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Zarqawi Aide Arrested After Tip from Iraqi Civilians

Coalition forces in Iraq have arrested an individual whom they describe as one of militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's most trusted agents in Iraq. The arrest followed a tip from Iraqi civilians, which U.S. officials say proves the insurgency is growing increasingly unpopular.

Officials say Mohammed Khalif Shaiker, also known as Abu Talha, surrendered to U.S. forces Tuesday in a quiet neighborhood in the northern city of Mosul.

Donald Alston

"Talha has been one of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's most trusted operations agents in Iraq," said Brigadier General Donald Alston, a spokesman for the Multi-national Forces in Iraq. "This is a major defeat for the al-Qaida terrorist organization in Iraq. Zarqawi's leader in Mosul is out of business."

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a Jordanian-born militant, believed to be the head of the al-Qaida terrorist organization fighting the U.S. occupation of Iraq. His supporters are held responsible for numerous attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces, and increasingly, officials say, Iraqi civilians.

General Alston points to a statement made by al-Zarqawi in early May, in which the militant leader told supporters that it is "acceptable" to kill Iraqi civilians in the course of the insurgency.

That tactic may have encouraged ordinary people to tell authorities where insurgents may be hiding. General Alston says tips from ordinary people to private telephone hotlines have increased three-fold since April.

"The Iraqi people are increasingly exposing the insurgency," he said. "In some places, there are cells that are concerned that they cannot blend in to that neighborhood anymore, and that the people are stepping up [to oppose them]."

More than 1,000 civilians have died since April 28, when Iraq's new, predominantly Shi'ite government took office. That is a reversal of more than three decades of rule by Iraq's Sunni minority-dominated Saddam Hussein government.