Breaking: Al Qaeda in Iraq leader wounded in firefight? NBC: Al-Masri in custody; NBC backs off capture claim; PJM: He probably wasn't wounded, either

Just across on CNN. According to the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, Iraqi police ran across “an insurgent group” on the road between Fallujah and Samarra and shot it out with them, wounding Abu al-Masri and killing one of his top associates. They have the associate’s body, but al-Masri got away.

How they knew for sure it was him, particularly amidst the fog of a gunfight, is anyone’s guess. But this would be a hell of a way to start the surge.

The U.S. military has no comment yet. Standby.

Update: My mistake — MOI hasn’t explicitly said that al-Masri got away. In fact, they’re refusing to comment on how they know he was wounded. Do they have him in custody?

Update: Here’s the story at Fallujah, huh? I wonder if the Special Missions Group was responsible.

Update: Meanwhile, Sadr continues to play us for fools:

Radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has ordered heads of his Mehdi Army militia to leave Iraq and asked the government to arrest “outlaws” under a U.S.-backed crackdown, Iraq’s president said on Thursday…

“I think many of his top Mehdi Army officials have been ordered to leave Iraq to make the mission of the security forces easier,” the president was quoted as saying in a statement from his office. It added Sadr supported the crackdown and had given the government the go-ahead to arrest any “outlaws”.

He supports a crackdown on the Sunnis and the loose cannons in his own ranks who aren’t listening to him anymore. He wants us to do his dirty work for him and clear the decks so there’s no one to challenge him when he returns.

The AP’s got background on the Iranian special ops troops, a.k.a. the Quds Force, that are almost certainly helping him with logistics.

Update: It turns out the MOI spokesman responsible for this story is none other than Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, the same guy who gave us bad information about the alleged nonexistence of Capt. Jamil Hussein. Proceed with caution.

Update: Reader Gary H. e-mails to say I’m giving Khalaf a bad rap and that it’s the AP’s fault, not Khalaf’s, that Jamil Hussein wasn’t ID’d on the first go round.

Update: There have been false reports about al-Masri before.

Update: NBC says we got him. What an intel bonanza this would be.

Update: Ladies and gents, let’s give credit where credit is due by acknowledging that Dr. Rusty Shackleford called this one in a big, big way.

Update: Damn it, I knew it was too good to be true — NBC has removed the paragraph from its story about al-Masri’s capture. No correction of acknowledgement of any mistake, naturally. No wonder they like Olbermann so much.

Update: It’s a total bust says Richard Miniter, writing for PJM. And for that we can thank our friends in Iraq’s MOI. Again.

Shortly after sunset, Iraqi commandos surrounded a “safe house” believed to house Abu Ayuuab al-Masri, who heads al Qaeda in Iraq. He is Zarqawi’s successor and, many in the intelligence community believe, far more dangerous.

In an exchange of AK-47 fire, a number of insurgents were wounded and a man meeting the physical description of al-Masri was captured. He refused to give his name. When police tried to get his fingerprints, they discovered that all ten fingertips had been purposely singed. “He basically has no fingerprints,” a military intelligence official told me.

They did a DNA test on him just to be sure and … no match. As for the wounding, Miniter says it’s probably crap made up by MOI to make this slightly look like slightly less like the fiasco that it is.