MOSUL, Iraq – Iraq’s foreign minister said tests were under way Monday to determine if the leader of the country’s most feared terror group was killed in a bloody weekend raid in this northern city, but U.S. officials cast doubt on the notion that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was dead.
Speculation swept across Iraq as details trickled out about a pitched fight against suspected al-Qaida members on Saturday in the city where Saddam Hussein’s sons were killed in July 2003.
Eight insurgents and four Iraqi policemen died in the raid by U.S. and Iraqi forces, including three insurgents who blew themselves up to avoid capture, officials said.
In Moscow, visiting Iraqi Foreign Minister Hohshyar Zebari told Jordan’s official Petra news agency that authorities were testing DNA samples from several corpses to determine if al-Zarqawi was among them.
But the U.S. ambassador to Iraq said he doubted that the dead included al-Zarqawi.
“I don’t believe that we got him. Of course, his days are numbered, we are after him, we are getting ever closer,” Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters.
However, a U.S. government official in Washington confirmed that DNA from the eight insurgents who died in the raid were taken for testing. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
The raid took place on a two-story house in a mostly Kurdish area of eastern Mosul where attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces are fewer than in the western, mostly Sunni Arab part of the city. However, U.S. soldiers say many insurgents live on the eastern side, labeling them “commuter terrorists” who would launch attacks in the west during the day and return to their homes in the east at night.
Shahwan Fadhl Ali, who lives near the scene, said eight Arabs – four men, a woman and three children – had been living quietly at the house since last year. “They might have been Syrians or Jordanians but not Iraqis,” he said.
U.S. forces, who had cordoned off the house through the weekend, left the scene early Monday.