Islamic State of Iraq - an al Qaeda front


Capture and interrogation of senior al Qaeda leader highlights al Qaeda control; Abu Omar al-Baghdadi a fictitious leader

U.S. Special Operations Forces scored a major victory against al Qaeda in Iraq's senior leadership and gained valuable insight on the al Qaeda creation known as the Islamic State of Iraq. On July 4, Coalition forces captured Khalid Abdul Fatah Da'ud Mahmud Al Mashadani, a senior al Qaeda in Iraq and Islamic State of Iraq leader and close associate of Abu Ayyub al Masri, al Qaeda's commander. Mashadani, also known as Abu Shahed, was captured in Mosul and is thought by the U.S. military to be the most senior Iraqi-born leader of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). During Mashadani's interrogation, the U.S. confirmed the Islamic State of Iraq is an al Qaeda front and that its leader does not really exist.

Mashadani has a long pedigree in Iraq's Salafist terror networks, and had direct contact with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. "Mashadani was a leader in the Ansar Al Sunna terrorist group before joining AQI two and half years ago," Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner said in a press briefing. "He served as the al Qaeda Media Emir for Baghdad and then was appointed the Media Emir for all of Iraq, serving as an intermediary between AQI leader al-Masri, Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri. In fact, communication between senior al Qaeda leadership and al-Masri went through Mashadani."

During interrogations, Mashadani admitted that the Islamic State of Iraq was merely a puppet front group established by al Qaeda in order to put an Iraqi face on the insurgency. Mashadani cofounded the Islamic State of Iraq with al-Masri in 2006. "The Islamic State of Iraq is a 'front' organization that masks the foreign influence and leadership within AQI in an attempt to put an Iraqi face on the leadership of AQI," said Brig. Gen Bergner.

But not only is the Islamic State of Iraq a contrived entity, its leader, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, is as well. "To further this myth [of the Islamic State of Iraq], al Masri created a fictional political head of ISI known as Omar al-Baghdadi," said Brig. Gen Bergner. Al-Baghdadi is actually played by an actor named Abu Abdullah al Naima, and al Masri "maintains exclusive control over al Naima as he acts the part of the fictitious al-Baghdadi character."

Al Masri then swore allegiance to al Baghdadi "which was essentially swearing allegiance to himself, since he knew that Baghdadi was fictitious and totally his own creation," said Brig. Gen Bergner. "The rank and file Iraqis in AQI believed they are following the Iraqi al-Baghdadi but all the while they have actually been following the orders of the Egyptian Abu 'Ayyub al- Masri."

Mashadani said the domestic insurgents groups recognize that al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State of Iraq are fronts. "The idea of al-Baghdadi is very weak now because other insurgent groups have realized that the concept of al-Baghdadi is controlled by the al Qaeda foreign fighters in Iraq," said Mashadani to his interrogators.

Mashadani stated that al Qaeda in Iraq is operationally controlled by foreign fighters, not Iraqi insurgents. "Mashadani confirms that al Masri and the foreign leaders with whom he surrounds himself, not Iraqis, make the operational decisions for AQI," said Brig. Gen Bergner. "According to Mashadani, in fact, al Masri increasingly relies only on foreigners, who make up the majority of the leadership of AQI. He does not seek or trust the advice of Iraqis in the organization."

Coalition operations and the turning of Sunni insurgent groups have caused al Qaeda in Iraq's leadership to further distrust Iraqi members of al Qaeda. "Al-Masri has increasingly become more isolated and paranoid, especially of the Iraqis within AQI, as our operations have killed or captured additional AQI leaders," Brig. Gen. Bergner said, based on statements made by Mashadani.

The Coalition concedes the Iraqi insurgency is largely made up of Iraqis. "Although the rank and file are largely Iraqi, the senior leadership of AQI, as we have previously stated, is mostly foreign," said Brig. Gen Bergner. However al Qaeda's control of the leadership via its foreign operatives, its vast resources in cash, and its campaign of co-opting or decapitating the Iraqi leadership of domestic insurgent groups has allowed the terror group to direct the Islamic State of Iraq. "Al Masri started overpowering us and acted of his own accord," Mashadani said. "Al Masri controlled the distribution of funding and controlled the content of ISI publications."

The contrived nature of the Islamic State of Iraq, the foreign control, and the fictitious identity of its leader explains why numerous insurgent groups, including the Islamic Army of Iraq and Ansar al Sunnah, were against joining the group. Mishan al-Jabouri, a leader in the Islamic Army of Iraq and the proprietor of Al Zawraa, an insurgent television channel, openly castigated the Islamic State for killing its leadership, attempting to impose foreign control, and for hiding the true identity of its leader.

Last spring, the Islamic Army in Iraq, the Mujahideen Army, and Ansar al Sunnah formed an alliance called Reform and Jihad Front. These groups opposed al Qaeda's establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq for ideological reasons. Al Qaeda in Iraq targeted the leaders of the Reform and Jihad Front, killing many of them. Since then, Ansar al Sunnah and large elements of the ranks of the Islamic Army in Iraq have been absorbed into al Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq, and the Reform and Jihad Front has withered on the vine.

Mashadani's picture of the Islamic State of Iraq and information on the "identity" of Abu Omar al Baghdadi clears up some questions reports of Baghdadi's capture earlier this year. In the spring there were several reports of the capture of al Baghdadi in Mosul and Salahadin province. In one raid, it turned out Muharib Abdul Latif al-Jubouri, the spokesman of the Islamic State of Iraq, was captured. Latif was one of the two senior leaders of the Islamic State of Iraq.



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READER COMMENTS: "Islamic State of Iraq - an al Qaeda front"

Posted by Neo at July 18, 2007 10:11 AM ET:

Here is the AP release on this story: "US: Top al-Qaida in Iraq figure captured"
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070718/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq_al_qaida

A straight up, well written account. Although, I would have given it a more appropriate title, something like: "Top Iraqi leadership figure in Al Qaeda captured" That would make it a little more clear that he's not the leader of Al Qaeda, a top member of the leadership circle though.

I'm just waiting for the obligatory argument that this development is irrelevant or actually strengthens the insurgency somehow.

Posted by Neo at July 18, 2007 10:13 AM ET:

"A straight up, well written account."

Yours too Bill, by the way.

Posted by TS Alfabet at July 18, 2007 10:43 AM ET:

Is it premature to say that this development is a rather gigantic nail in the coffin of Malcolm Nance's argument that Al Qaeda is a bit player in Iraq? Virtually every argument Nance advanced for minor, AQI involvement in Iraq has been obliterated by what Mashadani seems to be saying.

We can only hope that Mashadani has given up enough information to allow Special Forces to nail Al Masri as well.

It should be pretty apparent to anyone who has been watching developments like this over the last 8 months to see that AQI is, like Michael Yon said recently, on the run. They have been squeezed out of Anbar Province, they have run away from their capitol in Baqubah, they are in the process of being run out of their last hold in Baghdad in the Rashid district and they are having to find hiding places in less-hospitable places like Mosul and Kirkuk and the Hamrin Mountains. Way too early to break out the party supplies but any non-partisan has got to like the way things are trending. If we could make headway with the SIIC/Sistani groups as a counter against the Iranian Mahdi forces, we might see some real breakthroughs in stabilizing the country.

Posted by Ron Touring at July 18, 2007 11:12 AM ET:

It is too early to feel confident, but not too early to feel encouraged.

Posted by C-Low at July 18, 2007 11:33 AM ET:

"In fact, communication between senior al-Qaeda leadership and al-Masri went through Mashadani.""


Well I guess this pretty much explains how we went from a "cold trail" stories to last week or so "US SOF closing in on Zawahiri" stories. This guy was yoked back early July we have had 2 full weeks to exploit the intel and build on it. He was the lead go between meaning he knew leadership contact both sides.

This is pure personal speculation but I believe just as AQI put up Al Baghdadi as a mythical non-existent super leader so has AQ done with Bin Laden. I think ole Binny is either dead (most likley) or jelly fish bed ridden, from Tora Bora in my opinion. I think Zawahiri is the main man of AQ and is running things more than anyone else. If we chopped Zawahiri I think AQ may just fragment into competing groups at least for a time especially considering AQ has done so much cobbling together of different terrorist orgs all with different priority sets but shared overall themes. Resources are limited and a commander in chief gap would mean field and theater commanders bickering over who what were.

Posted by Stan at July 18, 2007 11:40 AM ET:

Bill,

I'm surprised that you say, "Since then, Ansar al Sunnah and large elements of the ranks of the Islamic Army in Iraq have been absorbed into al Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq, and the Reform and Alliance Front has withered on the vine," after, just the other day, both Ansar al Sunnah and Islamic Army of Iraq were reported to have had battles with AQI south of Baghdad. Also, On July 9th, after the particularly viscious AQI bombing of a market in Tuz Khurmato district in northern Iraq, the Jihad and Reform front issued a statement denouncing the attack. Here is a copy of the report from IraqSlogger:

Armed Groups Denounce Tuz Attack
Jihad and Reform Front Calls on Militants to Spare Innocent
07/09/2007 7:20 PM ET
A front of Iraqi armed groups, which declared opposition to the foreign presence in Iraq, and to the post-2003 political process, denounced on Monday the suicide bombing attack that targeted a market in Tuz Khurmato district in northern Iraq, VOI reports.

The Jihad and Reform front, including six major Iraqi armed groups, said in a statement on the internet that "the front denounces the bombing attack in Tuz Khurmato area where hundreds were killed and injured."

The statement, available online in Arabic issues three calls to "jihadist groups" in the wake of the Tuz Khormato attacks:

First, the Front said, "While we denounce these attacks, we call upon all Jihadist groups to refer to the Holy Quran and the Prophetic tradition in acts concerning the people's souls, wealth and honor."

Secondly, the statement calls upon such groups to "declare their innocence from the criminal acts, the denunciation of (such attacks), and the condemnation and exposing of whoever commits them."

The Front also calls for the "preservation of the security of the people, and the forbidding of any party to toy with the fate of the vulnerable and the innocent."

On Saturday, a suicide bomber detonated a truck crammed with explosives inside a crowded market in Tuz Khurmato near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, killing over 150 civilians, wounding 250 more, and destroying many structures.

The Jihad and Reform Front was formed after disputes with the Qaeda organization in Iraq two months ago. It is composed of several major armed factions that have not accepted the political process established in Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled the Ba'thist regime, including the 1920 Revolution Brigades, the Islamic Army, the Ansar al-Sunna, and the Army of the Mujahidin.

Posted by Bill Roggio at July 18, 2007 11:47 AM ET:

Stan,

The leadership of Ansar al Sunnah signed onto the Islamic State (see the link to the Counterterrorism Blog in the text). This doesn't mean elements of it aren't opposed to al Qaeda in Iraq, or that there aren't internal feuds at times.

Posted by Stan at July 18, 2007 11:53 AM ET:

Bill,

By now you would think it would be obvious to me that nothing is cut and dry in Iraq. You're right, of course.

Posted by David M at July 18, 2007 12:46 PM ET:

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 07/18/2007
A short recon of what's out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Posted by Kafir at July 18, 2007 3:09 PM ET:

Wouldn't it be cool if we got the information to capture Zawahiri from someone we caught in Iraq?

Posted by Mark Eichenlaub at July 18, 2007 7:15 PM ET:

TS,
I think it at least indicates that the al Qaeda wing in Iraq is in contact with their foreign affiliates though may not really indicate much on the strength of al Qaeda in Iraq in relation to the other insurgent groups.

Posted by @thepointyend at July 18, 2007 10:23 PM ET:

Bill - Great update. After so many snipe hunts for that guy in '04 it is great to see he's finally been bagged and is flappin' his gums. May they'll continue to fall like dominoes.

Posted by Bryan Vandergriff at July 19, 2007 12:44 AM ET:

I find it very interesting that the more we are finding out about al-Qaeda, the more we are seeing Egyptians running it. Zawahiri is more or less the defacto leader of al-Qaeda (obviously an Egyptian). Abu Ayyub al Masri is an Egyptian and the new leader of al-Qaeda's efforts in Afghanistan, Mustafa Ahmed Muhammad Uthman Abu al-Yazid is an Egyptian.

Just an interesting observation. I am not sure about the leadership of the old GSPC (now al-Qaeda of the Maghreb), but it wouldn't surprise me if it was also being influenced by an Egyptian.

Posted by DJ Elliott at July 19, 2007 5:28 AM ET:

Bryan Vandergriff

The linage of AQ traces to a splinter group of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

Posted by Thanos at July 19, 2007 7:51 AM ET:

Bill, this is a great update, thanks again for the great work you do.
It does have me wondering what the next move for AQI will be however.
They've retreated to the north, perhaps same locale they were in at start of war, didn't Ansr al Sunna, or some group have camps up there manufacturing ricin iirc?
I'm wondering if they will try to co-opt the leadership of the PKK or other Kurd groups, or perhaps MEK now that they've failed in the South. Either would be very difficult, but not impossible. Looking at potentials, one thing they could cause a lot of damage with would be to float north into Turkey and create a lot of "pseudo-pkk" mayhem. That certainly would make the border situation very uncomfortable. I'd be watching for it.

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk at July 19, 2007 9:44 AM ET:

Bryan Vandergriff...I think you're onto something.

Egypt: The Canada of the Middle East. ;-)

With their halal hullabaloo...

Posted by jay clark at July 19, 2007 10:39 AM ET:

bryan,
i was going to post the same thing about the egyptian connection. it has been my personal opinion that bin laden is dead and that zawahiri has had to step up and take charge. and who better to trust than your own countrymen, who you can communicate with?
if it is true that the egyptians are the captains of the current ship, then it is equally obvious that the saudis are doing a hell of a lot of rowing...

Posted by Marcus Aurelius at July 19, 2007 12:05 PM ET:

Hehehehe,

A couple weeks ago a terror-toadie in this very section tried to claim there was no AQ in Iraq and that the resistance was instigated by the Islamic State of Iraq a purely homegrown effort.

ROLFMAO!

Posted by Marcus Aurelius at July 19, 2007 12:07 PM ET:

Whoops,

ROFLMAO!

Posted by crosspatch at July 19, 2007 2:42 PM ET:

Back on March 11:

I am not convinced that there is a Baghdadi and that al Qaida in Iraq hasn't made up a personna to waste time and effort searching for a red herring.

Posted by crosspatch | March 11, 2007 5:42 AM

I had a hunch all along that there would be no al Baghdadi.

A hearty congratulations to the folks who captured this guy alive and allowed the deception to be exposed. It wouldn't be surprising if the exposure of this doesn't change the minds of some of the others who might have decided to align themselves with ISI because it appeared to have an Iraqi face.

Posted by thanos at July 20, 2007 1:44 AM ET:

Bryan's definitely on to something -- looking back to last August, we had rumors of UBL's death/paralysis/illness, a funeral attended by many Jihadi leaders, and tapes from Zawahiri. The tapes supposedly set up a new Shura council, with four leaders, UBL's son being one, Zawahiri being another. At the time I posited that there could have been a secret coup. UBL's not been seen or heard from since except with cameo retreaded tape appearances.