BAGHDAD (AP) – U.S. and Iraqi authorities said yesterday their forces had killed the No. 2 official of the Iraqi al-Qaida during in a weekend raid in Baghdad, claiming to have struck a “painful blow” to the country’s most feared insurgent group.

Sarah Royce
This is an undated two image combo released by the U.S. Army on Tuesday Sept 27, 2005 of Abdullah Abu Azzam, top aide to the al-Qaida leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, killed in a raid in Baghdad over the weekend. (AP Photo)

Abdullah Abu Azzam led al-Qaida’s operations in Baghdad, planning a brutal wave of suicide bombings in the capital since April, killing hundreds of people, officials said.

According to an Associated Press tally, 698 people have been killed and 1,579 have been wounded since April 1 in suicide attacks in Baghdad.

He also controlled the finances for foreign fighters that flowed into Iraq to join the insurgency.

Abu Azzam, who a government spokesman said was an Iraqi, was the top deputy to Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Abu Azzam was on a list of Iraq’s 29 most-wanted insurgents issued by the U.S. military in February and had a bounty of $50,000 on his head.

Al-Qaida in Iraq denied that Abu Azzam was the No. 2 leader of the organization and said “it was not confirmed” that he was killed. “Abu Azzam was one of al-Qaida’s many soldiers and is the leader of one of its battalions operating in Baghdad,” the group said in an Internet statement by its spokesman, Abu Maysara al-Iraqi.

It called the U.S. and Iraqi claims that he was the group’s top deputy “a futile attempt – to raise the morale of their troops.”

A suicide bomber attacked Iraqis applying for jobs as policemen Today in Baqouba, 30 miles north of Baghdad, killing nine and wounding 21.

The U.S. military also said a Marine was killed yoday by a roadside bomb in the town of Khaldiyah, west of Baghdad. The death brought to 1,918 the number of U.S. troops who have died since the Iraq war started in 2003, according to an AP count.

Police found the bodies of 22 Iraqi men who had been shot to death in southern Iraq, many of them bound and blindfolded, said Maj. Felah Al-Mohammedawi of the Interior Ministry. Their identities were not immediately known.

It was not immediately clear what effect Abu Azzam’s death would have on al-Qaida in Iraq, which has been one of the deadliest militant groups, carrying out suicide attacks that targeted the country’s Shiite majority. The U.S. military has claimed to have killed or captured leading al-Zarqawi aides in the past and attacks have continued unabated – although Abu Azzam appeared to be a more significant figure.

Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the killing of Abu Azzam would force insurgents “to go to the bench and find somebody that is probably less knowledgeable and less qualified.”

“It’s like fighting the al-Qaida network. It will have some impact, but over time they will replace people,” Myers said at the Pentagon.

Iraqi government spokesman Laith Kubba called the killing of Abu Azzam a “painful blow” to al-Qaida, but warned that the group would likely carry out revenge attacks.

Abu Azzam was killed early Sunday when U.S. and Iraqi forces raided a high-rise apartment building in Baghdad, Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, a U.S. military spokesman, told the AP.

“They went in to capture him, he did not surrender, and he was killed in the raid,” Boylan said.

The Iraqi and U.S. forces targeted the building after a tip from an Iraqi citizen, Kubba said. During the raid, the troops captured another militant in the apartment with Abu Azzam, Kubba said.

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