Not quite as sweet as capturing the leader of AQI, but given that ISI is the self-styled umbrella group for Salafist jihadists in the country, it’s the next best thing. His name is Khalid al-Mashhadani, a.k.a. Omar al-Baghdadi, a.k.a. phantom caliph of the nascent Islamist paradise the Salafis are trying to form in Iraq. We had a false alarm on him in March, then another in May when the Iraqi Interior Ministry falsely claimed he’d been killed in a firefight with U.S. and Iraqi troops, which Gen. Caldwell denied. The fact that today’s news comes from the military means they must be pretty sure; he was pinched on July 4, so they’ve probably been using the time since to confirm that he is who they think he is. And of course to exploit his intel before AQ could react.
In short, he’s the Verbal to al-Baghdadi’s Keyser Soze.
The U.S. command said Wednesday the highest-ranking Iraqi in the leadership of al-Qaida in Iraq has been arrested, adding that information from him indicates the group’s foreign-based leadership wields considerable influence over the Iraqi chapter…
Bergner said al-Mashhadani served as an intermediary between al-Masri and Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri…
Bergner said al-Mashhadani had told interrogators that al-Baghdadi is a “fictional role” created by al-Masri and that an actor is used for audio recordings of speeches posted on the Web.
“In his words, the Islamic State of Iraq is a front organization that masks the foreign influence and leadership within al-Qaida in Iraq in an attempt to put an Iraqi face on the leadership of al-Qaida in Iraq,” Bergner said.
I.e., they needed an Iraqi figurehead to appeal to the locals. As for his intermediary role, it should be good for plenty of ye olde questioning of the timing among a dejected nutroots this morning and of course on Countdown tonight, notwithstanding the reports of money flowing from AQI to AQ leadership and the fact that Osama capo Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi had himself been a liaison between the two groups before he was captured. Will Olby so much as nod at the fact that this is good news before trying to spin it into oblivion? Join his other eleven viewers by tuning in tonight to find out.
Incidentally, Nibras Kazimi had Mashhadani pegged four months ago as Omar al-Baghdadi’s secret identity. Read his post for background and ponder this rhetorical exit question:
Both Iraq’s Vice President, Tariq al-Hashemi, and the Speaker of the Parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who are the leading Sunnis in the Iraqi government, belong to the Mashhadani tribe. I wonder how it would have passed their notice that one of their own is allegedly the head of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Qaeda’s candidate caliph.
Update: It’s a truism that Al Qaeda’s propaganda is sophisticated but step back for a moment and realize what they did here, assuming the claims made in the article are accurate. They created a phony group with a phony leader, replete with audio communiques and publications, to reassure Iraqi Salafists that they were serving an Iraqi-led jihad. The question is why. Salafists aren’t nationalists; they’re religious fundamenalists. Having a nationalist figurehead would make it easier to recruit young Iraqis, certainly, but so much easier that it would be worth all the trouble to which they went to create ISI?
Update: Background from Roggio. No wonder the leadership is foreign.
Coalition operations and the turning of Sunni insurgent groups have caused al Qaeda in Iraq’s leadership to further distrust Iraqi members of al Qaeda. “[AQI leader Abu Ayyub] Al-Masri has increasingly become more isolated and paranoid, especially of the Iraqis within AQI, as our operations have killed or captured additional AQI leaders,” Brig. Gen. Bergner said, based on statements made by Mashadani.
The Coalition concedes the Iraqi insurgency is largely made up of Iraqis. “Although the rank and file are largely Iraqi, the senior leadership of AQI, as we have previously stated, is mostly foreign,” said Brig. Gen Bergner. However al Qaeda’s control of the leadership via its foreign operatives, its vast resources in cash, and its campaign of co-opting or decapitating the Iraqi leadership of domestic insurgent groups has allowed the terror group to direct the Islamic State of Iraq.