The insurgent who wasn't?

U.S. officials now say a major Iraqi insurgent leader -- once reported captured, once reported killed -- doesn't exist.

Alex Koppelman
July 19, 2007 6:13PM (UTC)

Sure, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi may be the leader of an Iraqi insurgent group affiliated with al-Qaida, but you've got to feel sorry for the poor guy anyway: In March he was reported captured, in May he was reported killed and now it turns out he doesn't exist. If he weren't already dead and/or nonexistent, he'd probably have one hell of a headache by now.

Army Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner, the new spokesman for coalition forces in Iraq (his last posting was as a special assistant to the president), told reporters that this latest bit of al-Baghdadi news comes from Abu Shahid. Allegedly the highest-ranking Iraqi within al-Qaida in Iraq, Shahid was reported captured Wednesday, two weeks after it happened. Bergner says that Shahid -- whose real name is Khalid Abdul Fatah Daud Mahmoud Mashadani -- participated in the creation of al-Baghdadi, played by an actor, and the group for which he supposedly speaks, the Islamic State of Iraq, as a front for al-Qaida in Iraq. This was aimed, Bergner said, at convincing Iraqis that the group is really Iraqi in nature.


The question of whether al-Baghdadi exists and where he is doesn't seem to be settled, though; the Los Angeles Times reports that Mohammed Askari, a spokesman for the Iraqi Defense Ministry, says that U.S. officials have been fooled by Shahid.

"Al-Baghdadi is wanted and pursued," Askari said. "We know many things about him, and we even have his picture."

And the New York Times talked to Bruce Reidel, a former CIA official, who said that though U.S. officials had long wondered whether al-Baghdadi was real, they need to be wary of the possibility that Shahid may be feeding them bad information.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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