Saturday, June 05, 2010

Al Qaeda Leaders in Iraq Neutralized, U.S. Says

By THOM SHANKER WASHINGTON — Iraqi and American forces have killed or captured 34 of the top 42 leaders of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, cutting off the terrorist organization from its foreign sponsors and raising questions about whether it can reconstitute, the senior American commander in Iraq said. The commander, Gen. Ray Odierno, said Friday that the terrorist group in Iraq had “lost connection” to Al Qaeda’s central leadership in Pakistan and would face difficulties as it tried to promote new officers for its efforts to topple the Iraqi government and establish havens. “I think they’re struggling now, and I think it’s going to be difficult for them to continue to recruit,” General Odierno said. Speaking at a Pentagon news conference, he said Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia had announced the appointment of some new leaders, “but we’re not even sure if there’s actually people behind those names.” Even so, he said, the threat should not be ignored. “I will never take my eyes off of Al Qaeda,” he said. “We will always watch them.” The successes in picking up or picking off leaders of the terrorist movement in Iraq that pledged alliance with Al Qaeda stemmed from operations in Mosul, in the north, that allowed the American and Iraqi military to gain insight into how the network operated. “We picked up several of their leaders that did the financing, that did planning, that did recruiting — some of their lawyers that worked on bringing detainees who were released and bringing them into Al Qaeda,” General Odierno said. “We were able to get inside of this network.” That intelligence led to a mission in April in which the military killed the organization’s two leaders: Al Qaeda’s military commander, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, an Egyptian also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, and Hamid Dawud Muhammad Khalil al-Zawi, the Iraqi who led the Islamic State of Iraq and went by the nom de guerre Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. As General Odierno prepares to leave Iraq this fall to take the senior job at the military’s Joint Forces Command, he said that “security continues to move forward at a very good pace.” He cited statistics for high-profile attacks and casualties among civilians, Iraqi security forces and American troops over the first five months of this year as the lowest on record. “There will still be bad days in Iraq,” he said. “There are still violent elements that operate inside of Iraq. Their violence is less than it was before, but it’s still violence. And we will continue to work with the Iraqi security forces to continue to improve their capacity and capability to deal with the violence.” General Odierno said there were now 88,000 American military service members on the ground in Iraq, down from a high of 175,000. He said the effort was on track to meet President Obama’s order to drop to 50,000 American service members in Iraq by Sept. 1.

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