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Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced the deaths at a news conference in Baghdad where he showed reporters photographs of the terrorists’ bloody corpses, the Associated Press reported. He said ground forces surrounded a house and used rockets to kill the two men, who were hiding inside.

Mr. al-Maliki described the deaths as “a quality blow, breaking the back of al Qaeda.”

The intelligence firm Stratfor noted in an analysis that al-Zarqawi had alienated many Iraqi Sunnis with his ruthlessness. “Al-Baghdadi is thought to have been largely a figurehead intended to reverse that alienation by putting an Iraqi face on al Qaeda in Iraq’s efforts, while al-Masri was considered the real brains and operational leadership behind [al Qaeda in Iraq]. It is his death that holds the most potential significance,” according to the analysis.

Stephanie Sanok, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the developments were significant for two reasons.

“The first is that Iraqi intelligence and Iraqi security forces took the lead in this operation, with U.S. support,” she said. “The success is a shot in the arm for the Iraqis. It shows a real maturity that they didn’t have a little over a year ago.” Ms. Sanok served until last year at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, where she developed policy options for the U.S. government’s efforts to support a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.

The second point of significance was “the quickness and lack of equivocation of the U.S. response to this event,” Ms. Sanok said. Noting the remarks by Mr. Biden and Gen. Odierno, she said, “Rarely have we seen U.S. officials coming out so strongly in support of the Iraqis after such an operation.”

Under President Obama’s plan, all U.S. combat forces will leave Iraq by the end of August. The remaining force of about 50,000 U.S. troops will serve in roles as trainers and support personnel. In accordance with a U.S.-Iraqi security agreement, all U.S. forces will be removed from Iraq by the end of 2011.

In a separate operation, Iraqi forces arrested two suspected al Qaeda in Iraq associates northwest of Baghdad on Monday.

Ms. Sanok said the U.S. has been trying to push Iraqis into combat and combat-heavy operations. “It is going to be an increasing trend,” she added.