BAGHDAD, Iraq – U.S. troops killed a lieutenant of suspected Al Qaeda-linked militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search), the military said Tuesday, and Polish soldiers arrested nine suspects, including some thought involved in homicide bombings that killed 63 people.
American troops distributing leaflets knocked on the door of a house in a western town, and the alleged al-Zarqawi associate, Abu Mohammed Hamza, opened fire from inside, the military said. The soldiers returned fire, killing Hamza, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said.
Three other men who tried to run from the scene were captured in the action last Thursday by Iraqi police and troops from the 1st Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division, the military said.
In the house in Habbaniyah, soldiers found bomb-making materials and explosives -- including a homicide bomber's vest rigged with a grenade and ball bearings -- pro-Saddam Hussein (search) literature and pictures of al-Zarqawi, Kimmitt said.
U.S. officials have offered a $10 million reward for al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian, saying he is trying to build a network of foreign militants in Iraq to work on Al Qaeda's behalf. Hamza had a Jordanian passport; officials were trying to confirm his nationality.
American officials have not determined who is behind the string of homicide attacks that have killed more than 300 people -- mainly Iraqis -- this year. Some officials have suggested al-Zarqawi is organizing the campaign, but others have said Saddam loyalists are responsible.
"We believe al-Zarqawi has some associates around him and is reaching out to other disaffected organizations," Kimmitt said. "We don't believe he came into the country with a huge infrastructure, but he is trying to develop an infrastructure here."
On Tuesday, Polish troops arrested nine suspected militants in the Karbala region of southern Iraq, according to PAP, the Polish news agency.
"Six among the detainees, currently questioned by the coalition troops, are on lists of [people] suspected of direct terrorist attacks. This may be the people who took part in the attacks in Hillah and Iskandariyah," Gen. Mieczyslaw Bieniek told reporters at the Polish camp near Hillah.
On Feb. 10, a car bomb went off outside a police station in Iskandariyah, south of Baghdad, killing 53 people. The attack in Hillah came eight days later, targeting a Polish base and killing 10 Iraqis.
Bieniek did not give the suspects' nationalities.
Tuesday evening, gunmen in a vehicle fired on an Iraqi police patrol in Fallujah, wounding one policeman. Last week, dozens of insurgents overwhelmed a police station in the turbulent city -- a center of guerrilla violence -- in a battle that killed 25 people, mostly policemen.
An Iraqi policeman who was wounded in a homicide car bombing outside a police station in the northern city of Kirkuk died Tuesday, raising the death toll to nine in Monday's blast, said Lt. Raad Allawi.
Persistent violence against Iraqis and U.S. forces was one reason U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi (search) recommended against holding elections before the June 30 handover of power from U.S. administrators. He also said Monday that it would take eight months to organize an election once an election law is formulated -- estimating that January 2005 is likely the earliest date a ballot could take place.
That judgment frustrated leaders of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority, who had been leading the campaign for an early vote, and left open the question of how provisional government will be created.
Brahimi also ruled out the original U.S. plan to use regional caucuses to create the government, which he said Iraqis consider too easily manipulated by the Americans.
Members of the Iraqi Governing Council discussed the United Nations report Tuesday and will probably make a formal response in a few days -- mostly likely requesting U.N. help, according to Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish Sunni member.
There is a "general belief" among council members "that the presence of the United Nations is essential" because it lends legitimacy to deliberations over Iraq's future, Othman said.
With speedy elections ruled out, Shiites want the provisional government's powers to be tightly restricted.
"The government that will take over on July 1 will be a caretaker governor that has specific and limited authority and powers. The main task of this government will be to prepare for elections," Mouwafak al-Rubaie, a Shiite council member said.