Al Bawaba reports “US, Iraqi forces closing on al Zarqawi” in northern Iraq
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al Qaeda’s commander in Iraq, has proved to be an elusive target for Coalition and Iraqi forces. Zarqawi is deemed such an important target that Task Force 626 has been set up exclusively to hunt Zarqawi and senior al Qaeda leadership in Iraq. U.S. forces believed they came very close to Zarqawi in the spring of 2005, when he was wounded in an airstrike and then subsequently treated in a hospital in Ramadi.
The Arabic newspaper Al Bawaba reports there is a major operation underway, “an extensive cordon and search of Hamrin [located between Tikrit and Kirkuk] region based on intelligence that… Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is believed to be hiding there.”
The International News also reports the operation in Hamrin is ongoing. Major General Anwar Hama Amin, commander of the Iraqi Army division in Kirkuk elaborates; “Our plan is to eliminate all pockets of the insurgency and this will go on for the next month to search out their bases… These operations are being conducted according to intelligence we have received, though we have yet to clash with the insurgents because they keep fleeing our forces.”
Zarwawi’s relocation to the Salahadin and Diyala provinces has been speculated upon for some time, as his group has been rejected by a significant portion of the domestic elements of the insurgency in Anbar province, the former base of operations. The Islamic Army of Iraq and other insurgent groups have declared war on Zarqawi. It is also believed he may be taking advantage of the proximity of Iran, as Iran is currently sheltering al Qaeda’s leadership and has conducted operational planning from within its borders.
Al Bawaba goes on to report the hunt for Zarqawi follows “the arrest of two senior aides to Zarqawi in Hamrin – Abu Naba and Abu Samra,” as well as the rejection of Zarqawi by Fallujah’s Sheikh Kamal Nazal, who was recently assassinated for working with the Iraqi government to restore order in the city and oppose al Qaeda in Iraq.
Abu Naba was the “media emir in Mosul” for Ansar al-Sunnah, while according to CENTCOM, Abu Samra was a member of a Baghdad intelligence cell, and classified as a “Tier 3” member of the organization. Abu Dhar is another al Qaeda member was recently reported captured, and it was reported he is al Qaeda’s number 4, however this is unlikely. Counterterrorism expert Evan Kohlmann, in a recent interview with The Long War Journal, is skeptical of the claims; “”He’s most definitely not Al-Qaida’s commander, deputy commander, head of the military wing, nor head of the media wing… which by my calculations makes it a pretty slim chance he’s legitimately titled Number 4.”
While the nature of the intelligence used to launch the operations in the Hamrin region is unknown, the continued targeting of al Qaeda in Iraq’s middlemen is sure to be playing a role in degrading the organization and providing intelligence for future operations.
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