The top Iraqi leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq has been arrested and told interrogators that Osama Ben Laden’s inner circle wields considerable influence over the group, the US command said Wednesday.Khaled Abdul-Fattah Dawoud Mahmoud Mashhadani, captured in Mosul on July 4, carried messages from Ben Laden, and his deputy Ayman Zawahiri, to the Egyptian-born head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Ayub Masri, said Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner.
“Communication between the senior Al Qaeda leadership and Masri frequently went through Mashhadani,” Bergner said.
“There is a clear connection between Al Qaeda in Iraq and Al Qaeda senior leadership outside Iraq.” The relationship between the two groups has been the subject of debate, with some private analysts believing the foreign-based leadership plays a minor role in day-to-day operations.
Some have suggested that linking Al Qaeda in Iraq to Ben Laden is simply an attempt to justify the Iraq war as an extension of the global conflict that began with the September 11, 2001, attacks.
But the US military has insisted that there are links between the local Al Qaeda group and the Ben Laden clique and has released captured letters from time to time, suggesting the foreign-based leaders provide at least broad direction.
Bergner said Mashhadani had told interrogators that Al Qaeda leaders outside the country “continue to provide directions, they continue to provide a focus for operations, they continue to flow foreign fighters into Iraq”.Â Pointing to the foreign influence in Al Qaeda undermines support for the organisation among nationalistically minded Iraqis, including some in insurgent groups that have broken with Al Qaeda.
In the latest violence, a series of roadside bombs exploded early Wednesday in separate areas of east Baghdad, killing 11 people and wounding more than a dozen, police said. The US military reported three more American soldiers had died in action in the Iraqi capital.
Bergner said that Mashhadani and Masri had used an Iraqi actor to put a local stamp on their foreign-run organisation, by co-founding “a virtual organisation in cyberspace called the Islamic State of Iraq in 2006.” In web postings, the Islamic State of Iraq has identified its leader as Abu Omar Baghdadi, a name indicating Iraqi origin, with the Egyptian Masri as minister of war.
There are no known photos of Baghdadi.
Bergner said Mashhadani had told interrogators that Baghdadi is a “fictional role” created by Masri and that an actor with an Iraqi accent is used for audio recordings of speeches posted on the web.
“In his words, the Islamic State of Iraq is a front organisation that masks the foreign influence and leadership within Al Qaeda in Iraq in an attempt to put an Iraqi face on the leadership of Al Qaeda in Iraq,” Bergner said.
He said Mashhadani was a leader of the militant Ansar Sunnah group before joining Al Qaeda in Iraq 21â„2 years ago. Mashhadani served as the Al Qaeda media chief for Baghdad and then was appointed the media chief for the whole country.
Al Qaeda in Iraq was proclaimed in 2004 by Jordanian-born Abu Mussab Zarqawi, who led a group called Tawhid and Jihad, responsible for the beheading of several foreign hostages, whose final moments were captured on videotapes provided to Arab television stations.
Zarqawi posted web statements declaring his allegiance to Ben Laden and began using the name of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Zarqawi was killed in a US airÂ strike in Diyala province in June 2006 and was replaced by Masri.
The first of Wednesday’s roadside blasts occurred about 7:30am near the Dhubat neighbourhood, killing four civilians and wounding seven others, police said.
Two more blasts occurred two minutes apart in another area of eastern Baghdad, killing seven people and wounding seven, police said. The dead included two traffic policemen and five civilians, police said.
The policemen spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
The three American soldiers were killed Tuesday in separate bombings in the capital, the US command said.
Two were killed in west Baghdad and another died in an east Baghdad bombing, the military said. Four other Americans were wounded in the east Baghdad blast, the command said. Two insurgents responsible for the attack were identified, engaged and killed, the statement added.
Those latest deaths occurred as the US Senate was in an all-night session as Democrats sought to dramatise opposition to the Iraq war. Democratic leaders conceded they were unlikely to gain the votes needed to advance troop withdrawal legislation blocked by Republicans.
Meanwhile, dozens of Baghdad residents joined a protest Wednesday in Firdous Square in central Baghdad to demand the government improve security and public services.
The demonstrators held Iraqi flags and banners, urging authorities to “stop mocking us” and to make its only goal “the protection of Iraqis.” “Our demands are not big ones. We need security, electricity and water,” said Sheikh Nihad Sharqawi.
“The government has to ensure happiness and prosperity to every Iraqi citizen. Otherwise, it should step down.” The US military has stepped up the pace of operations in recent weeks, hoping to drive Sunni and Shiite extremists from sanctuaries in and around Baghdad as they scramble to train enough Iraqi security forces to prevent the gunmen from regrouping.