BAGHDAD -- The killing of a top al-Qaida in Iraq leader could disrupt a link between al-Qaida's top leaders and the radical Sunni Muslim group's Iraqi offshoot, but the identity of a second man who was killed isn't clear.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Monday that Iraqi and U.S. forces had killed Abu Omar al Baghdadi and Abu Ayoub al-Masri, an Egyptian thought to have ties to the international al-Qaida leadership, in a rocket attack on their safe house in northern Iraq on Sunday. Baghdadi, the leader of the self-declared Islamic State of Iraq, is thought to be a pseudonym for Hamid Dawud Muhammad Khalil al-Zawi, an ex-Iraqi Army officer who's said to have come from a number of different places, including Haditha in Iraq's predominantly Sunni Anbar province. "Al Baghdadi" means "from Baghdad." Vice President Joe Biden on Monday called the killings of Baghdadi and Masri "potentially devastating blows" to al-Qaida in Iraq. "But equally important, in my view," he added, "is this action demonstrates the improved security, strength and capacity of Iraqi security forces. The Iraqis led this operation, and it was based on intelligence the Iraqi security forces themselves developed following their capture of a senior AQI leader last month." "The death of these terrorists is potentially the most significant blow to al-Qaida in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency," said Army Gen. Raymond Odierno, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. A U.S. soldier was killed in the operation and three others were wounded when their helicopter crashed during the overnight raid. The American military previously had said the aircraft wasn't downed by enemy fire, and it was investigating the cause of the crash. However, while it appeared clear one of the dead men was al-Zawi, some counterterrorism analysts remain unsure al-Zawi was Baghdadi, and even whether such a person exists. Moreover, even if Baghdadi was killed, a recent study by a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago, Jenna Jordan, published this month in the journal Security Studies, concluded killing the leaders of terrorist groups, particularly religious ones, "is not an effective counterterrorism strategy." In fact, Jordan found: "Groups that have not had their leaders targeted have a higher rate of decline than groups whose leaders have been removed. Decapitation is actually counterproductive, particularly for larger, older, religious or separatist organizations." Four years ago, then-President George W. Bush said the killing of a previous al-Qaida in Iraq leader, Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, had dealt a "severe blow" to the group, but it's shown recently it's still capable of carrying out complex, high-profile operations such as a series of bombings against embassies this month. Iraqi authorities announced last year they had killed Baghdadi, a claim that was never verified by the U.S. military, which said in the past Baghdadi might be a composite figure used to put an Iraqi face on al-Qaida's operations in Iraq. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Monday insurgents had attributed the name to various fighters over the years to sow confusion among U.S. and Iraqi forces, but that the man killed today was the "original" Baghdadi. Adding to the uncertainty, al-Maliki displayed photographs of the two men both dead and alive and included one of Baghdadi in U.S. detention. He didn't say when Baghdadi was detained, and a U.S. military spokesman said he had no information on the matter. "Al Baghdadi was initially assessed to be a fictional character, however, reporting has proven otherwise," Army Maj. Gen. Steve Lanza wrote in an e-mail. He said Baghdadi was the senior Iraqi member of AQI, acted as an emissary for Masri and had support from senior al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan. The military didn't say how it knew that al-Zawi was Baghdadi. Lanza wrote that Iraqi and U.S. forces determined two of the four people killed in the attack were Masri and al-Zawi through DNA testing, photo identification, finger print verification and known scars. "I think it's good news if al Baghdadi turns out to be a single individual, but it wouldn't surprise me if AQI/ISI comes out and says Baghdadi lives on," said Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism research fellow at the New America Foundation, a center-left Washington policy organization. Fishman said his skepticism that al-Zawi was the emir of the Islamic State of Iraq was based on a history of using pseudonyms to refer to entire units of the organization rather than to individuals. He said he thought the killing of the two would shake up al-Qaida in Iraq, which was badly damaged three years ago but had appeared to be gaining confidence since the middle of last year. (Arraf is a Christian Science Monitor correspondent and Dulaimy is a McClatchy special correspondent. McClatchy special correspondent Laith Hammoudi contributed to this article from Baghdad.) Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/04/19/1587554/has-killing-2-of-its-leaders-crippled.html#ixzz0lbQnHyOS