Two top leaders of the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq are killed in raid
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
BAGHDAD -- The two top leaders of the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq were slain in a U.S. airstrike over the weekend, a decisive tactical victory for American and Iraqi forces and one that provides Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki with additional political leverage at a crucial time.
Acting on a tip they received in recent days, Iraqi and U.S. Special Forces descended on a safe house shared by the leaders of the Sunni Muslim insurgent group in Tikrit, in northern Iraq, officials said Monday.
As the troops approached the house, an explosion occurred inside, likely the result of a suicide bombing, U.S. officials said. American forces then quickly dropped a bomb on the house, U.S. officials said.
Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian who was the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the shadowy leader of the group's umbrella organization, the Islamic State of Iraq, were among those killed in the operation early Sunday, Maliki and U.S. officials said.
"The deaths of these terrorists is potentially the most significant blow to al-Qaeda in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency," Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, said in a statement.
One American soldier was killed and three were injured during the operation in a helicopter crash, the U.S. military said. Officials emphasized that Iraqi troops had led the operation.
After being markedly weakened during the U.S. troop surge in 2007, al-Qaeda in Iraq reemerged as a serious threat last year with a series of spectacular attacks that struck at the heart of the Iraqi state, casting a pall over its Shiite-led government and the impending drawdown of American troops.
Today, the group no longer has a steady supply of foreign funding, grass-roots support, or scores of foreign fighters willing to travel to Iraq to carry out suicide bombings. The killing of Masri and Baghdadi will only weaken the group further.
But writing the obituary of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq would be premature, U.S. officials warned.
"Nobody thinks this is the end of their brand of extremism," a U.S. intelligence official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Officials say the group could draw more recruits if Sunnis continue to feel disenfranchised by the Shiite-dominated political establishment and decide to resort to violence. Their disillusionment could be further exacerbated as U.S. troops, seen largely as their protectors, pull out.
U.S. officials also note that al-Qaeda in Iraq has a history of rapidly propping up new leaders.