US, Iraqi forces kill al-Qa'ida chiefs
AMERICAN and Iraqi forces killed the two top al-Qa'ida figures in the country in a night-time rocket attack on a safe house near Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit early yesterday.
The joint operation was described as a significant blow to the terrorists and a sign Iraqi security forces are gaining a hold on the stability of the country.
American vice-president Joe Biden said that the killings represented a "potentially devastating" blow to al-Qa'ida in Iraq.
Mr Biden said that Iraqis led the operation based on intelligence that Iraqi security forces had gathered themselves.
Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki first announced the deaths of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri at a news conference in Baghdad and showed reporters photographs of their bloody corpses. The deaths were later confirmed by US and Iraqi forces.
Al-Qa'ida in Iraq has remained a potent force, seeking recently to sow chaos after the March 7 elections and ahead of a planned US troop withdrawal. The terror group has shown a remarkable ability to change tactics and adapt despite repeated blows to its leadership.
Mr al-Maliki said ground forces surrounded a house and used rockets to kill the two, who were hiding inside. The US military said an American helicopter crashed during the assault, killing one US soldier.
US forces commander Gen Raymond Odierno praised the operation.
"The death of these terrorists is potentially the most significant blow to al-Qa'ida in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency," he said.
"There is still work to do but this is a significant step forward in ridding Iraq of terrorists."
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the operation targeting the two leaders showed the growing capability of Iraqi security forces.
Mr al-Maliki described the deaths as "a quality blow breaking the back of al-Qa'ida".