A series of bombings on Friday struck mosques, a market and a shop in Baghdad, as well as the homes of a prosecutor and police officers in western Iraq on Friday, killing dozens, only five days after a joint Iraqi-American raid killed the country’s top two Al Qaeda leaders.
Iraq’s leaders had hailed the killings early Sunday as a devastating blow to the group but warned that retaliation was almost certain to come, though it was not clear that Al Qaeda in Iraq, also known as Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, was behind the last jolt of violence.
According to preliminary accounts by the Ministry of the Interior, 12 bombs — including car bombs and improvised explosive devices, but not suicide bombers, an Al Qaeda hallmark — killed at least 39 people and wounded nearly 100. Some officials warned that the toll was much higher.
The deadliest attacks struck near three mosques in Sadr City, the Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad, just as worshippers departed Friday afternoon prayers.
The attacks came a day after senior Iraqi officials said that the previously undisclosed arrest of a senior Al Qaeda leader in Baghdad had provided a breakthrough that has since allowed Iraqi and American security forces to kill or arrests dozens of the group’s leaders and fighters.
The deaths of the two leaders and the killings and arrests that followed — with 12 more suspected insurgents seized in raids in Baghdad and Mosul, in the north, on Thursday — may be the most significant blow yet to a still deadly movement here that only a few months ago appeared to be regrouping, the officials said.
They asserted that the series of raids — and the apparent cooperation of the leader arrested last month — has devastated its leadership ranks, its financing and possibly its links to Al Qaeda’s international leaders on the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“The map of the entire insurgency in Iraq is now clear to us,” the country’s minister of national security affairs, Sharwan al-Waili, said in an interview on Thursday.
The lasting impact on Al Qaeda in Iraq remains to be seen, given the group’s resilience and previous overstatements by American and Iraqi officials of its imminent demise. Many details of the recent raids remain secret, and thus impossible to verify. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s government is also eager to portray itself as strong on security as negotiations continue to form a coalition after the March 7 election. Any significant weakening of the group could help smooth the Obama administration’s primary goal in Iraq: the steady withdrawal of combat forces by the end of the summer. The withdrawal has appeared increasingly uncertain because of the political impasse over the election.
Mr. Waili and the senior Iraqi military spokesman in Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, said that the intelligence trove resulted from the arrest on March 11 of a man who was called Al Qaeda’s “governor” of Baghdad, Manaf Abdul Rahim al-Rawi.
His arrest had not been previously announced, as Iraqi security officials quietly gathered what General Atta called “a huge quantity of important documents and information that were and are useful for the security agencies.”
Mr. Waili said Mr. Rawi’s arrest had led to the “dismantling of the entire network” over the month that followed, culminating in Sunday’s raid and another in Mosul on Tuesday that killed Ahmed al-Obeidi, said to be the group’s leader in three provinces in northern Iraq.
With the arrest of the Baghdad governor, it appeared that the group’s principal leadership had been sundered. “We have reliable information indicating that there is a state of confusion among Al Qaeda now,” General Atta said at a news conference.
In the past, however, new leaders have sprung up to replace those killed. General Atta also warned that retaliatory attacks were possible.
General Atta said that Mr. Rawi planned and supervised a series of catastrophic attacks in Baghdad that began last August on government buildings, universities, hotels and, before the election, polling stations.
Those bombings killed hundreds, disrupted government functions and heightened anxiety across the capital.
The successes in striking Al Qaeda’s leadership appeared to reflect improved coordination between the American military and Iraqi forces.
The senior American military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, said the raid on Sunday reflected a deepening marriage between American technical superiority and Iraq’s “ability to do human intelligence.”
“This is something you build on over time,” he said.
Sunday’s raid, conducted at night by Iraqi and American Special Forces backed by American airpower, resulted in the deaths of Al Qaeda’s military commander, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, an Egyptian known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, and its top religious and ideological leader, Hamid Dawud Muhammad Khalil al-Zawi.
Mr. Zawi, an Iraqi, went by the nom de guerre Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, and was long thought to be a largely fictional character, or a role played by several people, though as General Lanza put it, “As time went on we believed he was no longer fictitious.”
Sixteen associates — aides, bodyguards and relatives — were also arrested in Sunday’s raid. Perhaps more important, the Iraqis and Americans seized computers and other documents that detailed their communications with the group’s leaders, all now being culled for intelligence on the group’s activities here, and presumably abroad. Mr. Maliki claimed that they proved contacts with Osama bin Laden himself.
On Thursday night, Iraq’s interior minister, Jawad Bolani, issued a letter calling on the remaining members of Al Qaeda — estimated to number in the hundreds — to turn themselves in, promising them humane treatment and a fair trial.
Senior American commanders have increasingly portrayed Al Qaeda as a diminished, if still deadly, organization. It once controlled cities and entire regions in Iraq, only to have the local population and tribal leaders ultimately turn against its strict, violent ideology, especially in Sunni Muslim areas. The resistance became known as the Awakening, and was a key factor in the significant drop in violence after 2007.
Mr. Muhajir succeeded the group’s previous leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian, who was killed in 2006 and quickly replaced. Since 2007 the group’s leadership has increasingly operated underground, struggling, officials said, to maintain sources of revenue and networks of operatives. Mr. Waili said that Al Qaeda once relied on profits of businesses on the territory they controlled, even oil fields and cellphone companies. “They lost all that,” he said.
In recent months, the group’s spectacular attacks have been followed by ebbs, suggesting difficulties in sustaining the attacks. Mr. Waili said that the group’s leaders had stopped using telephones and the Internet, adding that communication with Al Qaeda abroad was done through couriers. They moved frequently and furtively, settling in a farmhouse in a rural area southwest of Tirkit days before they were tracked and killed there.
Despite chatter on extremist Web sites, some of it skeptical of American and Iraqi claims, there has been no apparent reaction from the group itself about the killings of its top leaders and, so far, no announcement of who might replace them, if anyone. NYT
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