Allahpundit said he remained skeptical, and for good reason — the Iraqis let their enthusiasm outstrip reality again. The US military told news agencies today that the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq has not been captured and is certainly not in American custody, as Iraqi government sources said yesterday:

Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the head of al Qaeda in Iraq, has not been captured, a senior U.S. military official told CNN on Friday.

Iraqi authorities said Thursday that al-Masri had been captured in Mosul.

U.S. military officials were surprised about the report of Abu Ayyub al-Masri’s capture — first reported by Iraqi media and picked up by The Associated Press. And intelligence officials said they were skeptical, even though Iraqi officials said al-Masri was already in U.S. military custody.

Al-Masri (“the Egyptian”), also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, took the reins of the Iraqi al Qaeda offshoot in June 2006 after a U.S. missile strike killed his predecessor, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Since then, Iraqi officials have reported his death three times, his capture twice and a mortal wounding once.

Last month, the rumor du jour had Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, AKA The King of Clubs, in Iraqi custody. That claim was harder to understand as a case of mistaken identity; al-Douri has red hair, not exactly a common sight among Iraqi insurgents. Before Abu Musab al-Zarqawi assumed room temperature two years ago, the Iraqis claimed to have captured him on more than one occasion as well.

Of course, there could be more than meets the eye to this maneuver, but it seems unlikely. Perhaps this was deliberate misinformation by the Coalition to expose parts of the AQI network. If so, one would have expected the deception to go longer than a few hours. It could also be that the US didn’t want the capture publicized, but I doubt they would deny it once it was; they’d be more likely to simply not comment on it.

We should applaud their enthusiasm, but consider these Iraqi claims as pledges rather than reality until CENTCOM confirms the capture or kill.