Confusion has begun to temper earlier reports that al Qaeda in Iraq leader, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, has been killed in a firefight between his followers and Sunni tribes north of Baghdad.
Earlier wire reporting cited various Interior Ministry representatives stating that Masri had been killed, but government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh has since clarified for Iraqiya state television:
"This does not represent an official government announcement but is only information that reached the Iraqi Interior Ministry about internal fighting between groups and within al Qaeda."
Dabbagh also added that "DNA tests should be done and we have to bring someone to identify the body. We will make an official announcement when we confirm that this person is Abu Ayyub al-Masri."
Us military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said they had not yet confirmed reports of Masri's death, stating "We are in discussions with the Iraqis over how they obtained this intelligence. If we do have a body, we are going to conduct DNA tests, and that will take several days. If there is no body, that makes it harder."
Interior Ministry spokesman, Brigadier-General Abdul Kareem Khalaf, earlier told Reuters that Masri was killed in a battle near a bridge in the small town of al-Nibayi, north of Baghdad.
"We have definite intelligence reports that al Masri was killed today," he said.
Both Khalaf and another Interior Ministry source said the Iraqi authorities did not have Masri's body, but the source added that "our people had seen the body".
Khalaf also told Iraqiya in a phone interview that, "We have strong intelligence that he was killed in clashes today" near the town of Taji, he said. "The clashes took place between groups within al-Qaeda. Our forces were not involved."
Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, citing security and intelligence reports, also told Reuters he understood Masri had been killed on Monday.
Masri took over from Abu Musab al Zarqawi after the insurgent leader's death in June 2006, and the US has had a $5 million reward on his head.
Abu Ayyub al-Masri has been killed in Taji, north of Baghdad, the Iraqi Interior Ministry has said.
Al-Masri, the apparent head of al-Qa'ida in Iraq, was killed in a fight between militants, Abu al-Kareem Khalaf, the ministry spokesperson, announced.
SCIRI's Buratha News Net reports in Arabic that Khalaf's comments were delivered in a direct interview witthe state-run al-Iraqiya sattelite news network.
The militant leader was killed in the "Naba'i" area of Taji, Khalaf said.
The militant's death did not involve US or Iraqi forces, he said.
"We have not seen his corpse yet," the spokesman said, but stated that the ministry had the information on the basis of reliable intelligence.
Khalaf told Reuters, "We have definite intelligence reports that al-Masri was killed today."
US forces have said that they cannot confirm al-Masri's death, Reuters reports.
Al-Masri is also believed to be known by the nom de guerre Abu Hamza al-Muhajir.
The Egyptian militant succeeded Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as the leader of the al-Qa'ida in Mesopotamia organization, after al-Zarqawi was killed by American operations in June 2006.
In the following November, Al-Masri joined the so-called "Islamic State of Iraq," an umbrella group of Sunni extremist organizations.
Under the name Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, al-Masri was recently named "minister of war" by the so-called Islamic State of Iraq in a video statement released by the group.
Last week, the "Islamic State of Iraq" took apparent responsibility for an attack in Diyala Province that killed 9 US soldiers. The statement purportedly issued by the group after the attack said that the suicide vehicle-borne bomb attack had been planned by the group's "ministry of war."