BAGHDAD, Iraq – The U.S. military said Wednesday the arrest of Al Qaeda in Iraq's second in command took place in June and was the most significant blow to the terror network since the death of al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Violence continued around the country, with at least 28 people dying in shootings and bombings that also wounded at least 53.
Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said Hamed Jumaa Farid al-Saeedi, also known as Abu Humam or Abu Rana, was captured on June 19 — not a few days ago as the Iraqi government had initially announced.
"As with most terrorists that are picked up, they are not initially announced as being captured because of the intelligence value that is normally gained from somebody not knowing that they are in fact in Iraqi government control," Caldwell said. "There are other people in captivity right now who are not announced."
Iraq's national security adviser, Mouwafak al-Rubaie, announced al-Saeedi's arrest on Sunday, saying it had occurred a few days earlier. But Caldwell said that it was only the permission to announce the arrest that had been given a few days earlier.
Caldwell called the arrest the most significant since Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike on June 7.
Al-Saeedi "provided an enormous amount of intelligence," he said.
"There is no question that the Al Qaeda in Iraq network has been degraded and disorganized here in Iraq," he said during a separate interview with Associated Press Radio.
But he warned that the organization is resilient. "They're still going to be able to do strikes at different times that gain sensationalism on TV," he said.
He added that the man who masterminded the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra reported directly to al-Saeedi. That attack, 60 miles north of Baghdad, inflamed tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims and triggered months of reprisal attacks that have killed hundreds of Iraqis.
The spokesman said there was a link between the intelligence gathered during the operation that killed Zarqawi on June 7 — and other operations that directly followed his death — and al-Saeedi's capture less than two weeks later. Caldwell would not say what the link was.
Also on Wednesday, two bombs exploded in northern Baghdad within minutes of each other, killing at least nine people and wounding 39 others, police said.
The blasts — from a parked car bomb and a roadside bomb — had targeted a passing Iraqi army patrol at a busy intersection during the morning rush hour as people headed to work, police 1st Lt. Mohammed Khayun said.
The car bomb was parked in front of a tire repair shop, witness Abdel-Majeed Salah, told AP Television News. He said a minibus with passengers on board was behind the parked car when it detonated, and all on board were killed.
Two of the dead and eight of the wounded were Iraqi soldiers, police said.
In northeastern Baghdad, gunmen opened fire on a procession of pilgrims heading to the Shiite holy city of Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, killing one person and wounding two, police 1st Lt. Ali Abbas said.
Tens of thousands of people are expected in Karbala, 50 miles south of the capital, on Saturday to observe Shaaban, a religious celebration. Many of the pilgrims travel to the city on foot.
Mortar attacks in residential areas in Diyala province, north of Baghdad, killed three people: a 2-year-old child in the Khan Bani Saad area and two people in Muqdadiyah, 60 miles north of Baghdad, police said.
In Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, gunmen killed three construction workers waiting for a bus. An employee in the Diyala police and army coordination office was shot to death as she left her house in the city's Tahrir neighborhood. Gunmen also killed the owner of a food store in the same area, police said.
Clashes between gunmen and Iraqi police in the Dora neighborhood in southern Baghdad left two gunmen dead and six wounded, police Lt. Ahmed Hameed said, while one policeman and one civilian were killed in separate drive-by shootings on the outskirts of Kut, said Maamoun al-Ajili, an official at the city's morgue.
A car bomb on the outskirts of Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, struck a police patrol, killing six policemen and wounding another six, police Maj. Ahmed Khalid said.
Police in Baghdad said they found 19 bodies dumped on streets across the capital. All had been shot, and most had their hands and feet bound and bore signs of torture.
The violence came a day after Iraq's parliament resumed following its summer recess and voted to extend a state of emergency for a month. The measure, which has been in place for almost two years, covers every area except the autonomous Kurdish region in the north and grants security forces the power to impose curfews and make arrests without warrants.
The state of emergency has been renewed every month since first being authorized in November 2004.
In the past two weeks, hundreds of Iraqis have been killed by suicide bombings, shootings and mortar and rocket attacks.
Visiting British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett met Tuesday with Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh and stressed the importance of transferring security from the U.S.-led coalition to Iraqi forces. The handover is a key part of any eventual drawdown of international troops in the country.
British troops handed over control of southern Muthanna province in July, and another southern province, Dhi Qar, is to follow this month.
A highly anticipated ceremony to mark the handover of Iraq's armed forces command from the U.S.-led coalition was set for Thursday, five days after it was abruptly called off at the last minute.
Meanwhile, the father of a popular Iraqi soccer player kidnapped on his way to a training session a few days ago issued an emotional appeal for his son's release.
Ghanim Ghudayer, 22, a member of Iraq's Olympic team and considered one of the best players in Baghdad's Air Force Club, was snatched on Sunday by assailants in the al-Amil neighborhood where he lives in western Baghdad.
Police said some of the kidnappers had been dressed in military uniforms.
The player's father, Jarallah Ghudayer, called on the Iraqi government and humanitarian organizations to help him find his son.
"We pray to Almighty God and we call on the government and all Islamic and international organizations and clerics to help us release our son," he said, his voice breaking.