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Iraq Claims Arrest of Alleged al-Qaida Cell

Iraq's Interior Ministry said it has arrested seven men from an alleged al-Qaida in Iraq cell suspected of a string of car bombings and other attacks.

Interior Ministry spokesman Abdel-Karim Khalaf told reporters Tuesday the group includes Shi'ite Muslims. That is extremely unusual regarding al-Qaida in Iraq, which is almost entirely composed of Sunni extremists, and which has staged many deadly attacks on Shi'ite civilians.

Khalaf said one of the Shi'ite suspects is a police officer who is accused of helping the attackers get car bombs through police checkpoints.

At a news conference in Baghdad, the Interior Ministry played what it said was a videotaped confession from the men, one of whom said he was the head of an al-Qaida cell in Haditha, a town in western Anbar province.

Khalaf said members of the group were responsible for at least 25 attacks, including car bombings and vehicle hijackings.

In a separate development, the Iraqi government released a photo Tuesday of the man it said is the detained Sunni insurgent leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the alleged head of the al-Qaida-linked group known as the Islamic State of Iraq.  

The photograph showed a bearded man wearing a black T-shirt.

Authorities announced the arrest of Baghdadi last week, but had offered no evidence that he was in custody.

Earlier claims of Baghdadi's arrest or death turned out to be false, and the U.S. military has previously called him a fictional character invented to put an Iraqi face on an extremist group run mostly by foreigners.

Elsewhere in Iraq Tuesday, a group of relatives and supporters of Iraq's executed former leader, Saddam Hussein, marked his birthday in the small village where he was born. They laid flowers on his grave in the town of Ouja, near Tikrit, north of Baghdad.

The former dictator would have turned 72 on Tuesday. He was hanged in 2006 after an Iraqi court convicted him of crimes against humanity.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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