By now, I'm reasonably satisfied that this is legit. Bill Roggio over at the Long War Journal reports:
Iraq's Prime Minister and the US military confirmed that al Qaeda in Iraq's top two leaders have been killed during a raid in a remote region in the western province of Anbar.
"Abu Ayyub al Masri, also known as Abu Hamza al Muhajir, Abu Omar al Baghdadi and a number of al Qaeda leaders in Iraq were killed during a security operation in al Thar Thar region in Anbar," Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki told reporters at a press conference in Baghdad, according to Voices of Iraq.
US Forces Iraq, the US military command in Baghdad, confirmed the report in a press release.
"A series of Iraqi led joint operations conducted over the last week resulted in the Iraqi Forces with US support executing a nighttime raid on the AQI [al Qaeda in Iraq] leaders’ safehouse," the press release stated. "The joint security team identified both AQI members, and the terrorists were killed after engaging the security team. Additionally, Masri’s assistant along with the son of al-Baghdadi who were also involved in terrorist activities were killed."
During the operation, one US soldier was killed in a helicopter crash, and 16 al Qaeda associates were detained. (emph. added)My heart goes out to the buddies and family of the helo pilot who lost his life in this highly significant raid. It was surely not lost in vain, as this is otherwise all kinds of good news. First of all, it was predominantly Iraqi security forces, with support from US forces, that executed the raid, which again underscores the success the COIN portion of OIF has enjoyed in training and fielding an increasingly effective and professional Iraqi military (to say nothing of the assets among the indigenous population which it was able to utilize in obtaining the intel that guided the strike, intel which a cowed and cynical pre-Surge population would never have dreamed of providing).
Second, this strike has essentially decapitated AQI, demonstrating that even the highest of the high in that organization is vulnerable. The psychological impact of such a blow cannot be overestimated. You can say "Whack-a-Mole" till you're blue in the face...but it doesn't change the fact that these miscreants' prospective replacements, in addition to being less experienced and possessing less street cred, will slink about with the full expectation that the slightest misstep will leave them...well...blue in the face.
Which brings me to the last point (see bolded text above): Those "16 al Qaeda associates [who] were detained" were sufficiently high in the food chain that they were kicking it in the same safe-house as the two Top (mangy, flea-bitten) Dogs in the AQI hierarchy. The degree of detailed operational and organizational intelligence which can be wrung from these "associates" represents a veritable treasure trove of actionable information which will ripple outward to the lowliest torture chambers and bomb-making shacks. Even in the unlikely event that they are not singing like canaries inside of a Mosul Minute, the mere possibility that they'll make like a Muezzin will force every Talib, Da'ud, and Hanif to scramble for new procedures to throw off the Pimp Hand of Justice. They'll get panicky. They'll get sloppy. And more and more of their thermal signatures will fade to ambient.
And, lest all this talk of strategic significance obscure it, two Very Bad Dudes have been shuffled off before they had a chance to wreak more bloody mayhem on the poor mother's sons and daughters who would have been shredded in the demonic dervish-dance of their demented demolitions.
High Fives all around for our brave and competent forces and their stalwart Iraqi allies.