BAGHDAD - American troops acting on a tip killed the No. 2 leader of al-Qaida in Iraq — a Moroccan known for his ability to recruit and motivate foreign fighters — in a raid in the northern city of Mosul, the U.S. military said Wednesday.
The military statement described the man, known as Abu Qaswarah, as a charismatic leader who had trained in Afghanistan and managed to rally al-Qaida followers in Iraq despite U.S. and Iraqi security gains.
Rear Adm. Patrick Driscoll, a U.S. spokesman in Baghdad, also said the military suspected that Iranian agents were trying to bribe Iraqi politicians to oppose negotiations over a security pact that would extend the presence of American troops in Iraq.
But, he said, the military had no reason to believe Iraqi politicians had taken the Iranians up on the offers.
"There are indicators that Iranian agents may come across the border and use money or other bribes to influence Iraqi politicians," Driscoll said. "It's a whole different matter whether Iraqi politicians would accept that."
U.S. troops killed Abu Qaswarah, also known as Abu Sara, on Oct. 5 after coming under fire during a raid on a building that served as an al-Qaida in Iraq "key command and control location for" in Mosul, the military said.
Abu Qaswarah — one of five insurgents killed — was later been positively identified, the military said, without elaborating.
The insurgent leader became the senior al-Qaida in Iraq emir of northern Iraq in June 2007 and had "historic ties to AQI founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and senior al-Qaida leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan," the military said.
It called him "al-Qaida in Iraq's second-in-command" as the senior operational leader for al-Zarqawi's successor, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir.
Driscoll said Abu Qaswarah directed the smuggling of foreign terrorists into northern Iraq and reportedly killed those who tried to return to their homelands rather than carry out suicide bombings and other attacks against Iraqis.
The announcement would indicate that al-Qaida in Iraq's leadership has maintained a presence despite recent reports that many had fled to Afghanistan and Pakistan where fighting has been on the rise.
Abu Qaswarah was described by the military as a "charismatic AQI leader who rallied AQI's northern network in the wake of major setbacks to the terrorist organization across Iraq."
The death of the senior al-Qaida in Iraq leader will cause a major disruption to the terror network, particularly in northern Iraq, the military said.
Nationwide violence has declined drastically over the past year, particularly in Baghdad, but the U.S. military has consistently warned al-Qaida in Iraq and other insurgents remain a serious threat.
A recent series of killings of Iraqi Christians in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, has highlighted the continued dangers in northern Iraq, where many insurgents fled intensive U.S. military operations in the capital and surrounding areas.
The number of Christian families fleeing violence in Mosul since last week has reached 1,390 — or more than 8,300 people, local migration official Jawdat Ismaeel said Wednesday.
Ismaeel said humanitarian teams are distributing food and aid materials to all displaced families, who are largely seeking refuge in nearby Christian-dominated towns and villages.
Islamic extremists have frequently targeted Christians and other religious minorities since the 2003 U.S. invasion, forcing tens of thousands to flee Iraq. However, attacks declined as areas became more secure following a U.S. troops buildup, a U.S.-funded Sunni revolt against al-Qaida and a Shiite militia cease-fire.
Driscoll said the attacks against the Christians bore the hallmarks of a "typical al-Qaida in Iraq tactic" of trying to provoke retaliatory killings by pitting members of religious and ethnic groups against each other.