Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the leader of al Qaeda’s puppet Islamic State of Iraq, was captured after a two-month-long intelligence operation, Iraq’s prime minister said.
Last week, the Ministry of Defense reported Baghdadi was captured during a raid by Iraqi forces. The US military has yet to confirm Baghdadi’s capture. Al Qaeda in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq, and other jihadi web forums have neither confirmed nor denied Baghdadi’s capture. In the past, al Qaeda has been quick to dismiss false reports of its captured senior leaders.
Iraq has a poor track record for reporting on the death or capture of senior al Qaeda leaders. Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the brutal former leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, was reported to have been killed or captured several times before he was finally killed by US forces in Baqubah in June 2006.
Since 2007, Iraq’s Interior and Defense ministries have claimed four different times that Abu Ayyub al Masri, the current leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, and Baghdadi were killed or captured. The reports later proved to be false.
Maliki said Iraqi operatives were directly tracking Baghdadi and dismissed the idea that the capture was unconfirmed as US forces had been unaware of the operation.
Iraqi intelligence operatives were “following Abu Omar al Baghdadi through elements close to him” for two months, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki claimed in an interview with the BBC.
“The arrest was made on basis of facts and… with proof through people who knew him directly,” Maliki said. “The information on the basis of which he was arrested confirms it was him.”
“People talk about this issue in terms of it being unconfirmed – that’s quite normal because the operation was purely Iraqi and the Americans didn’t know about these events,” Maliki continued. “We will reveal all the investigation.”
Maliki identified the man captured last week as Ahmad ‘Abid Ahmad Khamees al Majma’I, according to Nibras Kazimi, an Iraqi expert and visiting scholar at the Hudson Institute. Maliki “claims that the arrested man was positively identified by another captured jihadist who had directly pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi,” Kazimi said at his blog, Talisman’s Gate.
Baghdadi’s identity has long been a source of controversy. In 2007 the US military said Baghdadi was a fictitious leader created by al Masri, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. The Islamic State of Iraq was created in an attempt to put an Iraqi face on al Qaeda’s foreign-led movement and unite the disparate Sunni Islamist and insurgent groups.
Baghdadi was played by an Iraqi actor named Abu Abdullah al Naima, the military stated. This was confirmed after the capture and interrogation of Khalid al Mashadani, then al Qaeda’s media emir. Al Qaeda’s appointment of an anonymous caliph, or leader, caused rifts in the Sunni insurgency, and along with al Qaeda’s brutal tactics, turned many tribes and insurgent groups away from the terror organization.
The US military’s claim that Baghdadi was a fictitious character was challenged in May of 2008 after Haditha’s police chief identified Baghdadi as Hamed Dawood Mohammed Khalil al Zawi, a former officer who was “dismissed from the army because of his extremism.”
The US military believes that al Qaeda quickly backfilled the position of Baghdadi after the Naima charade was disclosed last year. The move was made to stem any embarrassment in having al Qaeda’s appointed caliph of Iraq being played by an actor.
Maintaining the heat on al Qaeda in Iraq
While al Qaeda in Iraq has had success lately in conducting large-scale attacks in Baghdad and northern, central, and western Iraq, US and Iraqi forces have maintained pressure of the terror group.
US troops killed seven al Qaeda fighters and captured nine more during a clash in the Dalouiya district in Salahadin on April 26. That same day, 18 al Qaeda fighters were captured in the Shahraban district in Diyala province, and three more were captured in Baqubah. On April 25, 15 al Qaeda fighters were captured and an al Qaeda leader was killed in Fallujah.
For more information on Abu Omar al Baghdadi, see:
July 18, 2007
Sept. 14, 2008
April 23, 2009
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.