Press Junket to 'Al-Baghdadi's' Village
The Iraqi government is intent on flogging the dead horse of the Abu Omar al-Baghdadi capture, and this time they’ve taken an Al-Arabiya TV crew to film the abandoned village of the man in custody, Ahmad Abid Ahmad Khamees al-Majma’I, who is being depicted as al-Baghdadi. You can watch the footage here (Arabic report).
It seems that Al-Arabiya has been given this scoop in retaliation for its rival Al-Jazeera airing al-Baghdadi’s last speech.
A few things jumped at me in this report:
-The village shown is being called Bazaiz Buhriz (approximately 5 Km south of Baquba). But Bazaiz Buhriz is an area with several hamlets, and the sectarian fault line dividing Sunni and Shia tribes in Diyala runs through it. It was the scene of many jihadist attacks (some of the tribes of the area sided with the Hamas-Iraq insurgent group against Al-Qaeda), as well as retaliation by Mahdi Army squads. The report claims that it was deserted before the Iraqi Army began controlling the area. There are only about six or seven houses in this hamlet, and it did seem as if it had been deserted for some time. A very small ‘bunker’ (nothing more than a concrete basin with a lid, looks like 7 meters by 2 meters) was identified as al-Baghdadi’s private prison. The lid looks as if it had been hit by a projectile. However, it seems to be a ‘mild’ hit, likely a mortar. These areas were heavily mortared by rival groups.
-Bazaiz Buhriz is inhabited by Majamma’ clans, many of whom had been the victims of jihadist attacks and kidnappings. However, the ID cards for Ahmad al-Majma’i’s children (shown in the report, his wife’s ID is blurred by one can still make out her name as Nada Yaseen) list the family name as ‘Al-Ja’afari’. I find that very interesting since the captured man said that his last name is al-Majma’i in the taped confessions. But the Ja’afirah clan in Diyala (who’d use the last name Ja’afari) are very few in number and distributed around the province. They descend from the ‘Abdeh branch of the Shammar Toqah (…just to clarify, it means they are not Qurayshis). There’s a small village in Diyala that recent reports claims that has been abandoned and is called Ja’afirah, and it could have been the hamlet depicted in the report. This is important since a man belonging to a small tribe wouldn’t take it upon himself to lead attacks on the much larger Mujama’a tribes. It stands to reason that the man shown in the confessions would assume the name al-Majma’i since smaller clans usually get subsumed into larger ones, but the people of the area would always know that he was from the Ja’afireh.
-The Al-Arabiya report also claims that it had been contacted by al-Majma’i’s wife (…who could have supplied them with the IDs) who categorically says that while her husband had worked with jihadist groups, he was not Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.
-There was one unidentified man from the area shown in the report who seemed skeptical about the claim that al-Majma’i was al-Baghdadi.
-The older man shown in the report, and who makes the connection between al-Majma’i and al-Baghdadi is identified as Yusuf al-Haylan. If I’m not mistaken, then his full name is Yusuf Haylan Kareem of the Banadirah clan, a subsection of the Rifa’aat clan, which is a subsection of the Majama’a. But he’s a resident of Tikrit (his ancestors had migrated there several generations in the past) who had been given land in the area by Saddam and proceeded to establish a village bearing his name ‘Yusuf al-Haylan’. Ownership of this land was disputed by Shi’a tribes in the area, and there were clashes reported a few years back. It would serve his interests to be advocating the government’s message in order to secure his land, and furthermore, he may have clashed over similar land disputes with the residents of the village to which al-Majma’i belonged.
Again, the government’s case that the captured man is Abu Omar al-Baghdadi is unconvincing. But it’s clear by now that they don’t intend to drop the issue for its media value.
However, more and more information will begin to peter out of the area about al-Majma’i that may undermine the government’s narrative, making it more unlikely that he’s al-Baghdadi.