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April 23, 2009

Al Qaeda Leader Captured in Iraq?

Maybe, maybe not -- no confirmation from the US military yet.

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the purported leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaeda-linked insurgent group, has been captured, Iraqi state television said on Thursday.

The insurgent group is one of a handful of Sunni Arab extremist groups blamed for suicide bombings and other attacks in the northern city of Mosul and other parts of Iraq.

Al-Iraqiya television said Baghdadi was believed to have been captured in eastern Baghdad. Security experts have previously speculated that Baghdadi was a character invented by some extremist groups rather than a real person.

I've never wholly understood that speculation -- if I understand it right, some suspect Al Qaeda invented a leader with a fictional backstory with an Iraqi-ish name in order to make it appear that their largely foreign forces were led by a native Iraqi.

Even if that's the case -- and it's very plausible it is -- how does it follow from that that not only is al-Baghdadi's "background" a fiction, but his very existence is? Wouldn't it be more likely that Al Qaeda would give a real person a fictitious background than actually just make up a phantom of a person?

I can see reasons for attempting the latter -- you can never catch someone who doesn't exist, for example, and thus Al Qaeda's phantasmal leader would never himself be defeated.

But it seems unlikely to me; sort of a comic-book or mystery thriller conceit. There must be some leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Even if his bio departs from the supposed bio of al-Baghdadi, that person is al-Baghdadi, more or less. It seems a lot more plausible that he's an Egyptian, for example, who was simply dubbed "al-Baghdadi" rather than an entirely fictional contrivance of Al Qaeda's PR department.

If this gets confirmed, we'll soon know. I have some sense it will get confirmed -- Iraq's army is better now, and they are less in need of the short-lived morale boost provided by claims that a leader as been captured (only to retract that claim within a day or two). They're just more professional now. Maybe this is just another false "al-Baghdadi captured" report, but I'm betting they got their man this time.

And, of course, all credit for this should go to President Prissypants, who so cheered our troops recently.

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posted by Ace at 01:10 PM

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