The Abu Omar al-Bagdadi Saga

The Leader of al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq has not been captured. Again.

A map of the Sunni Islamic State of Iraq.

For the third time this week, Abu Omar al-Bagdadi, the leader of al Qaeda’s political front organization the Islamic State of Iraq, was reported captured by the Iraqi Interior Ministry. And for the third time this week, Baghdadi’s capture turned out to be untrue. On March 4th, Baghdadi was reportedly captured in Duluiya in Salahadin province. Baghdadi was then reported to have been captured in the Dora neighborhood Baghdad on March 5th. Yesterday, Baghdadi was reported to have been captured in Abu Ghraib, just west of Baghdad.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry has now denied the latest claim, however a senior al Qaeda leader was arrested during a raid in Abu Ghraib. “After preliminary investigations, it was proven that the arrested al-Qaida person is not Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, but, in fact, another important al-Qaida official,” said Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Mousawi, the Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman. “Interrogations and investigations are still under way to get more information.” The March 5th raid in Duluiya is said to have netted Abdullah Latif al-Jaburi – aka Abu Abdullah – the second in command of the Islamic State of Iraq. Announcements on the capture of death of senior al Qaeda and insurgent leaders should be taken with a healthy does of skepticism.

Baghdadi’s identity is still in question. During the initial report of his capture, the Interior Ministry identified Baghdadi as Muharib Mohammed Abdullah, “a former legal expert from the city of Balad.”

But Nibras Kazimi, an Iraqi journalist, has investigated Baghdadi’s background and believes he has determined Baghdadi’s identity. He has identified Baghdadi as Khalid Khalil Ibrahim al-Mashhadani.

This is what we know from following the bitter recriminations among jihadists on internet discussion forums: ‘Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’ was arrested under the Ba’athist regime as a Salafist (radical Islamist) activist who had broken into a school and defaced Saddam Hussein’s pictures and the Ba’athist slogans at the school.

This is what al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq claims about his pedigree: ‘Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’ is descended from the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Al-Hussein bin Ali, which would make him a Husseinite from the Hashemite clan that is part of the tribe of Quraysh.

This is the best I could do to tie all this up together, according to my sources: al-Baghdadi’s full name is Khalid Khalil Ibrahim al-Mashhadani. He is in his early 40s, and is known as ‘Abu Zaid’. He had been a Salafist under Saddam, and was briefly detained then over some unknown infraction. He has five brothers (that I know of), the eldest being Aggab (born 1954, served in the Iraqi Army’s 56th Battalion during Iraq-Iran War, last job was as principal of a secondary school in the Tarmiyah area north of Baghdad), and the second eldest is Hatim (a former NCO in the Iraqi Army). Khalid’s father, Khalil al-Mashhadani, used to own three lorry trucks that he would rent out for transporting gravel and the such, and after his death (about seven years ago) Khalid took over the business and converted their small office (at the entrance to the Dabbash neighborhood in Hurriyah, opposite to the Chalabi grove) into a service facilitating car registrations. However, Khalid seemed to have shuttered down his business during 2003. Khalid’s father was considered a respected person among the Mashhadani tribe and among the residents of Hurriya.

Khalid’s family belongs to the Albu Mu’alleg branch of the Mashhadanis. The Mashhadani’s believe that they are descended from Al-Hussein bin Ali, which would make them Hashemites. They claim the following pedigree: through Ali bin Ja’afar al-Zeki bin Imam Ali al-Hadi, and more specifically through his descendant Muslim al-Kabir bin Bakr, who was the first of their ancestors to come to Iraq and settle at area near Haditha (in Anbar Province) called Mashhad al-Hajar, from which their name is derived. They then migrated to the Tigris River north of Baghdad, to the Tarmiya area. Some also settled in old Baghdad (since the late 18th century) and there’s a neighborhood called Mahalet al-Mashahidah near the Ma’arouf al-Karkhi and Hallaj cemeteries.

Mr. Kazimi also notes Baghdadi is being floated as the eventual Caliph, or leader of al Qaeda’s future global Caliphate. But Mullah Omar has also been mentioned in these terms, and this is very likely a position being reserved for Osama bin Laden himself.

Of particular note is Baghdadi’s connections to the military and his established links to the Salafist jihadi movement prior to the fall of Saddam’s regime. His two brothers serve in Saddam’s army, which provides an avenue to the disaffected Baathists and soldiers of Saddam’s army. Baghdadi also has a tribal pedigree. al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq is working to win the Iraqi tribes over to its side, and would court an influential tribe such as the Mashhadanis.

Last week, as the flurry of Baghdadi capture reports poured in, Baghdadi himself is said to have personally lead a raid on a prison in Mosul. al Qaeda in Iraq massed over 300 troops and staged a daring prison break at dusk. The Kurdish guards were overwhelmed, and called U.S. forces in Mosul for support. The prison housed several hundred high value targets, and al Qaeda was able to free 140 of them. All but 47 of the prisoners have been recaptured, according to Iraqi police. A source tells us that one of the prisoners freed but then subsequently recaptured is Abu Tahla.

The capture of Abu Tahla and a host of his leaders in the spring of 2005 led to the dismantlement al Qaeda’s network in the Mosul region. As U.S. and Iraqi forces are stripping troops to provide security in Baghdad and the surrounding regions, al Qaeda in Iraq will attempt to push into areas where there are security gaps. Mosul is one such region.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.



  • Michael says:

    I posted about Nibras Kazimi’s comments below. Didn’t realize you were coving it. Interesting read and insight into tribal feuds.
    A little offtopic here, but the more I read about Petraeus, the more I like. He did his Doctoral dissertation at Princeston University on “lessons… learned from the Vietnam War were wrong.”

    That hesitancy posed a problem in Petraeus’ view. The U.S. military was turning away from the very fight – insurgencies – that it would likely confront. The United States’ enemies had also learned from Vietnam and would not want to confront U.S. military might head-on.
    We got the right man for a tough as hell job working as integrator extrodinaire. He’s pulled in some top notch people. What I hope is they’re able to possibly roll out and hire former top level marine and army veterans for some of the PTTs being formed that have already made good relations around the country. The culture demands a long term relationship, not a rotating Hello GI Joe. Or 90 day State Dept. rotation. These Shieks will get frustrated every time they have to teach someone specific customs and continue to reintroduce people in their tribal areas. I hope there is some plan being formed along those lines.
    Petraeus seems like the kind of man to think along those lines. We’ll need it as I feel the STate Dept is letting us down completely in areas as a no-show. Time they did some hiring of Can-Do Iraqi Veterans.
    USAToday mentions the obligatory comments on the carnage unleashed upon innocent Shia. Out of about 2.5 million pilgrims, the terrorist managed to murder a little over 200-300. There were 10,000 Iraqi police. Why these pilgrims take such risk knowing they’re like ducks in a pond is beyond my level of understanding, but it says something about their faith.
    But I think it also says something about the growing ability of the IRaqi police themselves. While 300 people dead is not good, we deplore it, and it makes for sensational headlines. They have managed to coordinate and protect over 2,499,970 people walking and driving to a holy area in a nation at war.
    I’d say that is remarkable. Considering how many people die in Saudi Arabia each year in Mecca. The numbers have been much higher.

  • RJ says:

    Let’s see…the Iraqis really don’t know if they have caught the big AQ leader. Tells me alot about how smart they are, how organized they are, how well they transfer–distribute information; like pictures of their most wanted! False reports like this just punch holes in my belief that they are capable to stand up and take control at this time. Oh sure, Allah this Allah that is shouted; meanwhile marktet places are blown up, GIs are lost to IEDs. Tribes fight over old arguments, clans rally round their beliefs. The good news: they are creating check points where some bad guys are caught. Not bad after a few years of work! I’ll give this Iraqi war till Sept. If America doesn’t see a turning in the tide, we all will want to find a way out so that our troops can go where the killing is better against our enemies. There is no substitute for victory!

  • Michael says:

    RJ, this is an insurgency and Petraeus has prepared for this all his life. Lets give the man some time before panic sets in. Many of the Iraqis are newly formed in these positions and are not disciplined in public media. Remember, they’re not use to free, open access. They’re use to the old Saddam regime where every single statement was vetted first and free media had no true access.
    They have freedom now. They get excited. And they possibly flub up several media related announcments. I’d expect this of a new government barely what, 6 months old, from a formerly oppressed Shia majority?
    “WASHINGTON — Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of Multinational Division-North and the 25th Infantry Brigade in Iraq, told reporters Friday morning that his troops have seized another cache of Iranian-made weapons and have “got momentum” in the fight against the insurgents.”
    General Mixon wants to roll on – Faster Please….

  • Avidbuff says:

    Did they go and hire Baghdad Bob again?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Possible. They are rehiring baathest generals…

  • RJ says:

    Michael, you’re not an enabler, right? I’m thinking we got 10 guys in a boat, all with oars. We’ve left the island and are headed for the mainland. Big weather is approaching, along with some pirates. Time to row for your life! At what point do the 10 look at each other and wonder who is truly pulling his load? At what point do the majority decide who is holding back their chances of survival? Is there a natural leader in this boat? I’ve spent some time reading in the Firestone library, even had a US military uniform I used to fit into–overseas, years ago! I want Gen. Petraeus to win, sooner rather than later. If those who want to spend time shouting “Allah is this and Allah is that” don’t realize it is time to row, then who goes overboard? Where’s our leader in this war? My cell phone can dial up a friend 23,000 miles away in less than a minute: Is it too much to ask the Iraqi government (as presently constituted) to get pictures out of its most wanted? They could tack them up on the walls right next to Sadr’s pics! Would that get some attention/action?

  • Neo-andertal says:

    Hey, Hey,
    This was about getting more people onboard not throwing them off the boat. Besides, we aren’t quite at the “man the lifeboats”

  • RJ says:

    When I go to my local VA hospital, I see who has been fighting against “big weather, pirates” and the sharks that always linger just below the surface. True Leaders know the responsibilities demanded. Great leaders communicate this reality in various ways. When young men get blown up waiting to enlist in the Iraqi military/police, others in that country see this. Anybody see Iraqi leaders marching to the fore suggesting this kind of awareness? How long should we, Americans, wait? Costing us how much? What’s the name on this lifeboat? Gen. Petraeus might be the right man for the job; however, I just don’t see his support over here, in the halls of our government (all branches), aligned for victory over the war on terror. ROE’s built on “compassionate conservatism” do not impress me. “Redeployment” lites up the eyes of a linguist only. “Habeous corpus” seems to me a poor weapon for fighting a war. Those of us who follow this war by constantly reading blogs such as this fine one are soldiers too. We go out into our local communities and try to energize others for victory. Or are we just going to show up for the next series of memorials built to commenorate this phase? The Titanic was unsinkable, right? Were there enough lifeboats on that ship?

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    Every military in the world has a procedure as to what to do in the event Head Quarters is overrun or captured.
    Meet at rally point Xray or something.
    Leaking to the press 3 times in one week that AlQueda’s HeadQuarters has been overrun may be deliberate.
    Do the AlQueda guys all run to meeting point XRay…where an ambush might be waiting for them? Do they stay put and risk the possibility that their position has been compromised? Do they call HeadQuarters to verify it has been overrun and give the US SigInt guys a bead on their location?
    A false report of AlQueda HQ being overrun is going to have a negative impact on AlQueda operations.

  • RJ says:

    Soldier’s Dad. I like your story better than mine. I’ll wait to see if it’s true, and if so, then let’s hope the good guys waste a few bad guys, capture some talkers, etc. After that, my eyes will again turn back here, to see what our “leaders” intend to do in support for those over there, at the tip of the spear!

  • robert b says:

    It may be the guy mentioned, but ISI / AQ may be laying a false trail. Anyhow, each time they’re capturing ISI / AQ leaders. Maybe there is NO real Al Baghdadi and therefore no real Islamic State of Iraq, just various terrorist cells. How can anyone capture someone with no known face and no known name?
    And as Bill says, let’s not get too focused on bad guys in Baghdad and let any of the provinces get taken by AQ just when its turning around in Anbar and elsewhere.

  • crosspatch says:

    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.

  • red says:

    A nation who’s media mentioned cannabalism in New Orleans after 4 days and avoided praising US Coast Guardsmen for saving 30,000 souls can not really criticize the Iraqi’s for not getting every battlefield capture right.

  • blert says:

    The flat ‘command structure’ of AQ means that most of their ‘leadership’ is mythic… even to them.
    In the crime world it is extremely common for players to claim Mafia links/ protection. Normally the claim is bogus. Such puffery comes naturally to the criminal mind.
    Since ‘militants’ are glutted with criminals you can be sure that the same logic holds: Any number of players are out telling their boys that they’ve been elevated to the ’emir of Baghdad’. How would the crew know any different?
    Anyhow, promotions come fast and furious in a defeated army. Hitler had enough generals at the end to command all of the worlds armies.
    None of the AQ scum is in a position like Jodl: no one can sign with authority. This means that the enemy has no officers: They top out with (in)sergeants.
    Most of the ranks are filled with boot rejects.
    (MIED manned-improvised-explosive-device aka bi-pedal ordinance.)
    Rather than focus on ‘commanders’… try targeting the recruiting machine, the beltists, the Qods bag men….

  • Michael says:

    An “enabler”? What would give you that idea? I said it takes time. It takes time to root out the corrupt elements from a 35 year old regime and corrupt elements from the other side as well.
    I’ve said repeatedly on here how difficult a job our soldiers have and how I appreciate their service.
    No way in the world do I want our guys not getting the best, nor being put in situations they cannot address regarding corrupt Iraqi officials or Army.
    In fact, I was complaining loudly before the latest change in tactics to let our soldiers take down both sides, to take the gloves off and stop allowing politics to get in the way.
    I think Bush has made mistakes. I’m glad to see a change in policy. And I hope they stay aggressive.

  • RJ says:

    Michael, I agree that our troops in Iraq and elsewhere want and perhaps will be given the authority to be more effective (in various ways). Here, in America, I don’t think we are as focused and committed to winning as we should and need to be. Further, I think this administration has lost its voice and direction in responding to those who would wage this war from a passive aggressive platform (bring the terrorists to court, spend time jaw breaking with our enemies, making buy off deals–solve the problem later, go for citizen popularity/approval today). Rosie the Riveter was pumped full of a war work ethic because her leaders were rallying her to support the guys in the trenches. When a bunch of religious nut jobs go to fallen warrior’s funerals to protest abortion, etc. and they have been doing this for a few years…well, I see a major problem over here.
    Lawyers really don’t impress me…and who are those running government? We could have, and should have wiped these bad guys clocks far quicker and less costly than this reality we now have. If my sons are to die fighting for this country, then by god when I go down my streets I want to see my fellow citizens aware of this threat that we face just as sure as I am as to what a smallpox attack would do to this economy! Leadership, that’s all I am seeking with my one vote! Who’s out there to support our troops with such?

  • Michael says:

    We share the same frustrations. I’m going to the rally in Dallas today for Move America Forward. To give them my flag to take to DC. It aint much, but its the best I can do right now.
    It is sad in a way, that they have to put on this caravan to confront the anti-war protest sponsored by ANSWER(a communist organization) on March 17th. And it is frustrating how little attention they’re getting by the media. God Bless them for all their efforts and sacrifices. Some have children in Iraq now, others who have died.
    Everyone should be calling their local radio and TV and tell them to interview and cover Move America Forward as they drive across this nation from Dallas today, Little Rock next, Atlanta, Raleigh, then DC.
    There is also a new ogranization forming;, that is dedicated to new leadership in Congress for 2008 which I am now thinking about helping out. Never thought I’d get involved in politics. Honestly, I don’t have the discipline or patience as Bill can attest to deleting some of my more rowdy comments. Maybe I can help out behind the scenes, safer that way.
    I write Congress and even the President about all these issues. Now, like you I grow more frustrated with leadership communication and media during a time of war. We have hollywood and others worrying more about “global warming” than supporting our troops. A billion years from now the earth may melt. Weather patterns shift every hundred years. The vikings lived in plush warm surroundings compared to the icey north today.
    Today, we’re at war.
    The faster we get off oil dependency the better and I consider that a true strategic effort for the war. But it is obvious this nation is split because its leaders are split in their priorities. And our Media is split about 75/25. This is all reflected in our polls because sheep follow what they see.
    So yes, our leaders priorities are truly messed up. We have some good leaders but they’re not being heard, or if they do speak up, they’re attacked with great vitriol and hatred. Joseph Lieberman stood firm on principles and was torn apart by his party. He had to run as an Independent. He won! In Connecticut!
    That should be a message to other leaders. He won in one of the most liberal states in the country. He stood firm and got his message out. He stands today between defeat and victory in the Senate.
    I’ll stop there. I about wrote a darn book on the problems with our society today, which I believe to be spiritual in form. And I know this is not the place. There was a Joseph once long ago however and a King who ruled a land. I’d say its time to listen to Joseph again and time to plan ahead.
    The lights may be a little dim, the tarnish and smoke done its damage, but I believe in the simple folk when it comes time I know they’ll manage. They live in the heartland and many round the shores, their screens flickering brightly behind the shuttered doors. They’re watching like all sheep do to see where leaders lead and when the right ones step up, to them they’ll give God Speed. On Eagles wings they’ll fly, they’ll run and not grow tired, they’ll walk and not be weary, they’ll grin, nary to breath a sigh. For on their shoulders this burden, once heavy now grows light, for in him all are certain, their hearts in His abides.
    For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay or resist.
    Luke 21:15

  • Another Al-Qaeda Top Leader Down in Iraq?

    Map of the Sunni Islamic State of IraqIraqi authorities announced that the leader of al-Qaeda’s political front organization the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, was killed in the Ghazaliya district in western Baghdad this morning. [New ite…


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram