Originally Published 2005-09-30 05:27:49 Published on Sep 30, 2005
Before the elections in the beginning of this year, the authorities of the Iraqi Government had announced warrants for the arrest of 29 Iraqis and foreigners, who, according to them, are either former members of the Saddam Hussein Government or part of the Abu Mus¿ab al-Zarqawi terrorist network of the Al Qaeda.
How Important was Abu Azzam?
Before the elections in the beginning of this year, the authorities of the Iraqi Government had announced warrants for the arrest of 29 Iraqis and foreigners, who, according to them, are either former members of the Saddam Hussein Government or part of the Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi terrorist network of the Al Qaeda. The Iraqi Government announcement was followed by an announcement on February 11, 2005, by the US Central Command, which is responsible for the military operations in Iraq, offering rewards ranging between US $ 25 million and US $ 50,000 for anyone helping in tracing them.

Of the 29 persons figuring in the list, 17 were Iraqi nationals associated with the Saddam Hussein regime and the remaining 12, including Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, were believed to be foreigners. From the wording of the announcement, it appeared that not all the Iraqi nationals might be part of the Al Qaeda network of al-Zarqawi and might be operating independently.

The highest award of US $ 25 million was offered for information on al-Zarqawi. The second highest reward of US $ 10 million was offered in respect of Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, former Vice Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, who was described in the announcement as the current leader of the New Regional Command and the New Ba'ath Party.

There were offers of a reward of US $ one million each in respect of four others, US $ 200,000 each in respect of six, one of US $ 100,000 and 16 of US $ 50,000 each. In the category of US $ 50,000 figured the name of Sheikh Abdalluh Abu 'Azzam (also known as the Amir of Anbar). The announcement said: "He is considered to be a lieutenant of the foreign terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He has issued a statement that threatened the Jama'at Al Tawhid would hunt down Iraqi officials and symbols of the current government; he has also claimed the attacks of Izz Al Din Salim, the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Interior and the killing of the Mosul Governor. Sheikh Abdalluh Abu 'Azzam is considered a grave threat to the Iraqi people and to the rebuilding of Iraq. The Multi National Force in Iraq is offering a reward of $50,000 for information leading to the capture of Abu Abdalluh Azzam."

There were no indications regarding his nationality and the place occupied by him in the local Al Qaeda hierarchy. However, others gave his name as Abu Azzam al-Iraqi, thereby indicating that he was an Iraqi national.On June 29,2005, the Iraqi Government announced the arrest two days earlirer in Baghdad of one of the leaders of the al Qaeda network allegedly responsible for kidnapping Iraqis and foreigners. His name was given as Sami Ammar Hamid Mahmud, also known as Abu Aqil. It did not give his nationality, but said he had been active outside Iraq. The Government statement said: "He was responsible for managing and leading operations outside Iraq and was able to recruit Abu Salwa as Amir (chief) of the al Qaeda network in Baghdad. Abu Aqil's cell was responsible for kidnapping Iraqis and foreign nationals to extract ransoms that would fund terror acts in Iraq."

On September 27, 2005, a US military spokesman in Baghdad announced that Abu Azzam was killed and another person injured in an encounter in Baghdad on September 25, 2005, which reportedly followed precise information from a local resident regarding their presence in a building. The military spokesman said Azzam's full name is Abdulla Najim Abdulla Mohammed al-Juwari and he also went by the name of Abu Salwa. In briefings in Baghdad, spokesmen of the Iraqi Government as well as of the US Army have used different expressions to indicate what they claimed to be the importance of this success. While some have described him only as a significant figure in the Iraqi al Qaeda set-up, responsible for operations in the Anbar province, others have claimed that he was actually the No. 2 to al-Zarqawi in the Iraqi set-up of the Al Qaeda. Another spokesman said: "Azzam had a personal relationship with terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and held senior positions in the al Qaeda in Iraq network in Baghdad and Falluja. This creates a void for al Qaeda in Iraq, in their leadership, for a while."

In past reports, among those considered closest to al-Zarqawi had figured the names of Abu Maysira al-Iraqi, described as the chief of the media wing of the al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Darda al-Iraqi, described as the chief of operations in the Baghdad province, Abu Azzam al-Iraqi, described as one of the commanders in the Anbar province, Abu Sad al-Duleimi, also described as a commander in the Anbar province, Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi, described as Zarqawi's contact man with Osama bin Laden, Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri,Abu Talha, of the Ansar al-Islam from Mosul, who was reportedly captured by the Americans on June 16, 2005, Suleiman Khalid Darwish, also known as Abu al-Ghadiya, reportedly a Syrian killed on June 26, 2005, at Qaim, and Abu Hafs al-Qarni (al-Gerni), a Saudi national. Originally, Suleiman Darwish was projected as the most probable No. 2 of Zarqawi, but after his death, the names frequently figuring in the speculation as the new No.2 were Abu Maysira al-Iraqi and Abu Azzam. On the basis of the available evidence, it is difficult to say whether Abu Azzam was really the No.2 to Zarqawi and what impact his death would have on the terrorist activities in Baghdad.

All one can say is that the continuing high level of acts of suicide terrorism in Baghdad and elsewhere should not obscure the undoubted successes which the US and Iraqi security forces are scoring in their relentless hunt for the operatives of the Al Qaeda in Iraq. 

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and Distinguished Fellow, International Terrorism Watch Programme, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), and Convenor of its Chennai Chapter. E-mail: [email protected]

Source: South Asia Analysis Group, New Delhi, Paper no. 1553, September 29, 2005.
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