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(photo credit: AP)
The US command Wednesday announced the arrest of the highest-ranking Iraqi in the al-Qaida in Iraq leadership, saying information from him indicates that the terror group's foreign-based leadership wields considerable influence over the Iraqi chapter.
Khaled Abdul-Fattah Dawoud Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, also known as Abu Shahid, was captured in Mosul on July 4, command spokesman Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner told reporters.
"Al-Mashhadani is believed to be the most senior Iraqi in the al-Qaida in Iraq network," Bergner said. He said al-Mashhadani was a close associate of Abu Ayub al-Masri, the Egyptian-born head of the al-Qaida in Iraq.
Bergner said al-Mashhadani "served as an intermediary between (al-Qaida in Iraq) leader al-Masri, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri," the number two figure in the global movement.
"In fact communication between the senior al-Qaida leadership and al-Masri frequently went through al-Mashhadani," Bergner said.
"Along with al-Masri, al-Mashhadani co-founded a virtual organization in cyberspace called the Islamic State of Iraq in 2006," Bergner said. "The Islamic State of Iraq is the latest efforts by al-Qaida to market itself and its goal of imposing a Taliban-like state on the Iraqi people."
In Web postings, the Islamic State of Iraq has identified its leader is Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and al-Masri as minister of war. There are no known photos of al-Baghdadi.
Bergner said al-Mashhadani had told interrogators that al-Baghdadi is a "fictional role" created by al-Masri and that an actor is used for audio tape speeches posted on the Web.
"In his words, the Islamic State of Iraq is a front organization that masks the foreign influence and leadership within al-Qaida in Iraq in an attempt to put an Iraqi face on the leadership of al-Qaida in Iraq," Bergner said.
He said al-Mashhadani was a leader of the militant Ansar al-Sunnah group before joining al-Qaida in Iraq two and half years ago. Al-Mashhadani served as the al-Qaida media chief for Baghdad and then was appointed the media chief for the whole country.
Al-Qaida in Iraq was proclaimed in 2004 by Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who led a group called Tawhid and Jihad, responsible for the beheading of several foreign hostages, whose final moments were captured on videotapes provided to Arab television stations.
Al-Zarqawi posted Web statements declaring his allegiance to bin Laden and began using the name of al-Qaida in Iraq. Al-Zarqawi was killed in a US airstrike in Diyala province in June 2006 and was replaced by al-Masri.
The degree of control and supervision between bin Laden's clique and the Iraq branch has been the subject of debate, with some private analysts believing the foreign-based leadership plays a minor role in day to day operations.
However, the US military has released captured letters from time to time suggesting that the foreign-based leaders provide at least broad direction.