An Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader believed by US officials to be responsible for one of the most notorious attacks on US soldiers was killed during American military operations earlier this month, military officials said Thursday.
Hajji Hammadi, a regional Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) leader, was shot dead by US forces in a raid in the upscale Mansour district of Baghdad on Nov. 11, according to US military spokesman Brig. Gen. David Perkins. [Editor’s note: The original version of this story incorrectly labeled Hajji Hammadi as the regional Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) leader, rather than a regional leader in Iraq.]
The killing, believed to have been a US special forces operation, is part of a series of American operations that have steadily eroded AQI’s command and control structure. The organization has also lost support from tens of thousands Iraqis who have turned against it and joined US forces in fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq.
But counterterrorism experts cautioned that while US operations have widely eroded AQI's ability to operate as a network, the organization was turning towards more targeted, high-profile attacks such as suicide bombings.
"Their ability to move resources around Iraq, to bring resources from outside the country, has been dramatically reduced," General Perkins told reporters.
"They now have to operate in much smaller cells, much less capable cells, so it's much more difficult for them to mount large numbers of attacks, and attacks that create large amount of casualties," he said.
Hammadi, an Iraqi, was believed by US military officials to be responsible for the abduction and murder of US Army Staff Sgt. Matt Maupin in 2004. Sergeant Maupin, an Army reservist from Ohio, was captured after his fuel convoy came under attack near Baghdad's International Airport. He later appeared in a hostage video and was reported killed. Five civilians and two other US soldiers were also believed to have died in the ambush.
Hammadi also planned and helped execute an attack in June in Anbar Province in which a suicide bomber dressed in an Iraqi police uniform detonated, killing three US Marines, two interpreters, and more than 20 Iraqi civilians, including a mayor and several tribal leaders, said Perkins."
[Hammadi's] death removes a key AQI command and control node from the region," says US military spokesman Commander David Waterman.
Two prominent counterterrorism analysts say they were unfamiliar with Hammadi or his level of influence in the organization, but agree that killings like this have steadily reduced AQI's operational capabilities. Meanwhile, AQI has lost support from Iraqis who have turned against it and joined US forces in fighting AQI.
"In late 2007 to 2008 we've really seen a decline in the effectiveness of AQI," said Brian Fishman, research director at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center in a telephone interview. The organization's ability to command and communicate has been curtailed by joint US forces and Iraqi military operations, said Mr. Fishman.
At the same time he said, strategic errors by AQI, such as wide-scale attacks on civilians and claims to religious power, has also damaged the organization by turning a large number of Iraqis against it. "I don't think Al Qaeda in Iraq is in charge of their own destiny. They used to be, but they screwed it up," said Fishman, who has recently observed AQI focusing more narrowly on military rather than civilian targets and on techniques such as suicide bombers disguised as soldiers.
"They've lost the ability to do this across the board disruptive stuff so they're trying to be more creative and act like traditional terrorists rather than insurgents," said Fishman.