Washington; and Baghdad – The United States military has not yet been allowed to question what Iraqi officials describe as a top Al Qaeda leader in their custody and cannot confirm his identity, says General Ray Odierno, the top US general in Iraq.
"We have not yet had access to him to question him or ask him any questions so I can't say that our intel can confirm it," General Odierno told reporters at the Pentagon Friday. He said he expected that the Iraqi government would eventually turn the man they have identified as Abu Omar al-Baghdadi over to US authorities to interrogate.
Odierno noted that it was important that American officers be allowed to question the man themselves. He noted that Iraqis want to do a "thorough" investigation first.
In Baghdad, though, senior US military officials say they do not believe that a suspect in custody of Iraqi security forces is Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the leader of an Al Qaeda affiliated group whom the Iraqi government announced last month it had captured.
“I don’t think they do have him,” says a senior US official here, speaking on condition of anonymity. He said, however, that the arrest, in which a suspect was caught with six suicide vests, still demonstrated success by Iraqi security forces in their ability to capture insurgents.
“I don’t know who they have, but he was caught at a checkpoint with six suicide vests,” says a second senior US commander who also did not want to be identified by name speaking on the subject. He says Iraqi authorities have still not allowed American officials to see or question the suspect.
The Iraqi government last week produced a photograph of a man they identified as Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State in Iraq, a group affiliated with Al Qaeda.
US officials have consistently said they are uncertain whether the name refers to a specific person or is simply a commonly used pseudonym within the insurgency. US officials say the arrest of the man identified by the Iraqi government as Baghdadi appears to have had no discernible effect on the group’s operations. They maintain that overall, the effectiveness of insurgent attacks continues to decline despite a recent increase in the number of high-profile bombings in Baghdad.
The Islamic State in Iraq has claimed responsibility for some of the deadliest suicide bombings in Iraq. American military officials say that, despite an increase in April in suicide bomb and other attacks, they believe that the ability of Al Qaeda in Iraq and other groups to launch the type of complex attacks they have in the past has been severely degraded.
“The environment for their operations, their freedom of movement, their recruiting, the passive or active support for their efforts is all diminished and continues to diminish," while the Iraqi government and Iraqi security forces’ capability is increasing, says a third US official.