Who was the Real Abu Omar al-Baghdadi?
London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Accounts vary regarding the true identity of the Emir of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, whose death was recently confirmed by the Iraqi government and US forces. Al-Baghdadi was killed on Sunday following a joint US – Iraqi military attack on the safe house that he was staying in 10 kilometers southwest of the city of Tikrit. Al-Baghdadi’s true identity remains shrouded in darkness; the US statement announcing his death identified him as being Hamid Dawud Muhammed Khalil al-Zawi, however there are others who content that his true name was in fact Abdullah Rashid Saleh al-Baghdadi, or that al-Baghdadi did not even exist at all.
Abdullah Rashid Saleh al-Baghdadi joined a Salafist Jihadist group in Iraq in 1985. He rose to become one of the most prominent Salafist terrorist leaders in Iraq, and was pursued by the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. Al-Baghdadi emigrated from Iraq to Afghanistan in 1987 where he fought against the Soviet forces, before later returning to Iraq in 1991. He was reportedly arrested and executed, however this later proved to be false after it was revealed that he had taken part and was wounded in the First Battle of Fallujah in 2004 [against US forces]. Al-Baghdadi was later chosen as the Emir of the Mujahedeen Shura Council which went on to become the Islamic State of Iraq.
In addition to this, Egyptian Islamist Dr. Hani al-Sibai, Director of the Al Maqrizi Center in London informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “this is not the first time that the death of al-Baghdadi and Al Qaeda in Iraq leader [Abu Ayyoub] al-Masri has been announced. We must wait until the Islamic State of Iraq release a tribute or obituary, as took place in the case of the death of former Al Qaeda [in Iraq] leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006.”
Al-Sibai also said “members of Al Qaeda in Iraq are not fighting in the mountainside or the forests, but in the midst of a jungle of humanity” adding that “[Al Qaeda] members considers death to be a part of their objective and fight in Iraq.”
The Deputy Iraqi Interior Minister announced in May 2007 that joint US – Iraqi forces had killed the Emir of the Islamic State of Iraq in clashes in the region of Ghazaliya in north-west Iraq. However US General William Caldwell, spokesman for the Multi-National Forces said that the US forces had in fact killed Abdul-Latif al-Jabouri “the public relations minister” of the Islamic State of Iraq, rather than al-Baghdadi. Two years later, Iraqi army spokesman Major General Qassim Atta announced that al-Baghdadi had been arrested in eastern Baghdad.
The truth is that there are conflicting views regarding the killing of terrorist leaders in Iraq, particularly with regards to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, and this is something that is further complicated by the ambiguity surrounding his true identity.
The US has claimed that al-Baghdadi is in fact a former Iraqi army officer named Hamid Dawud Muhammed Khalil al-Zawi who began preaching in mosques on a regular basis after being dismissed from the army. Al-Zawi reportedly joined Al Qaeda in Iraq which was being led at the time by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In October 2006 the Mujahedeen Shura Council – which al-Baghdadi was the Emir of – was dissolved and replaced by the Islamic State of Iraq which operates in the Iraqi provinces of Baghdad, al-Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Salaheddin, Nineveh, and areas of Babil and Wasit.
When Al-Baghadi was reportedly killed in May 2005, Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Abdul-Karim Khalaf, said “we have brought in people who knew him [al-Baghdadi] for 20 years, and they have identified his body.” Khalaf added “we played voice recordings posted by him on the internet, and they confirmed that this is the voice of Abdul-Latif al-Jabouri.” However the al-Jabouri family categorically denied that Abdul-Latif was in fact al-Baghdadi. The US also previously announced [in 2007] that al-Baghdadi was a non-existent figure that has no basis in reality.