Iraqi and Coalition forces on the trail of al Qaeda in Iraq’s commander
The Iraqi government has recently expressed optimism in the hunt for Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the new leader of al Qaeda in Iraq and the successor to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In Major General Bill Caldwell’s most recent briefing, he noted that two of al-Masri’s senior aides have been arrested in the past week. “We’re obviously gleaning some key critical information from those individuals and others that have been picked up and detained that are going through the interrogation process. You know, we feel very comfortable that we’re continuing to move forward very deliberately in an effort to find him and kill or capture him,” said General Caldwell.
An American intelligence source has informed me that Coalition and Iraqi forces are in pursuit of al-Masri. Most recently, al-Masri is thought to have been in Baghdad just last weekend. The lock down in the capital was not only related to the capture of Guard Khudhir Farhan, who led an eight man al Qaeda cell involved in the Green Zone plot, which involved an al Qaeda takeover, the execution of the Parliament and ransoming of senior Western officers and diplomats to secure the release of the “Blind Sheikh,” Omar Abdul Rahman. The security lockdown was to facilitate the capture or death of al-Masri in Baghdad. Al-Masri is believed to have been in Baghdad to personally oversee the Green Zone operation.
General Caldwell alludes to the hunt for al-Masri in yesterday’s briefing. Baghdad was locked down only one day after the series of raids.
Additionally, based on information from a recently detained al Qaeda in Iraq member, coalition forces on September 28th detained a former driver and personal assistant of Abu al-Masri along with 31 others during a series of raids that were conducted in the Baghdad area specifically targeting al Qaeda in Iraq targets. So again, that was on the evening of September 28th, 11 separate and distinct raids conducted throughout the city specifically targeting AQI [al Qaeda in Iraq], in which they were able to detain a driver and personal assistant of al-Masri’s… Intelligence indicates that this individual we captured here participated in the 2005 bombing of the Sheraton and Al Hamra Hotels in Baghdad that killed a total of 16 people and injured 65 others.
The recent operations against al Qaeda in Iraq leadership mirrors that of springtime hunt for Zarqawi that lead to his death in Baqubah It has been evident that Task Force 145 has honed in on al-Masri and senior al Qaeda leadership. Over the course of the past month, five senior al Qaeda leaders have been killed or captured (this does not include members of Ansar al-Sunnah or the 1920s Revolution Brigades). Hamed Jumaa Farid al-Saeedi and Abu Jaafar al-Liby both were members of the Mujahideen Shura (al-Liby also was a Baghdad commander of al Qaeda). Omar al-Farouq, a senior aide to bin Laden and a former operations chief in Southeast Asia was killed in Basra, Khalid Mahal, the Emir of Anbar Province, was killed in the Thar Thar region and Ali Mahmoud Yahya, the Emir of the Mujahideen Shura in Mosul was killed in that city this month.
General Caldwell also notes that al Qaeda in Iraq has had a tough month in September. “In regards to al Qaeda in Iraq, Iraqi and coalition forces during the month of September killed over 110 terrorists and detained over 520 of them in 164 operations,” said General Caldwell, “Of those, 50 were foreign fighters that were killed and 16 captured.”
The hunt for al-Masri has taken on additional significance. Al-Masri is a disciple of Ayman al-Zawahiri, and is adhering to the al Qaeda Command doctrine of uniting disparate jihadi groups in Iraq. He is following the recommendations that Zarqawi ignored in the Attyia al-Jaza’ri’s letter. Attyia is a member of al Qaeda Command’s Shura. The discussion of a potential merger with Ansar al-Sunnah, and perhaps even the Islamic Army in Iraq, are a direct result of al-Masri’s leadership capabilities. Al-Masri is a far more dangerous leader than Zarqawi, and the priority to kill or capture him has been raised because of this.
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