Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's father-in-law carried out a suicide bombing that killed a leading Iraqi cleric in the Shiite holy city of Najaf in...

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SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq — Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s father-in-law carried out a suicide bombing that killed a leading Iraqi cleric in the Shiite holy city of Najaf in 2003, according to two senior Kurdish intelligence officials.

The attack in August 2003 killed more than 85 people, including Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim, who led Iraq’s largest Shiite political party. The bombing was carried out with an explosives-laden ambulance driven by Yassin Jarad, the father of al-Zarqawi’s second wife, the Kurdish officials said.

Jarad had slipped into Iraq several weeks before the bombing from the Jordanian town of Zarqa, where al-Zarqawi was born, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. At least a dozen other suicide bombers from al-Zarqawi’s hometown have infiltrated Iraq over the past 18 months, the officials said.

Al-Zarqawi has claimed responsibility for a majority of the bloodiest suicide bombings, kidnappings and beheadings of foreigners in Iraq over the past year. U.S. officials say he is working in Iraq at the behest of Osama bin Laden, but al-Zarqawi has shown a tendency to operate independently.

Details of the Najaf bombing emerged in recent weeks during interrogations of three top al-Zarqawi associates captured by Iraqi and U.S. forces, the officials said. The involvement of a close al-Zarqawi relative in a major suicide attack highlights the difficulties of capturing Iraq’s most-wanted man.

“This shows how loyal the people surrounding al-Zarqawi are to him,” said one of the officials. “They are clearly willing to die for him.”

But the level of detail being provided to interrogators by al-Zarqawi’s operatives suggests that Iraqi and U.S. officials are closing in on the militant and unraveling some of his security procedures.

“We are getting close to finishing off al-Zarqawi and we will get rid of him,” Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Barham Saleh, told a Jan. 27 news conference.

The officials speculated that al-Zarqawi moves around alone much of the time and keeps his two wives and children in separate hideouts. The officials said those safe houses are most likely around the northern city of Mosul or in Anbar province, a vast region that borders Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Anbar also includes the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.

“I don’t think that his family members are on the run with him,” one official said.