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Iraqi Officials Hail Capture of al-Qaida Deputy

Iraqi officials say the arrest of the number two commander of al-Qaida in Iraq has dealt a severe blow to the terrorist organization, and bodes well for the country's future.

Iraqi officials say high-ranking al-Qaida operative Hamed Jumaa Farid al-Saeedi was taken into custody north of Baghdad late last week, along with several aides and followers.

Speaking on CNN's Late Edition program, Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih noted that Saeedi's capture follows another major defeat for al-Qaida in Iraq: the killing of the group's onetime leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in an air strike earlier this year.

"It comes in the wake of the killing of al-Zarqawi," said Barham Salih. "Intelligence work by both Iraqi forces and the multi-national forces have dealt a very severe blow to al-Qaida's organization in Iraq. It is also significant because this man [Saeedi] is believed to have been responsible for the attacks on the shrines in Samarra, which led to the sectarian violence that we have seen."

Salih added that no one should doubt the determination of Iraq's new government to confront and defeat terrorists. But the deputy prime minister was quick to add that the battle against terrorism is far from over in his country.

"I do not want to be complacent," he said. "Al-Qaida represents a serious threat, remains a serious threat, and we have to be very vigilant in the way we deal with these threats."

Salih acknowledged Iraq has been battered by a surge in sectarian violence, but described the debate over whether civil war has broken out in Iraq as "academic." He said, despite horrific suffering, most Iraqis are determined to persevere, and build a better future.

"This society has been battered, day in and day out, with car bombs," continued Iraq's deputy prime minister. "Despite all that, and despite these sectarian killings that we have seen, the bulk of society, the mainstream leadership, has stayed away form the conflict, and is still searching for way to overcome our differences, and fight the terrorists. This has not been easy."

The deputy prime minister echoed recent assertions by other Iraqi officials that the country's security forces are approaching a level of readiness and capability that will allow them to take over from coalition forces. Salih said Iraqi troops will have assumed full security responsibilities in seven or eight provinces by year's end.

President Bush has vowed to keep U.S. forces in Iraq for as long as is necessary to safeguard the country's fledgling democracy.