Iraqi officials say they have arrested three top aides to terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Iraq's deputy prime minister says the arrests, during the last several weeks, have hurt the insurgency. But at least six people were killed in attacks on Friday, and the deputy prime minister acknowledges that the insurgency remains a serious threat as Iraqis prepare to go to the polls on Sunday. Speaking from Baghdad to reporters at the Pentagon on Friday he also predicted a larger turnout for the election than many experts have predicted.
A senior Iraqi official announced two of the arrests in Baghdad early Friday. The official said men known as Abu Saif, known also as Salah Salman Dubaig al-Ubaidi, and Abu Hassan known also as Ali Hamed al-Issawi, were key members of the Zarqawi terrorist organization.
Later, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih said Abu Saif was in charge of attacks in Baghdad, and Abu Hassan was Zarqawi's logistics chief. And the deputy prime minister also announced a third arrest. "I am happy to tell you that our security services have also arrested a third high level Zarqawi lieutenant," he said. "His name is Abu Ali. His real name is Anad Mohammed Hamid al-Qais, a 31-year-old Iraqi. He served as a military adviser to high ranking Zarqawi affiliates and assisted in assisted in financing terrorist activities in Baghdad."
Deputy Prime Minister Salih says in the last two weeks the Iraqi authorities have also arrested 12 other leaders of the terrorist network and two thousand lower-ranking members.
One of they suspects arrested last week is alleged to have been the bomb maker responsible the August 2003 attack on the United Nations compound in Baghdad, and several other deadly blasts.
Mr. Salih says many of the recent arrests resulted from information provided by ordinary Iraqis, and the men in custody have provided a lot of information about the terrorists' activities.
Mr. Salih says the arrests have hurt the insurgency, but it must still be taken seriously. "While we hope, and we believe, as a matter of fact, that these arrests have helped erode the capability of Zarqawi and his ability to inflict damage on the Iraqi people, we are taking this terrorist organization as a serious threat and we are working aggressively to get Zarqawi and his other lieutenants, and to eradicate them from [the] Iraqi scene," he said.
Iraqi and U.S. officials expect attacks to continue in Iraq, including on Election Day on Sunday. The insurgents have threatened massive attacks, and say they will wash the streets of Baghdad with the blood of people who go to vote.
But Deputy Prime Minister Salih says in spite of the threats, he has received indications in recent days that more people will go to vote than experts have predicted, even in the mainly Sunni areas in the middle of the country, where opponents of the election are particularly strong.
He says more people have expressed interest in voting, and they are becoming more confident of their ability to safely go out and do so. He says the Election Commission even received a request from the Sunni city of Samara for more polling stations to meet expected increased demand.
"No doubt in my mind that these will be credible elections, maybe imperfect in certain ways given the environment that we're talking about, but nevertheless a major improvement on what we have had before," he said. "And hopefully, with the security measures that we are taking, that day Iraqis will turn out in large numbers to prove to the terrorists and to prove to the doubters that we want to reclaim our country and we want to take part in deciding the future of this country."
Mr. Salih acknowledged that Iraq's elections are taking place in what he called a "tough environment." But he predicted that a large turnout in the mainly Kurdish north and the mainly Shi'ite south, and a good response in the mainly Sunni areas, will result in a higher overall turnout than in the recent U.S. election, which was just over 60 percent.