BAGHDAD— There was confusion in Iraq on Sunday over whether Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been injured in a weekend airstrike — and if so, in what part of the country he may have been wounded.
An Iraqi defense ministry official who was not authorized to speak publicly said the military was “very sure,” based on intelligence reports, that Baghdadi was injured in a U.S. airstrike on an armed convoy of Islamic State commanders in the northern city of Mosul on Friday. But unnamed Iraqi security officials, including a military official, told the Associated Press that the Islamic State leader had been wounded in a strike in Iraq’s western Anbar province on Saturday.
The accounts could not be independently confirmed, and it was unclear whether the strike that may have wounded Baghdadi in Anbar was carried out by U.S. forces.
A spokesman for U.S. Central Command, Col. Patrick Ryder, said Sunday that the Pentagon had “no information to corroborate press reports that ISIL leader al-Baghdadi or any other ISIL leaders have been injured or killed at this time.” Ryder used the acronym ISIL for the Islamic State.
U.S. warplanes did launch strikes in Mosul on Friday, the U.S. Central Command said. American officials said Saturday that military aircraft had struck a convoy of trucks they believed had been ferrying some of the group’s commanders. A spokesman for the U.S. Central Command said he could not confirm whether Baghdadi had been in the convoy, which was destroyed in the raids, officials said.
In Anbar province, local officials and tribal leaders said in interviews that an airstrike on a gathering of Islamic State commanders in a house near the militant-controlled city of Qaim had killed some of Baghdadi’s top aides on Saturday. They said there were rumors that the leader, who declared himself the caliph of Islamic State territory in Iraq and Syria, had been killed or injured.
The raid was on a house that previously belonged to a member of the Anbar provincial council, local officials said. Islamic State leaders were holding a meeting there when the missile struck, the officials said.
Local officials and an employee at the hospital in Qaim said the strike killed Abu Muhanad al-Sweidawi, a member of the Islamic State’s military council and the group’s governor for Anbar province. The hospital worker, who did not want to named, said he saw Sweidawi’s body at the facility Saturday.
Sweidawi was a lieutenant colonel in the air defense intelligence organization of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, according to the Soufan Group, a New York-based security intelligence firm.
Hisham al-Hashemi, an Iraqi analyst and expert on the Islamic State, said Sunday that he had received reports the leadership was indeed hit. Other residents in Qaim said they heard that Baghdadi had suffered a head injury, but was evacuated from the area.
“The damage to the leadership structure will be grave,” Hashemi said.
Mustafa Salim contributed to this report from Baghdad. Missy Ryan contributed from Washington.