US forces have captured a wanted leader of the al- Qaeda terrorist network in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, the city's operations command said on Sunday. As meanwhile, violence and raids were reported elsewhere in Iraq.
Jasim Muhammad Ali, also known as Mullah Jasim, was arrested by US-led coalition forces on Saturday, a statement by the operations command said.
Jasim is the alleged mastermind of major terrorist attacks in Hawija, west of Kirkuk, including car bomb blasts, kidnappings, civilian killings and assaults on Iraqi and US troops.
In other news, three Iraqi teachers were gunned down by unidentified militants near the Om al-Tus school in Amarah, 400 kilometres south of Baghdad. The militants fled, according to local police sources.
Separately, security forces in Hillah, 100 kilometres south of Baghdad, said that joint US-Iraqi troops arrested 30 suspected militants during raids across the city.
Meanwhile an Iraqi US-backed tribal council called on the leader of the al-Qaeda terrorist network Osama bin Laden to order a halt to attacks on Iraqi civilians, according to media reports.
Bin Laden issued a new audio message Saturday apparently aimed at stemming the tide of Sunnis joining Iraq's political process, a US- based monitoring group said.
"Osama bin Laden should order members of al-Qaeda to stop targeting and killing Iraqis and apologize to Iraqi citizens harmed by acts of the organization's members, who have committed the worst crimes against them," said the tribal Awakening Council of Salahaddin province in a statement.
"The crimes, which have been committed by the followers of the so- called Sheikh Osama bin Laden against Iraqis, were the main and only reason for setting up Awakening Councils," said the statement that was carried by Voices of Iraq (VOI) news agency.
The statement was dismissive of bin Laden's claims that the councils were set up in the pursuit of money and power.
Entitled "The Way to Foil Conspiracies on Iraq and the Islamic State," the video was released by al-Qaeda's media arm as-Sahab, containing a new 56-minute-long audio message with an old still image of bin Laden, according to the IntelCenter.
In the message, bin Laden accuses the United States of plotting to take Iraq's oil and urges Sunni Muslims not to join the unity government or US-backed tribal councils that are battling al-Qaeda in Iraq, according to pan-Arab television network al-Jazeera.
Awakening councils have been set up in several Iraqi provinces, such as Anbar, Salahaddin, Diyala and Nineveh, to fight armed groups, especially al-Qaeda.
"It is regretful that acts committed by bin Laden's supporters, which are against the principles of Islam, make non-Muslims look at Islam as a religion of bloodshed rather than one of justice, peace and dialogue," said the Salahaddin council.
Iraq's Interior Ministry said on Saturday three-quarters of al- Qaeda in Iraq had been destroyed over the last year. But the network remains the greatest threat facing the country despite security gains, warn Iraqi and US commanders.