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