic, perhaps Farsi.
But a U.S. military officer in Baghdad said the attack's sophistication pointed to former high-ranking Saddam military officers from Tikrit.
"It was a complex, well coordinated attack. This would not be the same tactics that Al Qaeda would employ. These are military tactics," he said on condition of anonymity.
He said the foreign language heard was more likely Kurdish, saying the raiders may have been joined by members of Ansar al-Islam, an Iraqi group made up of Sunni Kurds suspected of links to Al Qaeda.
Lt. Col. Jalal Sabri, a Fallujah policeman who survived the attack, said the slain attackers were Kurdish in appearance.
The well-planned assault involved groups of rebel soldiers deftly mounting simultaneous operations -- pinning down civil defense forces at a nearby on one side of town while raiding the jail on the other.