Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has confirmed the death of its two most senior leaders, Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. The group posted a statement on its website late Saturday night, a week after the U.S. reported the deaths, which followed a joint Iraqi-U.S. strike on April 18. U.S. officials called the loss “potentially the most significant blow AQI since the beginning of the insurgency, and the AQI statement heralded its fallen leaders as “heroes on the path of struggle.”
An arrest of a senior leader of AQI in March provided the intelligence that led to the strike. The official, who’s identity has not been released but is believed to be Manaf Abdul Rahim al-Rawi, the “governor” of Baghdad, provided a “trove of intelligence.” In addition to the death of the two top leaders, Iraqi and U.S. forces have arrested many AQI members in the recent weeks, including twelve suspected insurgents arrested in Baghdad and Mosul on Thursday.
The arrests and deaths are sure to have an impact on AQI’s future, although the extent of that impact is currently unknown. Al-Masri was AQI’s military commander, and al-Baghdadi was the group’s ideological leader. American commanders have recently characterized AQI as highly diminished, who’s former support base (local population and tribal leaders) have turned against it and rejected violent methods.