Iraq security forces captured the leader of al Qaeda’s network in the capital of Baghdad during an operation more than a month ago. The al Qaeda leader helped direct Iraqi and US forces to the top two leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq, both of whom were killed during a raid near Tikrit last weekend.
Iraqi forces captured Manaf Abdulrehim al Rawi during a raid in Baghdad in March, Major General Qassem Atta, the spokesman for the Baghdad Operations Command, said in a press conference, according to Voices of Iraq.
Rawi, who is also known as Falah Abu Hayder, was an Iraqi citizen who was born in Moscow in 1975, Atta said. “He joined the terrorist al Qaeda group in 2003 and was appointed by Abu Omar al Baghdadi as Ruler of Baghdad in 2008.”
Rawi was the mastermind of the series of attacks that have rocked Baghdad since August 2009. More than 550 Iraqis have been killed and thousands more wounded in the attacks.
“The suspect is responsible for several terrorist operations, including the assassination of lawmaker Harith al Obaidi,” Atta continued. “He also oversaw the blasts that targeted the buildings of the foreign affairs and finance ministries, the provincial council, the court of appeal and the judicial institute.”
Rawi’s detention was not confirmed by the US military. US Forces Iraq did not respond to an inquiry on Rawi’s detention or his importance to al Qaeda in Iraq’s network.
But US military and intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal did say that the detention of Rawi last month helped paint the intelligence picture that led to the operation last week that killed al Qaeda in Iraq’s top two leaders, Abu Ayyub al Masri and Abu Omar al Baghdadi. Al Masri and Baghdad were killed along with Baghdadi’s son and a top aide to al Masri during a joint US and Iraqi raid in the Thar Thar region just outside of Tikrit. In the course of the raid, 16 other al Qaeda operatives were detained.
After the death of Abu Musab al Zarqawi in June 2006, Al Masri was appointed by Ayman al Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s deputy, to lead al Qaeda in Iraq. Al Masri in turn appointed Baghdadi the head of the Islamic State of Iraq, al Qaeda’s attempt to establish a political and Iraqi dimension to its foreign-led terror campaign.
The capture of Rawi, coupled with operations in northern Iraq since January that resulted in the death or capture of several of al Qaeda’s top leaders, allowed Iraqi and US intelligence to zero in on al Masri and Baghdadi. 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 overall 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. Two days after al Masri and Baghdadi were killed, Iraqi forces killed the top military commander for northern Iraq. [See LWJ reports, “Iraqi forces capture two senior al Qaeda leaders in Mosul” and “Iraqi forces kill al Qaeda’s top military commander in the north,” for more information.]
These operations have deprived al Qaeda of some of its top leaders who potentially could have replaced al Masri and Baghdadi, US officials said.
“AQI’s [al Qaeda in Iraq’s] best leaders operate in Baghdad and in northern Iraq,” a US military intelligence officer told The Long War Journal. “Al Qaeda’s network is most cohesive in the north in the Mosul region due to its proximity to Syria, which serves as it sanctuary. Over the past four months we’ve gutted the leadership cadre there. This is going to hurt al Qaeda in the short and medium term.”
“Al Qaeda in Iraq has a dilemma,” an intelligence official said. “How will they fill these leadership positions, and if they do, how effective will those leaders be? They’ve been hit real hard, this will strain their effectiveness.”
Top al Qaeda in Iraq leaders killed or captured since January
April 20, 2010: Iraqi forces killed Ahmad Ali Abbas Dahir al Ubayd, al Qaeda’s top military commander for northern Iraq.
April 18, 2010: Iraqi and US forces killed Abu Ayyub al Masri, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, and Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, during a raid in the Thar Thar region.
April 6, 2010: Iraqi security forces detained al Qaeda in Iraq’s emir of Mosul and the emir of eastern Mosul.
March 24, 2010: Iraqi troops killed Bashar Khalaf Husyan Ali al Jaburi, al Qaeda’s emir of the city of Mosul.
March 23, 2010: Iraqi soldiers killed Abu Ahmad al Afri, al Qaeda in Iraq’s economic security emir.
March 18, 2010: Iraqi troops killed Khalid Muhammad Hasan Shallub al Juburi, al Qaeda in Iraq’s top emir in northern Iraq.
March 2010: Iraqi troops captured Manaf Abdulrehim al Rawi, al Qaeda in Iraq’s emir for Baghdad.
Jan. 22, 2010: Iraqi and US forces killed Abu Khalaf, al Qaeda in Iraq’s most senior foreign fighter facilitator. Based out of Syria, Khalaf reorganized al Qaeda’s network after it was severely disrupted by Iraqi and US forces during extensive operations in 2007 and 2008.
Jan. 16, 2010: Iraqi security forces detained Ali Hussein Alwan al Azawi, a senior al Qaeda in Iraq operative who was involved in the first major suicide attack in the capital, in the summer of 2003.
Jan. 5, 2010: Iraq security forces killed Abu Na’im al Afri, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq’s northern operations.
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