No. 2 Leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq Killed

U.S. Rear Adm. Patrick Driscoll, a military spokesman in Baghdad, announces the Oct. 5 killing of Abu Qaswarah, the second in command of the group al-Qaeda in Iraq.
U.S. Rear Adm. Patrick Driscoll, a military spokesman in Baghdad, announces the Oct. 5 killing of Abu Qaswarah, the second in command of the group al-Qaeda in Iraq. (By Ali Abbas -- Associated Press)
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By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, October 16, 2008

BAGHDAD, Oct. 15 -- The U.S. military on Wednesday announced the death of a man it described as the No. 2 leader of the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The military said it killed Abu Qaswarah on Oct. 5 during an operation in northern Iraq in which four additional alleged al-Qaeda in Iraq members were slain. Abu Qaswarah, also known as Abu Sara, directed the group's operations in northern Iraq, where al-Qaeda in Iraq remains entrenched and has been blamed for recent large-scale attacks, the military said.

Abu Qaswarah had no public profile in Iraq before the military's announcement of his death. U.S. military officials say they have been stunned by how quickly al-Qaeda in Iraq regenerates its leadership as top insurgents are detained or killed.

The military said in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon that the Moroccan native was the deputy of the group's leader, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, and had "historic ties" to the group's founder, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in June 2006. Abu Qaswarah became the group's top leader in northern Iraq in June 2007, the military said.

"Abu Qaswarah is another example of how al-Qaeda in Iraq has been forced to rely on foreign terrorists to carry out their vicious attacks on the Iraqi people as well as coalition and Iraqi forces," said Rear Adm. Patrick Driscoll, a U.S. military spokesman.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq is a largely homegrown group that U.S. officials say is led by non-Iraqi Arabs. The U.S. military and the Iraqi army have in recent months cracked down on the group in Baghdad, Diyala and Anbar provinces. As the group lost members and support from the population in former strongholds, many of its leaders have moved to Mosul, in northern Iraq.

The U.S. military said soldiers searching for Abu Qaswarah were shot at when they arrived at a building in Mosul that the insurgent group used as a command center. U.S. soldiers returned fire, killing five men, including Abu Qaswarah. The military said it did not disclose his death sooner because it was awaiting confirmation of his identity.

The military said Abu Qaswarah planned attacks on U.S. and Iraqi troops in Mosul and planned an attack on the Mosul Civic Center last month that was foiled.

While violence in Iraq is at a four-year low, U.S. military officials say they remain deeply concerned about security in Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city.

In recent weeks, hundreds of Christian families have fled their homes in Nineveh province, which includes Mosul, amid a wave of slayings targeting Christians.

Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said economic and political problems in Nineveh have worked to the advantage of insurgents. The predominantly Sunni Arab province is run by Kurds, because Sunnis boycotted the 2005 election. Many of the province's residents are leery of the Iraqi army there, which is a largely Kurdish force. And police forces in Mosul remain infiltrated by extremists, Odierno said.

"If the population feels they are not being supported by the provincial government and the provincial council, they may not want al-Qaeda there but they will give them passive support," Odierno said.

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