More on Abu Omar al-Baghdadi's Alleged Identity (Updated)
UPDATE, April 22, 2010: Khalid Khalil Ibrahim al-Mashhadani is NOT Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. Al-Baghdadi's identity has been conclusively confirmed as that of Hamid Daoud al-Zawi. The information I posted about al-Mashhadani was made public by me on the understanding, according to my sources, that he was active in the jihadist arm of the insurgency. If that proves to be incorrect at a future date, then first I apologize to him and to his family, and secondly, I shall hold myself legally liable under Iraqi and tribal law for any discomfort I have put him or his family through.
This is what the Iraqi government told us: ‘Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’ is the pseudonym for Khalid al-Mashhadani, who also goes by the name ‘Abu Zaid’.
This is what we know from following the bitter recriminations among jihadists on internet discussion forums: ‘Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’ was arrested under the Ba’athist regime as a Salafist (radical Islamist) activist who had broken into a school and defaced Saddam Hussein’s pictures and the Ba’athist slogans at the school.
This is what Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq claims about his pedigree: ‘Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’ is descended from the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Al-Hussein bin Ali, which would make him a Husseinite from the Hashemite clan that is part of the tribe of Quraysh.
This is the best I could do to tie all this up together, according to my sources: al-Baghdadi’s full name is Khalid Khalil Ibrahim al-Mashhadani. He is in his early 40s, and is known as ‘Abu Zaid’ [Updated, April 22, 2008: before getting married, Khalid used to known as 'Abul-Walid', and then after his first daughter was born he was called 'Abu 'Aisha'. He was later called 'Abu Zaid' after his son Zaid was born]. He had been a Salafist under Saddam, and was briefly detained then over some unknown infraction. He has five brothers (that I know of), the eldest being Aggab (born 1954, served in the Iraqi Army’s 56th Battalion during Iraq-Iran War, last job was as principal of a secondary school in the Tarmiyah area north of Baghdad), and the second eldest is Hatim (a former NCO in the Iraqi Army). Khalid’s father, Khalil al-Mashhadani, used to own three lorry trucks that he would rent out for transporting gravel and the such, and after his death (about seven years ago) Khalid took over the business and converted their small office (at the entrance to the Dabbash neighborhood in Hurriyah, opposite to the Chalabi grove) into a service facilitating car registrations. However, Khalid seemed to have shuttered down his business during 2003. Khalid’s father was considered a respected person among the Mashhadani tribe and among the residents of Hurriya.
Khalid’s family belongs to the Albu Mu’alleg branch of the Mashhadanis [Update, April 22, 2008: specifically the house of Hussein of the Albu Mu'alleg (also known as Albu Ali) branch of the Albu Muhammad al-Hamed subsection of the Mashhadanis]. The Mashhadanis believe that they are descended from Al-Hussein bin Ali, which would make them Hashemites. They claim the following pedigree: through Ali bin Ja’afar al-Zeki bin Imam Ali al-Hadi, and more specifically through his descendant Muslim al-Kabir bin Bakr, who was the first of their ancestors to come to Iraq and settle at area near Haditha (in Anbar Province) called Mashhad al-Hajar, from which their name is derived. They then migrated to the Tigris River north of Baghdad, to the Tarmiya area. Some also settled in old Baghdad (since the late 18th century) and there’s a neighborhood called Mahalet al-Mashahidah near the Ma’arouf al-Karkhi and Hallaj cemeteries.
However, many genealogists and experts on Iraqi tribes negate this alleged pedigree that takes the Mashhadanis back to Al-Hussein bin Ali and the Hashemites; it is widely believed that the Mashhadanis go back to the Rabi’a tribe or otherwise may be an offshoot of the Ageidat confederacy.
Both Iraq’s Vice President, Tariq al-Hashemi, and the Speaker of the Parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who are the leading Sunnis in the Iraqi government, belong to the Mashhadani tribe. I wonder how it would have passed their notice that one of their own is allegedly the head of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Qaeda’s candidate caliph.
Now, it is not yet fully established that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi is indeed Khalid al-Mashhadani, but it would make much more sense than the assertion that al-Baghdadi is Hisham al-Ghurairi, whose pedigree and background do not overlap to the other snippets of info we think we know about al-Baghdadi.
The other confusing matter is that Khalid has a first paternal cousin, Brig. Gen. Sabi’ Ismail Ibrahim al-Mashhadani (ex-Iraqi Army), who is also known as
Khalid is tall (5 11”) and thin.
I just want to reiterate again that this information is the best that I know of at this time, and may be completely off the mark. So stay tuned until it gets confirmed. Oh, one more thing: al-Baghdadi hasn’t been captured as some press reports claimed a few days ago.
UPDATE, March 8, 2007:
The five brothers are: Aggab ‘Abu Nidhal’, Hatem
Their family home was near the entrance of the Dabash neighborhood, right across from that of their uncle Ismail’s house. They have at least one more uncle, Ahmad, who used to work as a butcher in the area, and was known as a troublemaker and a local rascal. The families of the three brothers seem to have relocated back to Tarmiya several years back.
Their father’s business partner was Abdullah al-Jirneh, another Mashhadani notable.
It seems that Khalid al-Mashhadani’s name and the locations of some of the Islamic State of Iraq’s HQs in Baghdad were revealed to the Iraqi government by other jihadist groups that have recently had a falling out with Al-Qaeda.
What continues to concern me about this whole matter—that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi is indeed Khalid al-Mashhadani—is that Khalid is not particularly well-educated: he seems to have gone to a technical college rather than attend a university. Would Al-Qaeda take such a gamble on an intellectual lightweight who wouldn’t necessarily be seen as someone with much of a background in religious education? Would they put him forward as their candidate for Caliph?
Furthermore, al-Baghdadi came across in the two speeches attributed to him as someone who was well-spoken and confident. The words could be those of a speechwriter’s but the delivery was all his own. This trait could have been picked up by Khalid from his father’s stature and standing as a clan elder among the Mashhadanis (plural Mushahiddeh, in Arabic).
The Mashhadanis were influenced very early on by Salafism through Ibrahim Khalil Ibrahim al-Mashhadani (a very distant familial relation to Khalid) who formed a clandestine Salafist organization in Iraq in the late 1970s that had some links with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and with Saudi Arabia. This organization may have been used at one point by Saddam's intelligence service as an arms and money conduit to the Syrian MB. The exact link between Ibrahim al-Mashhadani and Khalid's family is unknown to me, but it seems reasonable to see that they were introduced to Salafism through their relative, since this ideology was never prevalent in Iraq and it was rare to find adherents of it until the late 1990s.
For the record: the New York Times has yet to put the words ‘Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’ in print. For more on this, see my column: Blackout of the Media.