WASHINGTON – U.S. and Iraqi security forces are getting closer to capturing or killing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search), the terror mastermind in Iraq, and they missed him by "one hour maybe" as recently as two weeks ago, Iraqi Interior Minister Falah al-Naquib said Thursday.
In a satellite video news conference from Baghdad with reporters at the Pentagon, Naquib said that he is confident Zarqawi eventually will be eliminated and the insurgency brought under Iraqi control.
He also cautioned, however, that insurgent violence is likely to remain a major threat.
"I expect they are planning for something. We might see some bad days in the next couple of weeks."
Naquib said the effort to capture or kill Zarqawi, whose terror group known as Al Qaeda in Iraq (search) is believed responsible for many of the most violent attacks against Iraqis and foreigners there, is highly dependent on intelligence information.
"We are following him, I must say that. I think we missed him twice or three times, but hopefully next time we will be able to capture him," Naquib said. Pressed for more details, the minister said, "We missed him by about one hour maybe" on at least one recent occasion.
"We will get him — very soon, hopefully."
He would not say whether the recent near encounters with Zarqawi involved U.S. or Iraqi forces, or both.
On Monday, Zarqawi's group vowed to continue its attacks despite the election. In a statement published on the Internet, the group said the elections "will increase our strength and intention to get rid of injustice."
Naquib also said the interim Iraqi government believes that Iraqi forces can be in complete control of the country's security within 18 months. The first step, he said, is securing the borders. That will take about 12 more months, he said, followed by emphasis on strengthening Iraqi intelligence organizations, modernizing the police forces and improving passport control.