US and Iraqi forces kill Al Masri and Baghdadi, al Qaeda in Iraq’s top two leaders


Abu Ayyub al Masri.

Iraq’s Prime Minister and the US military confirmed that al Qaeda in Iraq’s top two leaders have been killed during a raid in a remote region in the western province of Anbar.

“Abu Ayyub al Masri, also known as Abu Hamza al Muhajir, Abu Omar al Baghdadi and a number of al Qaeda leaders in Iraq were killed during a security operation in al Thar Thar region in Anbar,” Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki told reporters at a press conference in Baghdad, according to Voices of Iraq.

US Forces Iraq, the US military command in Baghdad, confirmed the report in a press release.

“A series of Iraqi led joint operations conducted over the last week resulted in the Iraqi Forces with US support executing a nighttime raid on the AQI [al Qaeda in Iraq] leaders’ safehouse,” the press release stated. “The joint security team identified both AQI members, and the terrorists were killed after engaging the security team. Additionally, Masri’s assistant along with the son of al-Baghdadi who were also involved in terrorist activities were killed.”

During the operation, one US soldier was killed in a helicopter crash, and 16 al Qaeda associates were detained.

The two top leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq were killed in the Thar Thar region, an area that has served as an al Qaeda haven in the past. Al Qaeda has operated training camps and safe havens in the desert region, which is strategically located near Baghdad, Samarra, Balad, Ramadi, and Fallujah.

Al Masri was hand picked by Ayman al Zawahiri to take control of al Qaeda in Iraq after its founder, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, was killed in a US airstrike in Baqubah in June 2006. Al Masri was one of Zawahiri’s top aides and severed as a master bomb maker and terror coordinator under Zarqawi.

Al Masri was a member of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the group that folded into al Qaeda under Zawahiri’s leadership. Egyptian Islamic Jihad is a core element of al Qaeda and includes many former members of the Egyptian military.

Al Masri was officially listed as the minister of defense for the Islamic State of Iraq, according to a press release put out by the terror group in April 2007. But over the summer of 2007, it became known the Islamic State of Iraq was the invention of al Masri.


Hamed Dawood Mohammed Khalil al Zawi, who was better known as Abu Omar al Baghdadi. Image from Talisman’s Gate via al Arabiya.

Baghdadi is the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, and there has been much controversy over his identity over the years. 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.

The deaths of al Masri and Baghdadi are a major blow to al Qaeda in Iraq, as the terror group has suffered major losses in its leadership network over the past four months. Since January, the US has picked apart the top leaders of al Qaeda’s northern network. Among those killed or captured are the last two emirs, or leaders, of the northern Iraq network, the last two emirs of Mosul, the top facilitator operating in the Iraq-Syria border areas, and other senior members of the network [see LWJ report, “Iraqi forces capture two senior al Qaeda leaders in Mosul,” for the full list].

General Ray Odierno, the commander of US Forces Iraq, said the killing of al Masri and Baghdadi “is potentially the most significant blow to al Qaada in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency.”

“The Government of Iraq intelligence services and security forces supported by US intelligence and special operations forces have over the last several months continued to degrade AQI,” Odierno said in the press release. “There is still work to do but this is a significant step forward in ridding Iraq of terrorists.”

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



  • don juice says:

    this is a significant victory

  • BullsEyes says:

    AT LAST!!!
    Now Afghanistan is the last major stage in the war against terrorists.

  • Lorenz Gude says:

    Significant and very good news. It has seemed from other reports here at LWJ that that the noose has been tightening on AQI and that the Iraqis have been stepping up and taking a more leading role. It now feels like the Iraqis really will be able to hunt these terrorists out and see to it that they have no foothold in the country. I wonder to what extent they will be able to do the same with Iranian proxies. There are plenty of pundits about who claim that Iraq will be in Ajad’s pocket the minute the US leaves but I will believe that when I see it. I believe the Iraqis have had quite enough of tyranny and are showing determination to keep their country free of it. If that is the case that is all the thanks I need as an American. There is still endless disagreement over whether the US should have gone into Iraq in in the first place, but al Q certainly decided to engage seriously once we were there and this incident looks to me as close as it gets to outright defeat of a guerrilla movement . I remember Bill Roggio’s flash presentation of the pattern of our early search and destroy missions in Anbar when the best we could hope for was to disrupt AQI. That was followed by the long grind that culminated in taking the enemy’s capital in Ramadi also ably reported by Bill when our media was focused on shaping domestic opinion and missed that something extraordinary had happened. Now this. Thank you Bill for ‘journaling’ this long war and keeping us appraised of what is actually happening.

  • natej740 says:

    I want to see some pics of their dead bodies like they did with Abu Musab al Zarqawi and the Hussein sons….
    It just seems to good to be true….They’ve killed both these guys a dozen times already.
    Bill what is your take is this the real deal this time????

  • natej740 says:

    So you think Afghanistan is the “last major stage in the war against terrorists”????
    What about Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Algeria, Philippines, Hezbollah….etc. There is still a lot of Evil people out there that need to be dealt with..

  • Stu says:

    Great News! And LWJ provides us with the most significant facts about the killing of these murderers. Another spot of good news in this story (the kind of detail you won’t hear from our so-called mainstream media) is the capture of a number of AQI associates in the joint raid.
    Even more good news–again the significance of which is probably lost on the “rip and read” American media–is that was an Iraqi operation with American support announced by Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. Hats off to everyone involved in this operation!
    However, I am sorry to hear about the death of one our brave soliders in the helicopter crash.

  • HN says:

    Great news! This appears to be a big step for the Iraqi military and security forces so we can continue our draw down of forces there and focus on other fronts in this war.

  • paul says:

    Good news to get these two high profile murderers!
    This war wont end until we take on the ideology/Funding!
    This means taking on Saudi and Iranian Govts!

  • Tyler says:

    I’d agree with the notion that Afghanistan will likely be the last battleground in the so-called War on Terror in which we will see a major infusion of US combat troops.
    Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Philippines…I severely doubt our hand in these conflicts will extend much beyond Special Ops, intel, training/advisory, and various forms of offshore balancing like Predators and airstrikes. Any involvement of ground troops in significant number would be for a narrow mission and a limited timetable. I don’t see any President, Rep or Dem, seriously straying from that.
    We’ve seen firsthand the violent negative effects of being tied down while our enemy is free to pop up where ever it feels it best suits them tactically and strategically.
    Al-Masri and Al-Baghdadi were high in the running for the most bloodthirsty, nihilistic jihadi terrorists on the entire planet. Kudos to all those involved, and profound condolences to the families of all the Iraqis, Americans, and British who gave their lives chasing AQI’s leaders.

  • Solomon2 says:

    Will it be the last we hear of Al-Q in Iraq? A new chief bully will have to be appointed by OBL or Zawahiri but the Iraqi police and citizenry will now resist the propagation of a new terror network.

  • wallbangr says:

    Natej740, al Jazeera reported that the Iraqi gov’t showed pictures. I think more significantly, the Americans have confirmed for themsevles with DNA and have announced as much to the media — so I don’t think this is just anothere of Maliki’s games. I wonder if these guys clacked of suicide vests. Either way, nicely done, lads

  • JRP says:

    Killing these AQ franchise operators is like getting a haircut in that sooner or later the hair grows back. You want to eliminate the hair growth altogether; you cut the head. As long as Bin Ladin and Zawahiri remain at liberty, this war on terror will continue. Knowing that these two want to bring that war ashore again in the U.S.A., it is imperative that we let nothing stand between us and them, to include the Pakistani border.

  • kp says:

    Though this leaves AZ in an interesting position to appoint a new person: he has to know what is going on with AQI in the last couple of months (that requires communication bandwidth) and he has to communicate to AQI his new appointment (more communication). Both sets of communications are a risk of exposing himself (and are probably very low bandwidth and high latency with dead-dropped letters carried by individuals in a chain). The capture of “HQ staff” might also reveal how they communicate with home base (if they are) and that might be exploited.

    It also might be rather problematic for the next level of leaders down in AQI in getting into contact with each other to organize the local appointment of a new leader. Any time you have to pass a lot of messages (as I don’t see everyone agreeing that one self-proclaimed guy is the boss … it’s clear from their decision making processes that they like shura/councils and talking). If they have to gather for one that makes a lot of them vulnerable.

  • Mr T says:

    Are they 2 separate guys?
    Also, no mention of additional intel from these guys hq. If we killed them quick with minimal “explosion”, we should be able to find some good info leading us to their security apparatus, finances, logistics, etc.

  • Joshua says:

    Here is an Arabic article on the raid but it shows pictures of their corpse. It is a bit graphic though.

  • Johnathan says:

    At long last more of these bloodthirsty terrorists are removed from the Iraqi landscape.That country deserves peace after what is thas been through,much of it perpetrated by butchers such as the Zarqawis and El Masris.
    Civilisation is better for their demise.

  • kcom says:

    With all respect to General Odierno, I would say “the most significant blow to al Qaeda in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency” is clearly the creation of the Awakening councils and the schism between the local Sunni population and the foreign-directed al Qaeda network.

  • Tyler says:

    The raids happened yesterday, and today we see all of al-Maliki, Odierno, Petraeus, and the Obama administration publicly confirm the deaths. That says to me the homework has been done and we’re certain. This is the exact opposite of the type of rumors we’ve seen in recent years.

  • Zeissa says:

    Lorenz Gude, Iraq would likely have been won regardless sooner or later from AQI, but Iraqi in its present form was won in 2007 when the US army moved out into the streets. Taking Ramadi was necessary of course, but far from the climax.

  • Minnor says:

    Iraquis can look after themselves. No need of external help, since they aren’t economically poor after all.

  • Render says:

    The pix are linked…
    yeah. uh Milton is it? We’re gonna have to ask you to make some room in here…
    Masri was a pro with a very long record. Those kind of people, at that level, don’t grow like hair. They are not that easily or quickly replaced.
    It sure seems like there shouldn’t be much left of the orginal EIJ group except the Z man himself.

  • BraddS says:

    JRP, well said. If tomorrow morning someone told me there was an American Volunteer Expeditionary Force being assembled to cross the AF-PAK border in order to find and kill OBL and AZ, and if they also told me the odds of coming back alive were 1%, and the odds of finding and killing OBL or AZ was also 1%, I would still go.

  • T Ruth says:

    Agree with others that this is a great battle won, but agree with you too The War is far, far from being won. You put it succinctly–a few lines that say much more to me than any strategy speech or document i’ve read.
    The devil is in the detail, but you don’t lose him to it. That is where we seem to be 9 yrs down with regard to the head. Outwitted two terms of one President and keeping the pressure on the second as he tries to look beyond the horizon of his first.
    The Chapman incident was a confirmation that America is clutching at straws with one hand while holding Pakistan’s with the other. Meantime Pakistan’s other hand is free to pick America’s pocket.
    I think the Awakening required here needs to begin in Washington DC.

  • kp says:

    @wallbangr: “confirmed for themsevles with DNA”

    Hmmm, how would that work? You’d get DNA from the relatives to confirm their parentage but it doesn’t tell you anything abu their affiliation or role in AQI. Abnd where do you get the reference DNA from?

    When US intel uses “confirmed it with DNA” I suspect they mean they’ve confirmed it with other intelligence sources (technical like SIGINT or items recovered at the site or or HUMINT or most likely all of these) but they can avoid saying tha publicallyt And the public watches CSI.

  • Zeissa says:

    I suspect they have as large case files on these people as possible. DNA would be one of the key items. They’ve been around for years, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone picked up an object they had handled or family members, etc, as you mention.

  • wallbangr says:

    KP: The DNA confirmation was open source (e.g., I’m frankly not sure what they are verifying it against, although Al Masri’s wife was captured and Al Baghdadi’s son was also killed in the attack. They also mentioned fingerprint anaylsis. You are correct that it only tells you the identity of who was killed. The myth and mystery of Al Baghdadi is a separate issue — though the US intelligence community seems to think we got the guys we say we got. And the fact that he was with Al Masri tells you he is a big fish. The story of how exactly they were killed is still emerging with some saying these guys died from a rocket or missle strike. I can’t tell from the pictures, but the one of Al Baghdadi looks to have his head severed from his body — an indicator that perhaps he clacked off a suicide vest. But at this point, I’m speculating as much as the media is.

  • Chris says:

    In german online news (,1518,690133,00.html) is mentioned that both leaders were under observation for the last weeks and that they discovered doucments from OBL in the safe house.
    Has anybody similar news?

  • buck Smith says:

    Iraquis can look after themselves. No need of external help, since they aren’t economically poor after all
    yes they can now, thanks to perseverance of the US military, Petraeus and Bush (and Obama). And thanks to the courage of the people, Iraqi and American mostly, at the tip of the spear for 7 years of fighting. Seem like this is a V-I day. Wish we would treat it as such.


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