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Iraq claims key gains in dismantling Al Qaeda in Iraq

After the killing this week of the two top leaders of Al Qaeda in Iraq, officials in Baghdad said more important gains have recently been made in dismantling the group's networks.

By Jane ArrafCorrespondent, Mohammad al-DulaimiCorrespondent / April 21, 2010

Iraqi policemen inspect the site of a joint US-Iraqi raid that killed Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri, Al Qaeda's top two leaders in Iraq, in Thar-Thar, a rural area 50 miles northwest of Baghdad on Tuesday.

Sabah al-Bazee/Reuters

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Baghdad

Iraqi officials Wednesday released new details of a raid that led to killing of the two top Al Qaeda in Iraq figures over the weekend, while officials said inroads in dismantling the network over the past several months could prove more damaging to the group than the leaders’ deaths.

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Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta said Iraqi special forces backed by US troops launched the raid on a farmhouse near Tikrit at dawn on Sunday after receiving information that it was being used as an Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) safehouse.

On state-run television, Atta displayed photos that showed a partially destroyed mud-brick farmhouse surrounded by high walls and empty fields that was the target of the operation that killed Abu Ayub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.

Atta said security forces evacuated the farmhouse of women and children before throwing in a stun grenade. A US airstrike launched after gunmen in the house started firing appears to have detonated a suicide vest worn by Masri and possibly another of the other three men in the underground bunker.

It was unclear whether Masri and Baghdadi were killed in the airstrike or by the suicide vests.

“There was a rocket, there were bullets flying everywhere, I’d be lying if I told you that we knew,” Iraqi military spokesman Mohammad al-Askari said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Askari said another significant AQI figure believed to be an aide to Baghdadi, known as Ayoub Jassim, was wounded in the attack and arrested.

Shootout

He said 16 people were in the farm complex along with Masri, Baghdadi, and two other Al Qaeda members, including Baghdadi’s son. When Iraqi commandos entered the house, they discovered a trap door leading to an underground bunker. They exchanged fire from the bunker before retreating and ordering Baghdadi’s wife to go back in to ask her husband to surrender. When he refused, they called in the airstrike, Askari said.

A US soldier was killed and three soldiers wounded when a helicopter involved in the raid crashed due to what was believed to be mechanical failure. There was no mention of Iraqi soldiers killed or wounded in the operation.

The deaths of Masri and Baghdadi are among the biggest public blows to Al Qaeda in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency.

“This is a historic achievement for Iraqi security forces,” Atta told Iraqiya television, saying that Iraqis had been in the lead backed by US forces. Askari said troops from an Iraqi commando battalion attached to the 54th Army Brigade from Baghdad stormed the farmhouse with US forces providing the security cordon and air support. Masri, an Egyptian with links to Al Qaeda's central leadership, is believed to have taken over AQI after the killing of Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi four years ago.

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