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January 16, 2007
Has Baghdad Stopped Burning?

Two sources within Iraq report that al-Qaeda has begun to flee Baghdad in advance of the American troop surge. Richard Miniter, blogging at Pajamas Media, confirms with US military intelligence a report from an insurgent press outlet quoted by Iraq the Model:

Al Qaeda terrorists are fleeing Baghdad in advance of President Bush’s 21,500-man troop surge, a senior military intelligence officer told Pajamas Media today. Under orders from the al Qaeda commander in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, fighters are streaming toward the Diyala region of Iraq.

This confirms reports posted on Iraq the Model, which cited al-Sabah, a well-known mouthpiece for al Qaeda in Iraq.

In speaking with Pajamas Media the military intelligence officer supplied several new details of the al Qaeda retreat.

The apparent evacuation of Baghdad by al Qaeda forces comes from direct orders issued by al-Masri, the former soldier who took control of the Iraqi wing of al Qaeda following the June 2006 bombing death of Zarqawi.

Initially, the intelligence officer informed Pajamas, the Baghdad-based AQ fighters did not want to leave. Al-Masri had to send unequivocal orders for their retreat, adding that one of the lessons from the Fallujah campaign was that Americans have learned how to prevail in house-to-house fighting. Masri said that remaining in Baghdad was a ‘no-win situation’ for the terrorists.

No other media outlets have reported on this story yet, but both Miniter and Omar are on the ground in the area. The al-Sabaah site appears to be down at the moment, and it may not have an English translation of any statements in any case. If confirmed, it would be the first public retreat by al-Qaeda forces, a damaging development for the network, which had just started to earn back some of its luster thanks to its efforts in Iraq.

Miniter warns that this could be just a tactical retreat to lure the Americans out of Baghdad. The strategy might be to pull the US into a region where the Sunni insurgencies enjoy more support and cover, and while we engage the native insurgents, al-Qaeda could slip around us and get back into Baghdad. Why that would be preferable to just staying in Baghdad from the beginning isn't immediately clear

In any case, the message from AQ, via its al-Sabaah mouthpiece, seems to be that the surge has made an impression on the right people. It already has the terrorists scrambling for position, and the motion itself will make them much more vulnerable.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 16, 2007 8:34 PM

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