Monday, April 19, 2010

The Emir of Distraction

When the Iraq war was going off the rails in the summer of 2007, the US military came up with a brilliant solution to an embarrassing and frustrating problem: the mutiple instances of reported capture or death of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the apparent leader of the potent Sunni terrorist group the Islamic State of Iraq. The solution: they declared that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was a fictional character. A fairly convoluted structure was put forward in which foreigners, anxious to hide the foreign nature of their group, had created an Iraqi identity to front for the group.

But the problem didn't go away. Last April, in the wake of two large bomb attacks, and needing to show progress in what was now their own war on terror, the Iraqi government claimed to have captured the previous fictional character. But then not much more was heard from him.

Move forward now to the aftermath of the Iraqi election, seemingly lost fair and square by Bush favourite PM Nouri al-Maliki to Sunni rival Iyad Allawi (and with the Gulf states pointedly keeping al-Maliki out of the procession of Iraqi visitors to the Gulf), the need to show progress on security, a big issue in the election, and direct attention to Sunni terrorism, and who should pop out of the hat but ....

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced the killings of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri at a news conference in Baghdad and showed reporters photographs of their bloody corpses. The deaths were later confirmed by U.S. military officials in a statement.

The U.S. military said they were killed in a nighttime raid on their safe house Sunday near Tikrit, the hometown of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. An American helicopter crashed during the assault, killing one U.S. soldier, the military said.

U.S. forces commander Gen. Raymond Odierno praised the operation.

Predictably, Max Boot at Commentary, who is supposed to know Iraq well, hailed it as "good news from Iraq" -- that thing that the liberal media was not reporting in 2007.

There isn't yet any word on how his latest death is to be reconciled with his previous ones or his spells in custody. His co-deceased, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, also has a history. The Egyptian surname made him a more obvious candidate as the foreign puppet master of the terrorist group, but his picture (the one that is circulating with today's story) was used by The Times (UK) as that of an al-Qaeda operative killed in Pakistan. That might just be the perils of letting the Google do your research, but it may also indicate that considerable confusion surrounds his identity as well.

In a moment of candour, the US military has recently said that it is not sure who comprises the remaining terrorist insurgency in Iraq. This appears to be true in a very literal sense.

UPDATE: You can't keep a bad man down. With Abu Omar al-Baghdadi securely in the grave, Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud RIP (January 2010) is alive and well as of May.

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