The 'Second' Man - Newsweek National News - MSNBC.com

The 'Second' Man
The slain Abu Azzam may not have been Zarqawi’s top deputy after all. Will his death have any effect on the Iraq insurgency?

11 blogs are discussing Terror Watch: Was Slain Aide Really Qaeda No. 2? right now.

By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball

Sept. 28, 2005 - U.S. intelligence officials and counterterrorism analysts are questioning whether a slain terrorist—described by President Bush today as the “second-most-wanted Al Qaeda leader in Iraq”—was as significant a figure as the Bush administration is claiming.

In a brief Rose Garden appearance Wednesday morning, Bush seized on the killing of Abu Azzam by joint U.S-Iraqi forces in a shootout last Sunday as fresh evidence that the United States is turning the tide against the Iraqi insurgency.

“This guy was a brutal killer,” Bush told reporters in remarks that were also carried live on cable TV. “He was one of [Abu Mussab al-]Zarqawi’s top lieutenants. He was reported to be the top operational commander of Al Qaeda in Baghdad.”

Bush’s comments came one day after Gen. Richard Myers, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon that the U.S. military considered Abu Azzam the “No. 2 Al Qaeda operative in Iraq, next to Zarqawi.”

But veteran counterterrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann said today there are ample reasons to question whether Abu Azzam was really the No. 2 figure in the Iraqi insurgency. He noted that U.S. officials have made similar claims about a string of purportedly high-ranking terrorist operatives who had been captured or killed in the past, even though these alleged successes made no discernible dent in the intensity of the insurgency.

“If I had a nickel for every No. 2 and No. 3 they’ve arrested or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’d be a millionaire,” says Kohlmann...

The characterization of Abu Azzam as No. 2 to Zarqawi is “not quite accurate,” said one of the officials. According to this official, it would be more correct to describe Abu Azzam as a “top lieutenant” to Zarqawi who was involved in “running” terrorist operations in Baghdad—not all of Iraq. Other top lieutenants operate in other parts of the country, the official indicated.

Two other officials agreed that Abu Azzam was a senior figure, perhaps the emir (leader), of Al Qaeda operations in Baghdad, and that he was of critical importance in moving funds to insurgent operatives in the Iraqi capital area. “He’s a money guy,” one official said. “He is significant but not No. 2 [to Zarqawi],” said another official.

One reason to question the official Bush administration portrayal of Abu Azzam is that recent Al Qaeda statements and audio recordings have described another Iraqi insurgent leader—a man who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Abdelrahman al-Iraqi—as the group’s “deputy commander,” Kohlmann says. Another Iraqi national, known as Abu Usaid al-Iraqi, has been described in these statements as directly under him in the Qaeda structure as the commander of the group’s military wing. Neither man has been reported to have been captured or killed by U.S. or Iraqi forces, Kohlmann adds...

s Kohlmann sees it, the Zarqawi network in Iraq is far more amorphous and loosely structured to accurately place any particular figure in a hierarchical structure. “These aren’t Fortune 500 corporations,” he says.

The real question is whether taking any one figure out will really have an appreciable impact on an insurgency that seems to have shown a remarkable resiliency. For nearly two years now, U.S. officials have touted previous arrests or captures, most notably that of toppled leader Saddam Hussein in December 2003, as developments that would cripple the insurgency. ..

Yet despite the hopes of U.S. military officials, the capture of these figures had little impact on the suicide bombing attacks that have been the signature of Zarqawi’s forces. “If anything, after the capture of al-Jaaf, they went up,” said Kohlmann...

The 'Second' Man - Newsweek National News - MSNBC.com


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