BAGHDAD — A Moroccan fighter identified by the U.S. military as the No. 2 commander of Al Qaeda in Iraq detonated a suicide vest rather than surrender after American soldiers attacked his hide-out last week in the northern city of Mosul, a military spokesman said Wednesday.
The fighter, known as Abu Qaswarah or Abu Sara, led the insurgent group's northern operations and was the point man for smuggling foreign fighters there, according to the military.
U.S. forces raided the building where Abu Qaswarah was holed up Oct. 5, the spokesman said. A gunfight erupted and the militant leader, who suffered bullet wounds, moved upstairs with his fighters and some women and children and detonated his explosives vest, the spokesman said.
At least four other fighters, three women and three children were killed, said the spokesman, who requested anonymity.
"It was a crazy scene," he said. "It's not clear who died from what."
The U.S. military reported the incident the day it occurred, mentioning that five militants had died in the raid, as well as the civilians, and said one of the fighters had blown himself up. But Abu Qaswarah's name was revealed Wednesday only after the military had confirmed his identity.
A military statement described him as a former associate of Abu Musab Zarqawi, the founder of Al Qaeda in Iraq who died in a U.S. airstrike in June 2006. The military said Abu Qaswarah had trained in Afghanistan and had "historic ties" with Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In other developments, senior Iraqi leaders confirmed that they were seeking to present the long-stalled U.S.-Iraq security agreement to the country's Political Council for National Security as soon as Friday. The body includes Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and the heads of the major political blocs in parliament.
Officials said that if the council approves the text, it would then likely be submitted to parliament. But a deal is far from certain.
The agreement, which U.S. officials had once hoped to conclude in July, would provide a legal framework for U.S. forces to remain in Iraq after the United Nations mandate authorizing their presence expires at the end of the year.
Naseer Ani, the chief of staff for Iraq's presidency council, cautioned that the national security council might seek further changes to the document.
"Who knows, maybe the political council might return it back," Ani said.
The agreement, with minor alterations, has been in its current form since late summer. According to a copy read to The Times in late August by an Iraqi politician, all U.S. forces are to leave Iraq by the end of 2011 unless Iraq requests otherwise. In the meantime, U.S. troops would move to bases outside major cities by the end of June 2009, unless Iraq asks U.S. troops to stay.
Iraqis have said the most sensitive issue is the question of legal immunity for U.S. troops in Iraq. The current compromise language of the accord for the most part exempts U.S. soldiers from Iraqi law when they are on combat missions or on base. However, if a soldier commits an act that could be considered a premeditated crime or gross negligence against an Iraqi, the U.S. and Iraqi sides would convene a committee to decide whether the case should be referred to an Iraqi court, a senior Iraqi official familiar with the text told The Times this week.
Immunity for private security contractors has already been eliminated in the agreement, Iraqi officials said.
Iraqi lawmakers have warned that the compromise might not be enough to get the agreement approved.
"To us, killing remains killing, whatever way it happens. This would remain a big dilemma, and I don't know how we are going to deal with it," said Education Minister Khudair Khuzai, a member of Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party.
Some Iraqi officials believe that Maliki and other Shiite Muslim lawmakers, who see themselves as staunch nationalists, fear the deal could cause them serious political harm by angering voters. They also question whether members of Maliki's ruling Shiite coalition really want such a strong partnership with the Americans.
Iran and radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr are deeply opposed to a deal. Sadr, who has planned a demonstration in Baghdad on Saturday to protest the U.S. presence in Iraq, could benefit politically if Maliki backs the agreement and it fails to pass parliament.
Iraqi officials, including Maliki, have spoken of returning to the U.N. Security Council for an extension of the U.S. mandate if Iraqi lawmakers are not satisfied with the agreement.