- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 21, 2010

BAGHDAD | Iraqi and U.S. troops killed a regional leader of al Qaeda in Iraq in a morning raid Tuesday, as security forces continue to put pressure on the terrorist group after the reported deaths of its two top-ranking figures over the weekend, officials said.

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri were killed in a joint operation Sunday in what Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. called a “potentially devastating blow” to al Qaeda in Iraq.

The intelligence that led to the elusive leaders’ desert safe house about six miles southwest of Tikrit came from the same source — a senior al Qaeda operative captured last month — that produced the information leading to Tuesday’s raid, according to a senior Iraqi military intelligence officer who supervised both operations.

Building on information provided by the captured al Qaeda agent, Iraqi intelligence services were able to track down all three of the men, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity owing to the clandestine nature of his job.

The killing of the al Qaeda figures comes at a critical moment for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has staked his reputation on being the man who can restore stability to Iraq after years of bloodshed. His coalition came in second in March’s national election, but neither he nor his main rival has been able to muster enough support to form a new government.

The intelligence officer said Mr. al-Maliki personally oversaw the operations and received daily briefings from him.

In Tuesday’s raid, American and Iraqi joint forces launched a morning attack in the northern province of Ninevah, killing suspected insurgent leader Ahmed al-Obeidi, Iraqi military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said.

Gen. al-Moussawi said the slain insurgent, known as Abu Suhaib, was in charge of al Qaeda in Iraq’s operations in the provinces of Kirkuk, Salahuddin and Ninevah.

The operation that killed al-Masri and al-Baghdadi early Sunday was code-named “Operation Lion’s Leap” by Iraqi forces, according to the intelligence officer in charge.

Iraqi and American troops routinely share intelligence information, and it was a U.S. tip — which then generated more information from Iraqi informants — that led authorities to the isolated desert area outside Tikrit where al-Masri and al-Baghdadi were hiding, according to a U.S. official.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity so that he could talk more candidly about the operation.

Pictures of the remote one-story safe house, shown exclusively to the AP by the Iraqi military intelligence officer in an interview at his office, showed its roof caved in and its mud-brick walls partially destroyed in the aftermath of the raid.

“Al Qaeda in Iraq now is in a state of shock,” the official said. “They will need a long time to regroup.”

U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza said the bodies of al-Masri and al-Baghdadi were identified using DNA matching, as well as fingerprint analysis and other methods.

“We have extreme confidence that these are the two individuals,” he told the AP.

Gen. Lanza said he could not comment at this time on operational details of the mission, but said it involved ground and aerial forces.

The Iraqi officer said Iraqi troops surrounded the safe house, and a firefight began with those inside. Iraqi forces then radioed American helicopters, which fired missiles at the house and the shooting from inside stopped, the officer said.

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