Just over two weeks after the June 7 death of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the US-Iraqi clampdown on Baghdad and siege of Ramadi in its aftermath (more of which below), the security situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate.
The latest appalling blow was the atrocious murder of two members of the elite 101st Airborne Division, Pfc Kristian Mechaca and Pfc Thomas Tucker, by al Qaeda gunmen who snatched them in Yusefiya, 12 miles south of Baghdad, Wednesday, June 21.
This struck a dread chord even amid the spreading tide of suicide attacks, car bombings, horrific kidnappings and executions of Iraqis and foreigners. The deployment of tens of thousands of Iraqi and US troops in Baghdad made not the slightest difference to the freedom of action exercised by the gunmen and bombers holding the capital in the grip of terror.
In those critical two weeks, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources report, coalition authorities have been able to assemble a wanted list of five key terrorists. They are believed to be responsible for the surge of violence in the aftermath of Zarqawi’s death. Every American and British soldier and officer and every Iraqi NCO and officer has been issued with a five-page clip recording everything known about each of the five most wanted men in Iraq.
Each page has a mug shot of the terrorist (when available), his description and a rundown of all known particulars. Military personnel are instructed to act on sight to arrest any of these wanted men, even if identification is only suspected.
One of these clips has been obtained exclusively by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter terror sources. Its contents are revealed here for the first time.
Five shadowy figures keep Iraq on the boil
Jassem Hamdani, 35, of unknown origin, is the al Qaeda commander (emir) of northern Iraq. Hamdani’s terrorist network is autonomous. It has never been subject to any outside authority, even when Zarqawi was alive. He and his men control an area half the size of Kurdistan. It lies between Mosul in the north and the refinery town of Bajji in central Iraq and extends south as far as Tikrit.
Hamdani is credited with the greatest number of suicide attacks of any insurgent commander in Iraq.
Jessab Nayef, 29, sports two informal names, Abu Majahan and Abu Damir.
His origin is unknown. He too runs an autonomous network which extends from central Iraq to the East, West and North. Nayef hires out as a subcontractor for terrorist operations. His commissions come from three clients: al Qaeda in Iraq, the Iraqi Islamic Army and Ansar al Sunna, which is a branch of al Qaeda.
Sattam Jabouri, is a scion of the prominent, well-born Iraqi Jabouri family. His age is not known. Jabouri operates from the lands along the Great Zab River, which rises north of Mosul, cuts the town into West Mosul and East Mosul, and flows south. Its banks are dotted with towns and thousands of villages and farms densely inhabited by millions of Iraqis. The Great Zab meanders past Samarah, Tikrit and Balad of the Sunni Triangle, Baquba and Baghdad, Yusefiya and Madmoudiya of the Triangle of Death south of the capital, and winds up in the south near Shaykh Shabib north of Amara.
Jabouri and his men specialize in targeting Iraqi security forces, especially the National Guard and Police Force.
US intelligence believes Jabouri is in fact the secret operational arm of Hassan Qaqea, leader of the Iraqi Adawa party, which is a front for a Sunni terrorist organization.
His page in the clip notes he was last seen on February 22, 2006 in the vicinity of the southern part of the Great Zab River.
Raad Majid – nickname, Abu Ahmad. Very little is known about this character except that he is the military commander of a group called the Mujahideen Army Organization and is thought to operate in the area between Baghdad and Tikrit. This group made a name for denouncing “ethnic separatism”, but has also claimed responsibility for sniper attacks against US forces and storming checkpoints.
Ali Abdullah, popularly known as Abu Zahara, has left no clues to his identity. Intelligence files describe him as the chief of a terrorist group called the Islamic Army. His bases, like those of Number 3, Sattam Jabouri, are located close to the Great Zab River. Ali Abdullah is thought to be linked to a number of al Qaeda terrorist cells, but not the organization’s command or its Iraqi affiliates. Captives interrogated by the Americans described him admiringly as the most accomplished terror practitioner in Iraq.
They say he taught Jessam Hamdani everything he knows about terrorist methods.
Repeated delays of Ramadi siege forewarn al Qaeda fighters
American commanders and intelligence chiefs in Iraq conclude wearily that Zarqawi’s elimination has not dampened the activities of these five super terrorists or their networks. They were also disappointed by a major military operation launched Monday, June 19, against Ramadi, northwest of Baghdad, gateway to the troubled Anbar Province and the largest al Qaeda-insurgent stronghold in the country.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter terror sources in Iraq report that, although thousands of US and Iraqi troops took part, US commanders played down the offensive as less an assault and more of a siege to cut the town off from incoming supplies and reinforcements.
In fact, it was preceded by three weeks of massive preparations for the taxing mission of snatching Ramadi away from al Qaeda and Iraqi insurgent control.
Our sources report that high earthworks built around the town recall the siege of Falujja two years ago. Thousands of troops manning emplacements for mobile guns and tanks are supported by helicopter gun-ships.
Ramadi’s inhabitants fled in their tens of thousands. The offensive was originally scheduled for the first week in June. It was superseded by the hunting down and elimination of Zarqawi.
Resceduled for the second week of the month, the Ramadi assault was put off again when prime minister Nouri Maliki explained that the action would torpedo his plan to offer Sunni insurgents an amnesty for laying down their arms.
As it turned out, the amnesty program was published in semi-secrecy and hardly resonated.
The order to storm the terrorist-insurgent hotbed was finally given Monday, June 19. Its commanders hoped to trap several hundred al Qaeda operatives and force them to surrender.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources in Iraq report that fierce fighting raged through that day and night as US-Iraqi artillery pushed into the town and pounded streets where the terrorists and insurgents had set up fortifications and firing positions. US helicopters joined the fray as night fell.
But as the morning of June 20 dawned, the US commanders discovered they had been duped. Under cover of dark, many al Qaeda fighters, especially the Zarqawi adherents, had broken through sections of the earthworks and stolen away, leaving Sunni insurgents behind to occupy the firing positions.
The jaws of the American trap therefore failed to snap shut before a large body of al Qaeda fighters had slipped out of reach. Several hundred are believed to have found a safe haven with one or more of the five wanted terrorist leaders. But enough of them stayed on to pose a major problem for the American-Iraqi force.
So the fighting was not over. In four days of combat – up until writing these words – the US force had not been able to dislodge the al Qaeda gangs clinging to positions of control in Ramadi. Fierce street battles went on through Thursday, June 22, but al Qaeda held fast.
Meanwhile US eavesdroppers took note of some odd enemy behavior.
Since Tuesday, June 20, Zarqawi’s men have been bandying among themselves names of groups never heard of before. The US command is working on this enigma, trying to puzzle out whether the Zarqawi following has split into four combat groups and assumed new high-sounding names, or rival al Qaeda commanders are in competition, using bombastic group-names to impress and draw larger numbers of followers to their side and grab funds and other resources left behind by the dead commander of al Qaeda’s Iraqi army.