By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 8, 2007 - Coalition and Iraqi security forces captured or killed 18 senior al Qaeda members in July, a Multinational Force Iraq spokesman said today. Of the 18, six were terrorist unit commanders known as "senior emirs," and seven were either foreign fighters or weapons distributors. Troops detained or killed three cell leaders and two members who manned an al Qaeda media operation, Army Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner told online journalists and "bloggers" during a conference call.
"There has been some tactical momentum achieved in July and into the first week now of August," he said. "And we have continued to see the results of some of those successful operations."
The most noteworthy terrorist nabbed recently is al Qaeda's No. 1 Iraqi operative, Khaled al Mashhadani, whom coalition forces captured July 4, the general said. Mashhadani rose through the al Qaeda ranks by directing media and communications operations, and he helped create an online virtual organization called the Islamic State of Iraq, Bergner said in a previous briefing.
The general said Mashhadani is in coalition custody and has provided "significant insights" into the al Qaeda in Iraq network.
In Iraq last week, Iraqi army soldiers from 2nd Iraqi Army Division on Aug. 1 shot and killed three members of the Islamic State of Iraq terrorist organization, including its leader, Safi, the touted al Qaeda emir of Mosul, Bergner said.
During a coalition air strike east of Samarra on Aug. 2, forces killed Haitham Sabah al Badri, the senior al Qaeda terrorist involved in both bombings of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, the general said.
Badri, whose body was positively identified by family members, is believed to have masterminded the February 2006 and June 2007 bombings of the Golden Mosque, which ignited widespread sectarian violence. He also is thought to have been involved in an Aug. 28, 2006, attack on a Samarra checkpoint that killed 29, as well as the June 23, 2006, bombing of the Kirkuk courthouse, military officials said.
Despite "tactical momentum," Bergner acknowledged challenges on the ground.
"We are quick to remind people we know that al Qaeda still has the ability to conduct these barbaric, spectacular attacks," he said, citing a truck bomb attack this week in Tal Afar that killed 27 people and injured 50 others.
"So we're continuing to focus our pressure on the (improvised-explosive-device and car-bomb) networks and keep the pressure on every aspect of the al Qaeda operation and their affiliates," he said.
Bergner said coalition efforts are being aided from tips by local residents in Iraqi cities, including Baghdad.
"Citizens in a neighborhood know who's supposed to be there and who's not," he said. "So when they're involved, working with the security forces there on a 24-hour-a-day basis, it really helps improve the security."