A joint U.S.-Iraqi raid near Tikrit decapitated al-Qaeda’s Iraqi affiliate on Sunday. Two of the country’s most wanted terrorists, Abu Ayyub al Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, who have been responsible for thousands of U.S. and Iraqi deaths since 2006, were tracked by U.S. and Iraqi intelligence and special-operations forces to a hideout near the Sunni Iraqi enclave.
Gen. Ray Odierno, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, called the successful raid “potentially the most significant blow to al-Qaeda in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency.” Well, military leaders said the same thing after the June 2006 killing of al-Masri and al-Baghdadi’s predecessor, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and the insurgency intensified for another year, requiring the abandonment of al-Qaeda by Iraqi Sunnis, the successful ethnic cleansing of Baghdad during the broader sectarian war and the U.S.’s shift to a counterinsurgency strategy to tamp down violence beginning in late summer 2007. Odierno’s boss in that latter effort, Gen. David Petraeus, issued a more measured statement:
The deaths of these two leaders represent significant blows against extremism in Iraq. While we recognize that AQI retains the capability of carrying out periodic extremist attacks, Iraqi leaders have vowed to press the fight against Al Qaeda and its affiliates in Iraq. In accordance with the Iraq-U.S. Security Agreement, U.S. forces will continue to assist and enable our Iraqi partners in that effort.
Update: Vice President Biden’s formulation echoes Odierno’s:
Their deaths are potentially devastating blows to al Qaeda Iraq. But equally important, in my view, is this action demonstrates the improved security strength and capacity of Iraqi security forces. The Iraqis led this operation, and it was based on intelligence the Iraqi security forces themselves developed following their capture of a senior AQI leader last month.