Iraq's interior minister says security forces nearly captured the insurgency leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi two or three times, missing him by just about an hour in one instance. The minister says other U.S. and Iraqi raids have weakened the insurgency, but he expects attacks to continue.
Iraqi Interior Minister Falah Hasan al-Naqib would not say exactly when or where security forces thought they had information that would enable them to capture the insurgency leader, or whether Iraqi or foreign forces were involved. But he said the forces nearly got him.
"We are following him, I must say that," said Falah Hasan al-Naqib. "I think we missed him twice or three times. I think we arrived a bit late. Maybe we missed him by one hour. But, hopefully, next time, we will be able to capture him."
Speaking from Baghdad to reporters at the Pentagon, Minister Naqib said a series of raids on the insurgents in the weeks leading up to Iraq's election last Sunday resulted in more than 350 arrests and weakened the movement. But he also said the insurgents will likely increase their attacks, and create what he called "some bad days" during the next couple of weeks.
"We have weakened them very much, and we are continuing to weaken them," he said. "And, hopefully, in a very short period of time, nobody will hear about Zarqawi or his group."
Minister Naqib says Iraq will likely need foreign forces to help secure the country for at least another 18 months, and possibly longer, at least in a support role.
That view was echoed at a hearing in the U.S. Senate by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, who again emphasized that training will increase for Iraqi forces, but that the U.S. goal is to withdraw its troops from Iraq, only when it is safe to do so.
"Our goal is to get them up and capable as fast as possible," said Paul Wolfowitz. "The goal is not just to get our people home, if that leaves the people who are there in greater danger. The real thing is to get Iraqis on the front lines and Americans in a supporting role."
Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz said U.S. forces will likely be reduced soon to their pre-election level of about 135,000 troops. Extra forces were kept in Iraq to help with security for last Sunday's voting.
But Mr. Wolfowitz also made reference to the U.S. troop presence in South Korea, which has continued for more than 50 years, without major casualties for most of that time, while, he said, helping guarantee security for a vibrant democracy.