The highest-ranking Iraqi leader of al-Qaida in Iraq has been arrested and told interrogators that Osama bin Laden's inner circle wields considerable influence over the Iraqi group, the U.S. command said Wednesday.
Khaled Abdul-Fattah Dawoud Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who was captured in Mosul on July 4, carried messages from bin Laden, and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, to the Egyptian-born head of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Ayub al-Masri, said Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner, a military spokesman.
"Communication between the senior al-Qaida leadership and al-Masri frequently went through al-Mashhadani," Bergner said. "There is a clear connection between al-Qaida in Iraq and al-Qaida senior leadership outside Iraq."
Ok, so it appears that this guy is the ranking member of bin Laden's al Qaeda (al Qaeda is the accepted spelling ... not al Qaida) inside Iraq. He's not the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq (the land of two rivers).
They are, in fact, two separate organizations. They have maintained a somewhat strenuous relationship over the years, but it appears that they are much more friendly since Masri took over after Zarqawi was killed.
Bergner said al-Mashhadani had told interrogators that al-Qaida leaders outside the country "continue to provide directions, they continue to provide a focus for operations, they continue to flow foreign fighters into Iraq."
Pointing to the foreign influence in al-Qaida undermines support for the organization among nationalistically minded Iraqis, including some in insurgent groups that have broken with al-Qaida.
This is very significant in determining the strength of al Qaeda. A recent military intelligence report stated that al Qaeda was at pre-9/11 strength. A claim that is impossible to believe given that we haven't heard from bin Laden's al Qaeda in years as far as attacks go. Myself, and others, have wondered if they were combining the strength of the two separate groups. It appears that they have.
"In his words, the Islamic State of Iraq is a front organization that masks the foreign influence and leadership within al-Qaida in Iraq in an attempt to put an Iraqi face on the leadership of al-Qaida in Iraq," Bergner said.
That is also a very interesting statement given that the Islamic State of Iraq, and al Qaeda in Iraq have recently been having some fallouts with each other.