Iraqi and US forces have hit al Qaeda in Iraq hard over the last several months, crippling the terror group’s senior leadership and disrupting its communications with al Qaeda’s top leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the top US commander in the country said.
“Over the last 90 days or so, we’ve either picked up or killed 34 out of the top 42 al Qaeda in Iraq leaders,” General Ray Odierno, the commander of US Forces – Iraq, told reporters during a Pentagon press briefing.
“They’re clearly now attempting to reorganize themselves,” “They’re struggling a little bit. They’ve broken — they’ve lost connection with AQSL [al Qaeda Senior Leadership] in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” Odierno said.
Iraqi and US forces conducted a series of raids in northern Iraq in early 2008 that ultimately led to the death of al Qaeda in Iraq’s top two leaders, Abu Ayyub al Masri, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, and Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the leader of the front group known as the Islamic State of Iraq [see list of top al Qaeda in Iraq leaders killed below].
The operations that led to al Masri and Baghdadi’s death started in Mosul at the beginning of 2010, Odierno said, confirming information first reported by The Long War Journal. Raids that targeted al Qaeda’s leadership, finance, and extortion cells in the Mosul region proved crucial to denuding the terror network’s top commanders.
“We’ve been whittling away at this for a very long time,” Odierno said. “But back in December, January — I get dates mixed up — December, January, February time frame, we made some significant inroads in Mosul, where their headquarters basically was, and we got inside of AQI [al Qaeda in Iraq]. We picked up several of their leaders that did the financing, that did planning, that did recruiting, that did — some of their lawyers that worked on bringing detainees who were released and bringing them into al Qaeda — we were able to get inside of this network, pick a lot of them up.”
But Odierno said that al Qaeda in Iraq has proven to be resilient in the past and it “will attempt to regenerate.” The task will be tough given the losses al Qaeda has suffered.
“I would just say that they will, obviously, attempt to reconstitute,” Odierno said. “The issue is, though, they’ve lost a lot of top leadership very quickly, and so they’re going to have to develop some new leadership.”
A month after al Masri and Baghdadi were killed, Al Qaeda in Iraq named Nasser al Din Allah Abu Suleiman its new ‘minister of war’ for the Islamic State of Iraq. The position of war minister had previously been held by al Masri.
But Odierno said it isn’t clear if the new al Qaeda in Iraq leaders are real people or merely placeholders.
“They’ve named some names, but we’re not even sure if there’s actually people behind those names,” he said. “We call those names roughly honorific names. They’re names that are very common names in the Arabic world. So we’re not sure there’s actually people behind those names yet.”
Odierno believes al Qaeda will continue to attempt to overthrow the Iraqi government and will try to create instability by switching from targeting the Iraqi security forces, whose capabilities have increased dramatically since 2007, to soft targets such as civilians.
“They [al Qaeda in Iraq] want complete failure of the government in Iraq,” he said. “They want to establish a caliphate in Iraq.”
Top al Qaeda in Iraq leaders killed or captured since January
May 3, 2010: Iraqi police captured Abu Abdullah al Shafi, the top leader of Ansar al Islam, during a raid in Baghdad.
April 23, 2010: Iraqi forces captured Mahmoud Suleiman, al Qaeda’s top military commander for Anbar province.
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.