Iraq: capture of the "most trusted operations agent"

Fugitive terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's "most trusted operations agent" in Iraq was captured without incident two days ago in the northern city of &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Mosul, the U.S. military said in an e-mailed statement today, tells Bloomberg.

The operative, identified as Muhammad Khalaf Shakar, and known as Abu Talha, was found after intelligence sources pinpointed his location in the city, according to the statement. Abu Talha is "fully cooperating" with U.S. and Iraqi officials, the statement said.

According to the New York Times, Mr. Sharkawa, whose alias is Abu Talha, met as often as once a month with Mr. Zarqawi south of Mosul and in western Iraq, and when he was captured was Mr. Zarqawi's most important lieutenant still operating freely in Iraq, said Col. Robert Brown, the commander of the 1st Brigade of the &to=http:// ' target=_blank>25th Infantry Division in Mosul, whose troops were involved in seizing Mr. Sharkawa.

While the American military has announced the capture of several of Mr. Zarqawi's top lieutenants, Mr. Sharkawa was their most-wanted man in northern Iraq. In an interview in December, Brig. Gen. Carter F. Ham, then the commander of American forces here, said of Mr. Sharkawa, "Right now, if we could get one guy off the street in northern Iraq, he would be the guy."

Mr. Sharkawa was a leader of the Salafists, extremist Islamists who wanted a government so weak that the vacuum would allow a Taliban-style theocracy to develop, General Ham said. While Mr. Sharkawa worked for jihadist goals, he joined secular Baathists and loyalists to Mr. Hussein who were also trying to derail the political process. He operated in the background, luring jihadist suicide bombers and hiring other young men to carry out attacks, the general said.

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