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New bombings in Iraq steal thunder from top insurgent's arrest

Al Qaeda in Iraq appears to be exploiting instability in Iraq's government

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / April 23, 2009

Amman, Jordan

In what Iraqi authorities say could be the biggest blow to Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) since its former leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was killed in a 2006, a military spokesman announced Thursday that Iraqi security forces had arrested the group's current leader, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. [Editor's note: The original version did not specify the nationality of the security forces.]

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The news was a morale boost in Iraq, which has seen increased violence in recent weeks, including two bombings Thursday that killed dozens.

US military officials, however, said that they did not have information from the field to confirm the capture of the self-proclaimed "emir of the Islamic State of Iraq."

But even if Mr. Baghdadi was captured, Iraq's recent uptick in violence is not likely to abate soon, experts say. The government remains divided and the country's sectarian fault lines are easily exploitable.

"Far from becoming a functioning democracy, far becoming a stable state, far from winning the war in Iraq, Iraq remains a highly precarious state," says Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, N.Y. "The central political conflict has not been resolved ... [and] as long as Iraq remains sectarian-based you're going to have instability and violence."

On Thursday, two separate bomb blasts left at least 60 people dead and more than 110 injured in Baghdad and Muqdadiya, north of the capital city. The attacks resembled past incidents linked to AQI, but it remains unclear who was responsible for them. Earlier this month, AQI launched a coordinated strike detonating seven car bombs in Baghdad that killed at least 37 people.

US officials have emphasized that, despite the renewed violence, US and Iraqi forces are making progress in the fight against remaining insurgent and terrorist elements. On President Obama's recent visit to Iraq, Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top military commander in Iraq, assured him that violence was at 2003 levels, before the insurgency began.

"These attacks [on Thursday] are an attempt to incite violence, but the Iraqi people have shown that they are rejecting this bankrupt philosophy," writes Lt. John Brimley, a spokesman for the Multi-National Force – Iraq, in an e-mail to The Christian Science Monitor.