And so ends the saga of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi...
Had the Iraqi authorities announced that only Hamid al-Zawi was killed, there would have been wiggle room to believe that he wasn’t Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.
And had the authorities announced that only Abu Ayyub al-Masri was killed, there would have been wiggle room to believe that he wasn’t Abu Hamza al-Muhajir.
But since both were killed together, at the same location, confirms beyond a doubt, at least to me, a longtime skeptic, that both are indeed al-Baghdadi and al-Muhajir respectively.
This is a marvelous achievement. It will be very difficult for the Islamic State of Iraq to tell its underlings that al-Baghdadi and al-Muhajir are still alive, even if it manages to reproduce the voices associated with their past broadcasts. It would be too easy to denounce the speakers as imposters. The circumstances of their death together, plus their earlier identification, makes this story extremely hard to refute. Commentators on the Al-Faloja jihadist discussion boards are in disbelief. There's really no way for the jihadists to do damage control here, especially at a time when all they wanted to demonstrate by their recent waves of bombings was their own survivability.
The fact of the matter is that al-Zawi was one of the names that had been suggested as the real identity of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. Just remember that the claim was first made in July 2007 (with all the relevant details) on a random posting on a discussion board, and that it was only in May 2008 that the name and picture linking al-Zawi to al-Baghdadi was made by the police chief of Haditha. It’s all here at this link from this blog back in 2008.
I had always thought it was Abu Zaid al-Mashhadani, but I am ready to concede that I was mistaken.
I was also always hesitant to identify al-Masri as al-Muhajir (who sometimes would reveal his real name as Abdul-Mun’im al-Badawi; the last time he did so was in September 2009 was he was promoted from Minister of War of the ISI to the position of First Vizier (Prime Minister), in addition to keeping his Minister of War portfolio) (see link here, with loads of background).
Over the years, it became clearer to me that al-Muhajir was speaking with a trace of a North African accent, probably even Egyptian. Al-Masri has also been identified by Egyptian terrorism experts in the past as Abdul-Mun’im Izzedin Ali Ismail (born 1969).
Now I am willing to fully concede that al-Masri is indeed al-Muhajir.
It is odd that while it seemed that both their real identities were in the public domain since at least 2007, neither took the step of addressing their supporters in a video message, showing their faces. It is one thing to follow an amorphous ‘leader’ hiding behind a pseudonym, and quite another to pledge allegiance to a man who’s biography and pedigree is known. They did not take advantage of what a media stunt such as that would have afforded them.
It should also be noted that al-Baghdadi was the jihadist candidate for caliph, and all the pertinent details of that effort can be viewed at this link. Killing him is a big, big deal in terms of leaving behind an ideological vacuum for the Zarqawist wing of jihad.
Maliki’s most incredible assertion at his press conference today was that al-Zawi/Baghdadi had been detained at some point by the Americans, who later released him. This is the same situation with Muharib al-Juburi, the ISI’s former spokesman (killed in July 2007) who had also been detained by the Americans and then released. That means at a certain juncture, U.S. troops were picking up the right culprits, but had to release them for lack of evidence. These episodes with Zawi and Juburi make the case that evidence or lack thereof does not always trump suspicion, especially when it comes to terrorism cases.
Remember, al-Baghdadi and al-Muhajir are directly responsible (…often openly boastful) for tens of thousands of murdered Iraqis, tens of thousands of injured Iraqis, tens of thousands of displaced Iraqis, and hundreds of US and Coalition casualties.
Those in the Western and Arab media who have lamented the loss of life in Iraq, and often blame the Americans for it, should be joyous today that these two mass-murderers have been held to account for their reign of savagery. But I doubt that will happen.
Several have already tried to spin this story as another round of BS from the Iraqi government. While it is true that Iraqi and US authorities have made many egregious mistakes in the past by claiming to have killed and arrested either al-Muhajir or al-Baghdadi, this time they are correct. And I say this as someone who has long argued that they had their identities mixed up, and I have consistently criticized both the Americans and the Iraqi government for failing to clearly identify the leadership of the ISI.
The last case of mistaken identity involved Ahmad al-Majma’i as al-Baghdadi. I refuted those claims here, here, here and here (this last link has a lists of al-Baghdadi’s speeches and a summary about him).
For the longest time, US authorities believed that al-Baghdadi was a fictitious person, a claim I also refuted over the years (here and here; in the last link I identify where I believe Baghdadi was hiding in 2007, in al-Niba’i, which is very close to the Tharthar area were al-Zawi and al-Masri were killed according to Maliki).
So there you have it, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, the two most significant leaders of al-Qaeda in Iraq after Zarqawi, are no more. This is a massive blow to the jihadists, and a sign that U.S.-Iraqi intelligence and operational cooperation has reached a very mature stage.
Congratulations to all those who made it happen, and congratulations to the hundreds of thousands of victims of terrorism in Iraq; they have been avenged.
When Zarqawi was killed in June 2006, that day marked a turning point towards the waning influence of the jihadists. Today’s ‘miracle’ (...killing both, and dispelling doubts does make it a miracle) will spell the eventual extermination of their few remaining cells. It may take years, but today is certainly an important landmark on that road.
Here a link to the pictures of the corpses as released by Maliki's office, caution: gruesome.
UPDATE: Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel (Arabic) had me on to comment on the story for their Daily Harvest program. They ran a piece before I spoke seemingly casting doubts on the government's version, and they even went as far as suggesting that the jihadists were not responsible for targeting civilians. When it was my turn to speak I said that I am fully convinced that the two men who were killed were Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, and that for millions of Iraqis today was a day of retribution and reckoning.
I would like to add one thing: the honorable thing for the Iraqi government to do is to name a main thoroughfare in Baghdad after the American soldier who died in this operation. There have been bad and tense days between Americans and Iraqis, mostly stemming from outside meddling as well as unnecessary misunderstandings, but destroying the jihadist leadership yesterday should be remembered as a day of triumph and gratitude in the long term relationship between the U.S. and Iraq. Many thousands of U.S. citizens died in this worthy fight, but nothing is more poignant and clear as to who the bad guys were, and who the good guys are, than killing off al-Baghdadi and al-Muhajir in a combined U.S.-Iraqi operation. One would hope that Iraqi politicians have the guts to lead, and to tell the Iraqi public that we have a moral debt towards the Americans, rather than cowtow to the noisy anti-America mob. Today would be a good day to show Iraq's gratitude towards America. Maliki mentioned the US role in his press conference, but did not express any thanks.