"Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was arrested today in Baghdad," Baghdad security spokesman Maj. Gen. Qasim Atta told Agence France-Presse. "It was Iraqi forces who arrested him based on an intelligence tipoff from someone."
The arrest, which is perhaps the greatest blow to AQI since its former leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a 2006 US strike, comes amid a recent spike in violence. Some worry that the nation’s security gains may slip as the US scales back its presence.
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. It remains unclear who was responsible for the attacks, but they resembled Al Qaeda-style tactics.
US officials have emphasized that, despite the recent spike in attacks this month, 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.
However, many in Iraq view the escalating attacks as the resurgence of a persistent and unrelenting Al Qaeda in Iraq. The US made significant inroads against AQI by building and funding a Sunni paramilitary group known as the Sons of Iraq (also referred to as the Awakening). But members of the group – which at one point included more than 100,000 members – have become disgruntled in recent months over the arrests of key leaders and a delay in payment from the Iraqi government, which has overseen their activities since late last year.
The Washington Post quoted a tribal leader today as saying that AQI had, in the past two weeks, started "to intensify their efforts to reorganize themselves by convincing Awakening members and the people of the villages to join them, seizing on the frustration and the fear that hit them after the Iraqi government began to chase them."
• Full story to come this afternoon.