An al Qaeda suicide bomber killed 10 Iraqis, including eight soldiers, in an attack today on a bank in the town of Haditha in Anbar province.
The suicide bomber detonated his vest packed with explosives amid a crowd of Iraqi soldiers who were standing outside the Rafidain bank in Haditha. At the time of the attack, the soldiers were waiting to collect their paychecks. The explosion also wounded 26 other Iraqis.
Haditha was once a major node for the al Qaeda in Iraq network in Anbar province. Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the brutal leader of the terror group who was killed by US forces in June 2006, used Haditha as a base of operations. Al Qaeda in Iraq had declared Haditha a part of its Islamic Emirate in Iraq and enforced a severe brand of sharia, or Islamic law, until US forces ejected the terror group during a series of operations in Anbar beginning in 2005.
Today’s attack is the latest suicide bombing in western Iraq. On Feb. 24, al Qaeda in Iraq killed 13 people in a suicide bombing in Ramadi that targeted Iraqis celebrating the Prophet Mohammed’s birth.
Iraqi security forces continue to hunt down al Qaeda in Iraq’s top leaders. On Feb. 25, the Interior Ministry claimed that its forces killed Nasser al Din Allah Abu Suleiman, the Islamic State of Iraq’s war minister, along with Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the leader of the al Qaeda front group. The report of Suleiman’s death has not been confirmed by the US military, however. Suleiman was appointed by al Qaeda in May 2010 to serve as the terror group’s top military commander after his predecessor, Abu Ayyub al Masri, was killed in a raid by Iraqi and US forces in April 2010.
As the war minister, Suleiman is in charge of directing suicide attacks throughout the country. Al Qaeda has focused its attacks on Shia worshipers, security forces, and government officials. Although the attacks continue, the violence and the number of those killed in Iraq are at the lowest levels since the US invasion in March 2003.
Al Qaeda in Iraq is supported primarily through its networks in eastern Syria. The al Qaeda ratlines, which move foreign fighters, money, and weapons, pass from eastern Syria through the northwestern Iraqi cities of Sinjar and Rabiah into Mosul.
In 2009, al Qaeda’s central leadership based in Pakistan reportedly sent a senior ideologue to Syria to partner with a dangerous operative who ran the network that funnels foreign fighters, cash, and weapons into western Iraq. Sheikh Issa al Masri is thought to have left Pakistan’s tribal agency of North Waziristan and entered Syria in June 2009, where he paired up with Abu Khalaf, a senior al Qaeda operative who had been instrumental in reviving al Qaeda in Iraq’s network in eastern Syria and directing terror operations in Iraq, a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal.
Although the US killed Abu Khalaf during a Jan. 22, 2010 raid in the northern city of Mosul, Sheikh Issa is alive and is believed to be based in Damascus and protected by the Mukhabarat, Syria’s secret intelligence service.