Irak – Combined Operation Kills Top al-Qaida in Iraq Leaders

BAGHDAD, April 19, 2010 – Iraqi security forces, supported by U.S. troops, killed the two most-senior leaders of al-Qaida in Iraq early yesterday in the culmination of a series of combined operations southwest of Tikrit, Iraq.

Abu Hamzah al-Muhajir, also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who was the military leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, was killed in one of the operations. His terrorist organization is responsible for facilitating attacks against Iraq and coalition forces as well as Iraqi civilians. He replaced Abu Musab al-Zarqawi when Zarqawi was killed in June 2006, and he was directly responsible for high-profile bombings and attacks against the people of Iraq, officials said.

Also killed during the engagement was Hamid Dawud Muhammad Khalil al-Zawi, also known as Abu Umar al-Baghdadi, who served al-Qaida in Iraq as the leader of the group’s self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and held the title „Prince of the Faithful.“

The death of these two terrorists is a potentially devastating blow to al-Qaida in Iraq, officials said.

A series of Iraqi-led combined operations conducted over the last week resulted in Iraqi forces executing a nighttime raid with U.S. support on the terrorist leaders‘ safe house. The combined security team identified both al-Qaida in Iraq members, and the terrorists were killed after engaging the security team, officials said.

Masri’s assistant and Baghdadi’s son, who also were involved in terrorist activities, also were killed.

After conducting preliminary questioning and initial examination of the evidence during the operation, Iraqi elements arrested 16 additional suspected criminal associates of the terrorist leaders killed in the raid.

„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 T. Odierno, commander of U.S. Forces Iraq. „The government of Iraq intelligence services and security forces, supported by U.S. intelligence and special operations forces, have over the last several months continued to degrade [al-Qaida in Iraq].

„There is still work to do,“ the general continued, „but this is a significant step forward in ridding Iraq of terrorists. As the [Iraqi government] continues to protect the people of Iraq, the U.S. stands ready to assist them.“

A U.S. Forces Iraq soldier was killed during the assault when a U.S. helicopter crashed.

From a U.S. Forces Iraq News Release