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Zarqawi remains elusive despite Optimism
Updated: 2005-02-27 10:45

Iraq's government said on Saturday it was closing in on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi but out in the western desert, where he is rumored to be hiding, Marines said the Jordanian militant remained as elusive as ever.

Iraq's government said on February 26, 2005 that it was closing in on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, but Marines said the Jordanian militant remained as elusive as ever. [AP]

"There is no pinpoint accuracy as to where he's at, just rumors," said Lieutenant-Colonel Greg Stevens after his U.S. Marines had completed a sweep of palm and orange groves along the Euphrates river in search of insurgents.

"He's a ghost out there. He has nine lives, he's very slippery and very well protected and he certainly isn't stupid."

Iraq's minister of state for national security, Kassim Daoud, said on Saturday the government was "at the closest point to Zarqawi," the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq and the man who has claimed responsibility for many of the country's worst attacks.

On Friday the government said it had captured one of Zarqawi's senior aides, Abu Qutaybah, near the Syrian border.

U.S. Marines and Iraqi soldiers launched an offensive last weekend in the villages and towns straddling the Euphrates, which meanders northwest for over 190 miles from close to Baghdad to the border with Syria and beyond.

While the Marines insist the operation is more than a simple manhunt, they make no bones about wanting to capture Zarqawi, who has a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head.

Marines from Charley Company had just completed a three-day stint in the town of Haqlaniya when they got the order to roll into Haditha, 150 miles west of Baghdad, early on Saturday.

"He's supposed to be there. Stick around, it could be worth it," was the whispered advice to reporters before the assault.

But a series of house searches in Haditha yielded nothing, and the town was declared "a dry hole."

"We will continue with a number of different types of pressure -- the vehicle checkpoints on city outskirts, the raids like the ones here in Haditha ... inside their sanctuaries," said Colonel Craig Tucker.

"We're not done here and it is getting harder for them to get away."

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