BAGHDAD - Iraqi and U.S. forces claimed a major blow against one of the country's deadliest insurgent groups Tuesday, saying they killed the No. 2 leader of al-Qaida in Iraq who masterminded a brutal escalation in suicide bombings that has claimed nearly 700 lives in Baghdad since April.
The attacks also wounded 1,500 in the capital, according to an Associated Press tally.
Despite the reported success, a suicide attacker blew himself up in a police recruitment center in the town of Baqubah, north of the capital, killing nine people. In Baghdad, gunmen killed four policemen. At least 66 people, including four U.S. forces, have been killed in attacks since Sunday.
But the week's death toll could have been far higher: U.S. Marines intercepted a suicide bomber who had succeeded in driving his explosives-packed vehicle into the capital's heavily fortified Green Zone and reached within a mile of the U.S. Embassy.The discovery raised concerns about security in the zone, where U.S. and Iraqi government buildings and residences are located. A U.S. military spokesman said the driver of the car was arrested. The driver was caught at a checkpoint.
In southern Iraq, police found the badly decomposed bodies of 22 Iraqi men who had been shot and dumped in a field, many of them bound and blindfolded.
The al-Qaida in Iraq No. 2, Abdullah Abu Azzam, was killed in a gunbattle that broke out when he opened fire on troops raiding his hideout in a high-rise apartment building in southeast Baghdad before dawn Sunday, said Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, a U.S. military spokesman.
"Things that Zarqawi can not do because of his profile, Azzam was able to do. His impact reached far beyond Baghdad and actually had impact on operations throughout Iraq," a U.S. military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Donald Alston, said over British Broadcasting Corp. radio.
Al-Qaida in Iraq issued an Internet statement denying Abu Azzam was the group's deputy leader, calling him "one of al-Qaida's many soldiers."