Hamed Dawood Mohammed Khalil al Zawi, who is better known as Abu Omar al Baghdadi. Image from Talisman’s Gate via al Arabiya.
The Iraqi Army claimed to have captured Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the leader of al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq, during a raid today. The report has not been confirmed by the US military. The reported capture of Baghdadi takes place as two suicide bombers killed more than 60 Iraqis in attacks in Baghdad and Diyala.
Baghdadi was captured during a raid in eastern Baghdad, according to a report by the Al Iraqiyah television network. Brigadier General Qassim Atta, the official spokesman for the Baghdad Operational Command, confirmed that Baghdadi was captured by Iraqi forces based on an intelligence tip.
“The Iraqi security forces have arrested Abu Omar al Baghdadi, al Qaeda leader in Iraq and emir of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq,” Atta said, according to Al Arabiyah Television. But the network indicated there are conflicting reports on where he was detained. Some reports indicated that Baghdadi was detained in Kirkuk or Diyala provinces.
Baghdadi’s capture has not been confirmed
The US military has not confirmed Baghdadi’s capture. “We have no operational reporting on this incident,” First Lieutenant John Brimley, a Public Affairs Officer for the Media Operations Center in Baghdad told The Long War Journal.
Nibars Kazimi, an Iraq expert and visiting scholar at the Hudson Institute, said the Iraqi security forces are claiming a man named Ahmad ‘Abid Ahmad Khamees al Majma’i was captured and he is being identified as Baghdadi.
Iraqi security forces have a poor track record on reporting on the capture or death of senior al Qaeda in Iraq leaders. This is the fourth time since 2007 that the Iraqi security forces have claimed Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al Masri, al Qaeda’s leader in Iraq, were either killed or captured.
In February 2007, the spokesman for the Interior Ministry claimed that al Masri was wounded and captured in a major clash between al Qaeda forces and the Awakening and police forces near the city of Balad. Al Masri was not captured, but Abu Abdullah al Majamaia, an aide to al Masri who also is believed to lead his security detail, was.
In May 2007, Sunni tribes reported that al Masri was killed in a battle near Taji, just north of Baghdad. Iraq’s Ministry of Interior claimed its forces saw his body. Just days later, the Ministry of Interior said that Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the supposed leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, was reported killed in another battle in the town of Dhuluiya in Salahadin province. US forces confirmed that Muharib Abdul Latif al Jubouri, al Qaeda in Iraq’s senior minister of information was killed, but neither al Masri nor Baghdadi were killed. In May 2008, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense announced the capture of al Masri, but just one day after that announcement, the US military denied that al Masri was in custody.
Al Masri and other senior al Qaeda operatives are thought to have been recalled to Pakistan after al Qaeda’s failure to break the Iraqi and US effort to secure Iraq during 2007.
Who is Abu Omar al Baghdadi?
Baghdadi’s true identity has been the source of controversy since the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq during the summer of 2006. Al Qaeda created the Islamic State of Iraq as part of its efforts to put an Iraqi face on its operations. Baghdadi was named the emir and chief of the Islamic State’s shura, or executive council, while al Masri was appointed the military commander.
The appointment of Baghdadi as the leader of the Islamic State caused rifts within the Sunni insurgency. Tribal leaders and Iraqi Islamist and insurgent groups objected to the creation of the Islamic State and the appointment of an anonymous leader. Abu Omar al Baghdadi is a pseudonym.
The US military dropped a bombshell in July 2007 when it stated Baghdadi was in fact a fictitious person created by Abu Ayyub al Masri, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. 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 Abdul Fatah Da’ud Mahmud Al Mashadani, then al Qaeda’s media emir.
The US military’s claim that Baghdadi is 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.
“Al Qaeda in Iraq filled in the position with a real individual after Multinational Forces Iraq revealed that Abdullah al Naima was a hired actor,” a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal in September 2008.
“Hamid al Zawi was one of the few senior al Qaeda in Iraq leaders who could meet the criteria of being descended from Hussein that was a key part of Baghdadi’s biography,” the official said. The ability of a potential leader of the Islamic State to trace their lineage back to Hussein Ali, the grandson of Prophet Mohammad, is a requirement.
Baghdad, Miqdadiyah hit with major suicide attacks
As the Iraqi military announced the capture of Baghdadi, al Qaeda in Iraq suicide bombers conducted two major attacks in Baghdad and Miqdadiyah in Diyala province.
In central Baghdad, twenty-eight Iraqis, including eight security personnel, were killed, and more than 50 were wounded in an attack. “The bomber blew up an explosive belt strapped to his body targeting civilians who were receiving food materials in al Karada region,” Atta told Voices of Iraq.
In an attack in the Imam Wess region near Miqdadiyah, thirty-two people, many of them Shia pilgrims from Iran, were killed and 63 more were wounded. The suicide bomber targeted the pilgrims as they visited religious shrines in the area, Voices of Iraq reported.
Al Qaeda in Iraq has stepped up attacks recently in Baghdad and in central, northern, and western Iraq. Today’s two attacks mark the eleventh and twelfth major strikes since April 5. Nearly 100 Iraqis and five US soldiers have been killed in the attacks.
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