Two top leaders of the al-Qaeda group in Iraq were killed
on Saturday by a joint U.S.-Iraq
operation. Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi were found in
Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's home town, after operations by Iraqi security
forces uncovered the al-Qaeda safe house. The Sunni terrorist group has
been waging a continuous and deadly but relatively reduced campaign of
bombings in Baghdad. Here's what the killing means for Iraq, for the
U.S. mission there, and for the fight against al-Qaeda.
Biggest Blow to AQI General Raymond Odierno, the top U.S.
commander in Iraq, said, "The death of these terrorists is potentially
the most significant blow to al-Qaeda in Iraq [AQI] since the beginning
of the insurgency. ... There is still work to do but this is a
significant step forward in ridding Iraq [of] terrorists
They Were The Washington Post's Ernesto London profiles
the AQI men. "Masri, an Egyptian, rose to the helm of the al-Qaeda in
Iraq organization after former leader Abu Musaeb al-Zarqawi was killed
in a U.S. airstrike in June 2006. Masri reportedly moved to Iraq after
the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan to help form the Iraqi branch of the
organization. Less was known about Baghdadi, a shadowy figure who was
allegedly born in Iraq but who some U.S. intelligence officials
suspected was a fictionalized character, invented to bolster the
standing among Iraqis of the umbrella group the Islamic State of Iraq."
They Really Dead? Newsweek's Mark Hosenball is skeptical. "Given
the fact that in the past similar claims sometimes turned out to be
premature—in that Qaeda operatives who had been allegedly killed
miraculously came back to life—some American officials remain cautious,
saying they don't have 100 percent confirmation that the Iraqi
government's reports are true," he writes. "A U.S. counter-terrorism official said that
reporting from the field was still 'unclear' and that while
'indications' had reached Washington that the two alleged Qaeda leaders
were dead, there was still some room for doubt."
Might Not Make Much Difference The Wall Street Journal's Yochi Dreazen shrugs,
"Still, it's far from clear that the deaths will incapacitate al Qaeda
in Iraq or prevent the group from mounting additional attacks. In June
2006, American special operations forces killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,
Mr. al-Masri's predecessor as head of AQI. Violence decreased for a
brief time, but the group was able to mount large-scale attacks almost
immediately and more Iraqis were killed in terror bombings after his
death than had been killed before it."
- Can AQI Recover? NGO
Analysis center Chatham House's Gareth Stansfield says,
"Al Qaeda has shown in the past that it can come back from this kind of
setback. But the question is that as al Qaeda has become weaker and
weaker in Iraq whether there is any leadership within the country that
they can rely on or whether they will have to bring in an external
leader to take over."
- Baghdadi Could Be Fake For years,
observers have speculated as to whether Abu Omar al-Baghdadi is a
fictitious creation of al-Qaeda meant to sow fear. Gulf Research's Mustafa Alani warns, "we must
ask whether Baghdadi is real. It's a possibility that he is a
fictitious character used by al Qaeda." He notes, "Last year the
government showed Baghdadi captured on official TV and then this was
denied by the insurgents. I believe Maliki lost credibility as a result.
So I don't think Maliki is going to risk losing his credibility a
second time without verifying the identity."
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