Tuesday, April 20, 2010

AQ Conspiracy theorists rejoice! Abu Omar al Baghdadi is back in the news -- and this time he's dead.

The reports (this time) came in from joint US and Iraqi forces. This week the Obama and al-Maliki governments confirmed the deaths of Abu Ayyub al Masri, the head of AQI, and Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State in Iraq -- an AQ affiliate. For those of us AQ watchers, the al Masri elimination has been completely overshadowed by the reports surrounding al Baghdadi. al Masri, you see, at least has been confirmed to possess corporeal form.

Al Baghdadi, on the other hand, has been reported "captured", "killed", and "non existent" multiple times since 2007. There has also been an incisive debate about his hair.

(more after the jump)

The Mysterious Mr. Baghdadi first appeared in whisper form as the heir apparent to the infamous Mr. Zarqawi, after the Jordanian was killed by US air strikes. Tapes began turning up in and around Iraq, with a fiery demagogue espousing anti-coalition sentiments -- purportedly from al Baghdadi, and as the Islamic State began stepping up mass casualty suicide attacks, Abu Omar became target number one.

In March, 2007, the Iraqis claimed to have captured al Baghdadi. A few days later, the Maliki governmentretracted their claim.

In April, 2007, the Iraqis announced they had killed al Baghdadi. Video tapes, purportedly from the Lazarus-like ISI leader continued to surface, railing against events that would have occurred after the Iraqis had killed him.

In July, 2007, The United States decided that al Baghdadi did not exist. He was, in their estimation, a creation of al Masri to put an Iraqi face on what was primarily a movement carried out by foreign fighters.

In April, 2009, The Iraqis again claimed to have captured, and interrogated the elusive man of mystery. The response in Anbar was one of puzzlement, as covered by Liz Sly at the LA Times:

Over in Anbar province, authorities say they have been hunting a different Baghdadi. "Wanted" pictures of that suspect, a bald man, are posted at checkpoints across Anbar, where the Islamic State of Iraq was founded in 2006.

Iraqi government officials say the man they are holding has confessed to being Baghdadi. Pictures they released clearly show a different man, one with hair.

Sheik Ali Hatem Sulaiman, who heads the Dulaim tribe in Anbar and is a founder of the Awakening movement that fought Sunni insurgents there, believes the central government has the wrong man.

"They are talking nonsense," he said of the claims. "The security forces are always making mistakes in which they confuse people. The real Abu Omar al Baghdadi is bald, while this man has hair."
And al Baghdadi's myth began to grow. Anbar Police Chief Gen. Tariq Yusuf said:
"Maybe there are two of them, in order to confuse the security services... there might be Abu Omar al Baghdadi No. 1 and Abu Omar al Baghdadi No. 2."
To recap, as of 2009 -- There were either zero, one, or two al Baghdadis -- possibly with or without hair.

And now, April 2010, the US and Iraqis seem to be in agreement. There was one al Baghdadi, and he is no more. If we are to believe the news (this time), he is not only real, but really dead. Time will tell.

Word is still out on the hair though.


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