Reports are unconfirmed; US military is silent; aide may be the chief of al Qaeda’s security detail
Iraqi and Coalition forces may have gotten a lucky break in the hunt for the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. CNN is reporting, based on a source in the Iraqi Interior Ministry, that Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the successor to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has been wounded in a firefight on a road somewhere between Fallujah and Samarra. Al-Masri and his security detail are said to have been entering the city of Balad. Al-Masri’s aide is identified as Abu Abdullah al-Majamiai. A military intelligence source has informed us al-Majamiai may be the head of al-Masri’s security detail, but this has not been confirmed.
Just last week, Task Force 145 captured a senior aide to al-Masri in Mahmoudiya. The aide said he met with al-Masri within 24 hours of his capture. As we noted at the time, the capture was a good indicator on the success for the hunt for al-Masri, and Task Force 145, the hunter-killer team of special operators, may be hot on his trail.
The region between Fallujah and Samarra has been a staging area for al Qaeda and Sunni insurgents for some time. The Muthanna Chemical complex and the Lake Thar Thar region have been the scene of pitched battles between the Coalition and insurgent forces. Last spring, over 200 suspected insurgents were detained, including ten members of Zarqawi’s Tawhid and Jihad terrorist organization.
As we noted at the time, the Lake Thar Thar region, where the Muthanna complex is located in a region where Baathists have settled, and numerous weapons caches were prepositioned in anticipation of the current insurgency. This is an ideal location as it is strategically located near Baghdad, Samarra, Balad, Ramadi and Fallujah. The Jazeera desert region has been the focus of numerous Coalition and Iraqi Army operations over the past half year, and the Iraqi Army has begun to conduct independent operations in this area.
The initial report of al-Masri’s wounding has yet to be confirmed, and should be accepted with caution. The U.S. military has refused to comment of the incident. During the hunt for Zarqawi, there were numerous reports of close calls until he was finally bagged in Baqubah n June of 2006.
Al-Masri’s demise will be a major victory for the Coalition, both tactically and strategically. Al-Masri is a far more competent and dangerous leader than Zarqawi ever was. He has made significant progress in repairing the damage of Zarqawi’s brutal policies, as the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq and the courting of six tribes and small insurgent groups into his political front has proven. If al-Masri is captured, this will yield a treasure trove of intelligence on al Qaeda’s Iraq operations, as well as its interface to global al Qaeda.
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