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Iraq says al-Qaeda figure caught

He is suspected of being the leader of the group's most prominent urban stronghold.

BAGHDAD - A man suspected of being al-Qaeda in Iraq's leader in Mosul, the extremist group's most prominent urban stronghold, was arrested yesterday more than a week after he fled a security crackdown in the northern city, Iraqi officials said.

The U.S. military said it was checking the report. Previous Iraqi reports of high-level al-Qaeda arrests sometimes have proven inaccurate.

Maj. Gen. Ahmed Taha, of Iraq's Interior Ministry, identified the detainee as the group's


- or governor - in Mosul, a title that would make him its top figure in the city and Ninevah province.

A security official involved in the detention said the suspect, Abdul-Khaliq al-Sabawi, admitted in questioning to being the Mosul



Sabawi, a former brigadier in Saddam Hussein's military, fled Mosul before the crackdown was launched more than a week ago and took refuge in the Sunni Arab city of Tikrit in Salahuddin province, 120 miles to the south, the official said.

Confessions by others captured in Mosul during the sweep led security forces to his hiding place, and he was brought back to Mosul for interrogation, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the arrest.

The U.S. military has described Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, as al-Qaeda in Iraq's last urban stronghold after the group lost control of cities in the western province of Anbar over the last year.

Al-Qaeda members and other Sunni Arab insurgents have used Mosul, a transport hub with highways to Baghdad and Syria, for suicide bombings and other attacks in northern and central Iraq in recent months.

Yesterday, suspected Sunni insurgents attacked a minibus carrying police recruits, killing 11 people near Iraq's border with Syria.

A provincial official and a police officer said police found the 11 bodies and their bullet-ridden minibus in the evening in a deserted area near the rural town of Baaj, 80 miles west of Mosul.

Some of Mosul's al-Qaeda figures, particularly its top leaders, are believed to have fled or stayed out of the city before the sweep - the latest in a series of well-publicized operations launched by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki over the last two months to break the hold of armed groups around the country.

More than 1,300 people have been arrested in and around Mosul during the current operation, though 240 were cleared of suspicion and released, said Maj. Gen. Hussein Ali Kamal, the deputy interior minister for intelligence and security affairs.

Maliki ordered the Mosul sweep after similar crackdowns against Shiite militiamen in the southern city of Basra and Baghdad's Shiite stronghold of Sadr City.

The intensified fighting involving Shiites has been calmed by fragile truces. But skirmishes, raids and sporadic attacks have continued.

U.S. Holds Youths As Combatants

The U.S. military

holds about 500 juveniles in detention in Iraq and has about 10 detained at the U.S. base at Bagram, Afghanistan, the United States has told the United Nations.

Complying with

the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the United States reported that "as of April 2008, the United States held about 500 juveniles in Iraq." The report said the juveniles were caught engaging in hostile acts such as planting improvised explosive devices.

Civil-liberties groups

said the detentions violate U.S. treaty obligations.

"Juveniles and former

child soldiers should be treated first and foremost as candidates for rehabilitation and reintegration into

society, not subjected

to further victimization," said Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Human Rights Program.

The U.S. military

also said it has held eight juveniles, ages 13 to 17, for various periods at Guantanamo since the detention center opened in 2002. Six have been released and two are now adults facing war-crimes charges.

- Associated Press