U.S. says key militant slain
baghdad -- U.S. forces killed a top Al Qaeda in Iraq leader this week they believe was responsible for the capture and killing of American soldiers last year, a U.S. general said Friday
Abu Osama Tunisi was killed Tuesday south of Baghdad in an airstrike, the latest in a series of operations targeting the leadership of the Sunni militant group, Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson told Pentagon reporters via teleconference from Iraq.
“His death is a key loss,” Anderson said.
The death of a man with the same name and affiliation was announced more than a year ago on a militant website, an international terrorism consultant said Friday.
Since June, when a U.S. troop buildup reached full strength, American forces have focused their operations on Al Qaeda in Iraq, one of several militant groups participating in the Sunni-led insurgency. Anderson said those operations had disrupted the organization, which has been blamed for most of the sensational bombings here.
President Bush cited progress in reducing the rate of attacks when he announced the planned withdrawal of the nearly 30,000 additional troops brought in this year to quell insurgent and sectarian bloodshed.
A military spokesman said Friday that the first 2,200 troops scheduled to leave completed their deployment Sept. 17 and are headed home. They are with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which had been stationed in Anbar, where an alliance of Sunni Arab tribal leaders has been credited with helping drive Al Qaeda in Iraq militants out of the province.
Insurgents, however, have unleashed a string of deadly bombings and assassinations across the country to coincide with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
As many as 40 Sunni Muslim gunmen attacked Shiite Muslims in Jaara on Friday, killing 15 people and injuring four others. The village south of Baghdad has seen many residents flee at gunpoint, Iraqi police said.
The U.S. said the Al Qaeda in Iraq militant was killed near Musayyib, 40 miles south of Baghdad. An Air Force F-16 jet dropped two 500-pound bombs on a building where Tunisi was meeting with other militants, Anderson said. Two other suspects were killed in the blast, and two were detained, he said.
Tunisi, Anderson said, was from Tunisia and was considered the “emir of foreign terrorists” responsible for bringing Sunni Arab fighters into Iraq.
He said foreign fighters were responsible for most of the suicide attacks here and added that U.S. forces had been able to cut the number of militants entering Iraq from 60 to 30 a month.
Tunisi was said to have operated in the Yousifiya area, southwest of Baghdad, and was deemed responsible for the capture and killing of three U.S. soldiers in June 2006. Militants attacked a checkpoint, killing Spc. David J. Babineau and seizing two other soldiers, Pfc. Kristian Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker. Their mutilated bodies were found days later.
Another group of U.S. soldiers was attacked in the same area this year. The body of one, Pfc. Joseph J. Anzack Jr. of Torrance, was found in the Euphrates River. Officials Friday did not link Tunisi to that attack.
Evan Kohlmann, an international terrorism expert, said that a website affiliated with Al Qaeda in Iraq announced the death of a militant named Abu Osama Tunisi in 2006.
The release posted by Al Hesbah, considered a reliable source for militants news, said a senior commander named Abu Osama Tunisi had entered Iraq two years earlier, and that he was killed in the Yousifiya area in an airstrike in which four other Al Qaeda in Iraq fighters died. Kohlmann posted a copy of the release on his website Globalterroralert.com at the time.
Kohlmann said the militant killed in 2006 had a job description nearly identical to that of the man Anderson said was killed this week.
He said it was possible that two senior militants with the same name were killed in the last 14 months, given the large number of Tunisians fighting under the banner of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
“It is certainly not inconceivable,” Kohlmann said. “But the coincidence is unusual.”
Gen. Anderson, in his comments to reporters, offered a critical assessment of private security firms hired to protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq. The work of those groups has come under increased scrutiny since Blackwater USA guards working for the State Department shot at least 11 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad this month. Iraqi officials say the shootings were unprovoked; the North Carolina-based company says its guards were ambushed.
Anderson said contractors had a tough job and played a valuable role, but that he had seen private contractors “overreact.”
“Are they quicker with the trigger?” Anderson asked. “All of us have seen different things at different times. I have seen them, in my opinion, overreact, but that does not mean it’s consistently the case.”
Without elaborating, he added: “I can certainly say I’ve seen them do some tactics that I thought were over the top.”
Since the recent incident, the Pentagon and State Department have dispatched investigators to Iraq to review how the contractors operate.
In Baghdad, Iraqi police and hospital officials said a U.S. helicopter strike Friday killed at least 10 people and injured 12, including women and children. The U.S. military had no immediate comment on the incident.
The airstrike took place at the Saha Apartments complex, a densely populated Shiite enclave in the Sunni-dominated neighborhood of Dora. The area is believed to be a stronghold of the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia that regularly clashes with Sunni militants in other parts of Dora.
Residents said members of a neighborhood watch group were sitting outside about 2 a.m. when they came under fire from the U.S. helicopter. The building was damaged, they said.
The bodies of four men, two women and four children were brought to Yarmouk Hospital after the incident, an official there said. The hospital also treated six men, four women and two children from Dora, said the official, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
It was the second time this week that U.S. forces were accused of killing civilians in an airstrike. The military said it was investigating an attack Tuesday south of Baghdad in which Iraqi police reported that five women and four children were killed.
That incident happened on the same day and in the same area near Musayyib where Tunisi was reportedly killed. The U.S. command did not say whether the deaths were linked.
In Baghdad, police recovered the bodies of five men slain execution style.
The Iraqi army said it killed 30 Sunni insurgents in a raid northeast of Baghdad. Maj. Ziad Hadithi said clashes erupted during the operation in Kanan, a village east of Baqubah, where American officials said a suicide bomber killed at least 24 people and injured 37 this week.
Hadithi did not say whether there were any Iraqi army casualties. It was not possible to verify his statement.
Turkey and Iraq signed an anti-terrorism agreement Friday in which they agreed to crack down on Kurdish rebels who use northern Iraq as a base from which to attack Turkey. But the agreement stopped short of allowing Turkish troops to chase militants across the border, as had been sought by the Turkish government.
Zavis reported from Baghdad and Barnes from Washington. Times staff writer Josh Meyer in Washington and special correspondents in Baghdad, Hillah and Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.