US and Iraqi officials are saying this morning that they believe a US air strike near Tikrit has slain two top members of al-Qaeda in Iraq, including leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri, following a series of Iraqi government raids on safehouses.
“The death of these terrorists is potentially the most significant blow to al-Qaeda in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency,” claimed Gen. Ray Odierno, despite the fact that it seems to have been largely the same story as the slaying of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June of 2006.
In both cases US and Iraqi officials predicted that the death of the leader of the group, often blamed for any given attack in Iraq but whose actual size is unclear, would lead to an immediate and sustained drop in violence. It didn’t in the first case, but that doesn’t appear to have shaken any optimism.
In this case the identities appear to be nebulous, as the bodies were simply “found in a ditch” after the air strike and assumed based on documents nearby to be the two leaders, al-Masri and al-Baghdadi.
Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’s death seems even more unclear, as up to the killing the US military had claimed he didn’t even exist. No one seems to have known anything about him, including if he was real, and the Maliki government already suffered one embarrassment of reporting Baghdadi arrested and bringing “him” forward for public confession on TV. Needless to say, this is a different Baghdadi.
But bizarrely enough, the US military is also claiming to have killed one of Baghdadi’s sons, another thing that seems to defy explanation. How, if they believed that he didn’t even exist, did they not only confirm his death, but now confirmed the death of a son they didn’t know existed either?
Though this will likely have a very negligible effect on the ground in Iraq, the real value of these reported killings will be to prop up Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is still involved in post-election negotiations for a spot in the next government. After many complained his military was largely incompetent, he finally has an event, however unverified, to show otherwise.