Monday, January 21, 2008

Al-Qaeda on the Run

Qaeda on run in Iraq, using more suicide bombers: US experts

20 hours ago

BAGHDAD (AFP) — Al-Qaeda in Iraq is on the run, forcing its elusive Egyptian-born leader to be more selective about targets and to rely increasingly on suicide bombers, US military intelligence experts said Sunday.

Current leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri is less ruthless and more selective about his targets than was his predecessor, Jordanian Musab al-Zarqawi -- killed in June 2006 -- the experts told Western reporters in a background briefing.

The leadership of the jihadist network inside Iraq is dominated by foreigners although most rank and file fighters are Iraqis, said the experts, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"Zarqawi was very ruthless and did a lot of massive indiscriminate killing," said one expert. "Masri is more tempered ... and has to be more selective about his targets."

The Egyptian, however, is not to be underestimated.

"He is powerful and very elusive. Very few people have contact with him."

The experts declined to speculate on how many Al-Qaeda fighters are operating in Iraq but believed the number to be less than the 10,000 that US commanders gave a year ago.

The significant growth in the past year of "Awakening" anti-Qaeda fronts -- termed concerned local citizens (CLCs) by the US military -- combined with increased capabilities of the Iraqi and US militaries was impacting on Al-Qaeda's ability to plan operations, according to the intelligence chiefs.

"It's tough to plan an operation when you're on the run," said one. "They have less mobility, less access to caches and are resorting more and more to suicide attacks as their ability to stage car bombings is eroded."

US military spokesman Rear Admiral Gregory Smith earlier told a press conference that operations by Iraqi and US forces in 2007 had seen some 2,400 Al-Qaeda fighters killed and 8,800 captured.

"Of those, we captured or killed 52 emirs, 32 improvised explosive device (bomb) leaders, 24 cell leaders and 92 facilitators," said Smith.

"Their areas of control and influence were diminished. We have reduced their (car bomb) networks, disrupted the flow of foreign terrorists, weapons and logistical weapons, and kept constant pressure on Al-Qaeda, forcing their leadership to be on the run."

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