BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq’s foreign minister said Monday that tests were being done to determine if terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had been killed in a gunfight with U.S. forces over the weekend, but U.S. military sources told NBC News that troops likely “just missed” capturing him.
A U.S. government official confirmed that DNA from the insurgents’ bodies had been taken for testing. The official in Washington spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
However, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq cast doubt on whether al-Zarqawi was killed.
“Unfortunately, we did not get him in Mosul,” Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said of Iraq’s most feared terrorist.
The raid took place in a mostly Kurdish area of eastern Mosul where attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces less common than in the western, mostly Sunni Arab part of the city. However, U.S. soldiers say many insurgents live in eastern Mosul and launch attacks elsewhere.
Shahwan Fadhl Ali, a neighbor, said eight Arabs — four men, a woman and three children — had been living quietly there since last year. “They might have been Syrians or Jordanians but not Iraqis,” he said.
On Saturday, police Brig. Gen. Said Ahmed al-Jubouri said the raid was launched after a tip that top al-Qaida operatives, possibly including al-Zarqawi, were in the house. In Moscow, visiting Iraqi Foreign Minister Hohshyar Zebari told Jordan’s official Petra news agency that authorities were testing DNA samples from several corpses to determine if al-Zarqawi was among them.
‘His days are numbered’
But U.S. officials avoided linking al-Zarqawi to the Mosul raid and sought to dispel speculation that the terror mastermind was dead.
“I don’t believe that we got him. Of course, his days are numbered, we are after him, we are getting ever closer,” Khalilzad said.
At the Pentagon, Army spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Venable said U.S. forces “employ whatever means required” — presumably including DNA — “to identify suspected or known terrorists or insurgents.”
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The elusive al-Zarqawi has narrowly escaped capture in the past. U.S. forces said they nearly caught him in a February 2005 raid that recovered his computer.
Separately, U.S. soldiers fired on a civilian vehicle Monday because they feared it might hold a suicide bomber, killing at least two adults and a child northeast of the capital, American and Iraqi officials said.
The troops fired on the car because it was moving erratically outside a U.S. base in Baqouba, 35 miles from Baghdad, said Maj. Steven Warren, a U.S. spokesman. “It was one of these regrettable, tragic incidents,” Warren said.
Dr. Ahmed Fouad at the city morgue and police officials gave a higher death toll, saying five people — including three children — were killed while driving home from a funeral.
Iraqi officials have long complained about American troops firing at civilian vehicles that appear suspicious. U.S. officials note that suicide car bombers often strike U.S. and Iraqi checkpoints.
The shooting took place in a province that has experienced at least four major bombings in the last three weeks — including a suicide car bomb Monday that missed U.S. vehicles but killed five civilians outside Baqouba.
Iraqis, soldiers killed
In other incidents:
- North of the capital, Diyala provincial police said a car bomb targeting U.S. Humvees killed five civilians and wounded 12 bystanders in the town of Kanan. At least 145 Iraqi civilians have died in a series of attacks over the last four days, including two bombings at Shiite mosques and another at a funeral.
- Gunmen killed a Sunni cleric, Khalil Ibrahim, outside his home in the largely Shiite southern city of Basra, police Capt. Mushtaq Talib said. Ibrahim was a member of the Association of Muslim Scholars, a group of influential Sunni clerics that has been sharply critical of the Shiite-led government.
- In Baghdad, three people, including one police officer, were killed by gunmen, police said Monday.
- Over the weekend an American soldier near the capital and a Marine in the western town of Karmah were killed in separate insurgent attacks, the military said.
- The U.S. military also said Sunday that 24 people — including a Marine and 15 civilians — were killed the day before in an ambush on a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol in Haditha, west of Baghdad in the volatile Euphrates River valley.
The three American deaths brought to at least 2,094 the number of U.S. service members who have died since the war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
NBC News’ staff, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.