BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi and coalition forces have arrested the second most senior figure in Al Qaeda in Iraq, Iraq's national security adviser announced on Sunday, saying the group now suffered from a "serious leadership crisis."
Hamed Jumaa Farid al-Saeedi, known as Abu Humam or Abu Rana, was captured north of Baghdad a few days ago "along with another group of his aides and followers," Mouwafak al-Rubaie said.
He was the second most important Al Qaeda in Iraq leader after Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who took over the group after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. air strike north of Baghdad on June 7, al-Rubaie said.
"We believe that Al Qaeda in Iraq suffers from a serious leadership crisis. Our troops have dealt fatal and painful blows to this organization," the security adviser said.
Al-Saeedi was "directly responsible" for Haitham Sabah Shaker Mohammed al-Badri, the alleged mastermind of the February bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, al-Rubaie added without elaborating.
The bombing inflamed tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims and triggered reprisal attacks that have killed hundreds of Iraqis and continue to this day. Al-Badri remains at large.
"Al-Saeedi carried out Al Qaeda's policies in Iraq and the orders of the slain al-Zarqawi to incite sectarian violence in the country, through attempting to start a civil war between Shiites and Sunnis — but their wishes did not materialize," al-Rubaie added.
A senior coalition official told The Associated Press that coalition forces were involved in al-Saeedi's arrest, although the official would not characterize what role they played.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because announcements were being made by Iraqi authorities, said al-Saeedi had been arrested along with three other individuals southwest of Baqouba.
Al-Saeedi "claims to be responsible for more attacks than he can remember" and has been involved in the insurgency almost from its beginning three years ago, the official said.
The U.S.-led coalition has announced numerous arrests of terrorists following the death of al-Zarqawi that officials claim have thrown Al Qaeda in Iraq into disarray.
But rampant sectarian violence and other attacks have continued. At least 16 Iraqis and two U.S. soldiers were killed Sunday in bomb attacks and shootings nationwide.
Al-Rubaie said al-Saeedi was arrested "along with another group of his aides and followers," and that after his arrest, he gave information that led to the capture or death of 11 other top Al Qaeda in Iraq figures and nine lower-level members.
The security adviser said those arrested included non-Iraqi Arabs, but he would not give any further information for security reasons.
Al-Rubaie said that according to Iraqi authorities' information, Al Qaeda in Iraq was being financed from both within the country and from abroad, "but the major finance is coming from outside Iraq."
Al-Saeedi was arrested as he was hiding in a residential building, the security adviser said, accusing the terror suspect of trying to use "children and women as human shields," al-Rubaie said, adding that no casualties occurred during the arrest.
After his arrest, al-Saeedi said Al Qaeda in Iraq was cooperating with supporters of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein "in the fields of exchanging information and logistic support," the security adviser said.
After al-Zarqawi was killed, authorities obtained information indicating that al-Saeedi had been operating in northern Salahuddin province, then moved on to operate outside Baqouba, the same area where al-Zarqawi was killed, al-Rubaie said.
Al-Saeedi "supervised terrorist groups that kidnapped people for ransom, and killed policemen after they received their salaries in order to finance terrorist operations," the security adviser said. "He used to order terrorist operations using mortars and roadside bombs, which led to the killing of several troops and innocent civilians."
He said al-Saeedi also supervised the creation of death squads and ordered assassinations, bombings, kidnappings and attacks on Iraqi police and army checkpoints.
Al-Saeedi's capture "will affect Al Qaeda in Iraq and its operations against our people, especially those aimed at inciting sectarian strife," al-Rubaie said.
Tensions, meanwhile, brewed in the north, after Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani on Friday ordered the Iraqi national flag to be replaced with the Kurdish one in his northern autonomous region.
The move has troubled Sunni Arabs, who fear Kurds are pushing for secession under the nation's new federal system.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office issued said Sunday that the national flag "is the only one which must be hoisted on each bit of Iraq's land."
A spokesman for the Kurdistan government defended his government's decision.
"We consider that this flag represents the ideology of the Baath Party" of Saddam Hussein, Khalid Saleh said. "And this regime has collapsed."
In other developments, reported by police on Sunday:
— An overnight mortar attack east of the capital killed six people, including two children, and wounded 15.
— A roadside bomb targeting a police patrol in eastern Baghdad killed two policemen and a civilian and wounded three policemen.
— Gunmen killed two policemen in a civilian car and wounded a third in Baqouba.
— A car bomb also killed three people in Baqouba.
— A civilian was gunned down and killed in a drive-by shooting in Amarah, 200 miles southeast of Baghdad.
— A suicide car bomb struck a police patrol in the northern city of Mosul, killing two policemen and wounding five people.