U.S. airstrikes in Iraq target Islamic State leaders

Written By Michael Maunda on Saturday, November 8, 2014 | 11:25 PM

U.S. airstrikes in Iraq target Islamic State leaders
An Iraqi security official and a military commander said that at least one strike had targeted a meeting near the town of Qaim, in Anbar province, across the border from the Syrian town of Bukamal.
 
AGHDAD : An airstrike by a U.S.-led coalition hit a gathering of leaders of the Islamic State jihadist group in northwestern Iraq on Saturday, and Iraqi officials said they believed that a number of top militants had been killed.

An Iraqi security official and a military commander said that at least one strike had targeted a meeting near the town of Qaim, in Anbar province, across the border from the Syrian town of Bukamal. The area is in the desert heartland of the territory the group has seized for its self-declared caliphate.

Both officials said the strikes had killed many militants from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, including two of its regional governors. Rumors also swirled that the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had been either wounded or killed. The officials said there had been no confirmation that al-Baghdadi was at the meeting.

A U.S. Defense Department official confirmed that coalition aircraft had carried out an air attack "against what was assessed to be a gathering of ISIL leaders," adding that it had destroyed a convoy of 10 trucks. But the official said the strike had been near Mosul, which is 180 miles from Qaim. The discrepancy in the reported locations could not be immediately explained.

The United States and its allies have been carrying out airstrikes against the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria to try to loosen the group's grip on territory in both countries. President Barack Obama has authorized the deployment of 1,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq, roughly doubling the number of U.S. service members there to train and advise Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

While the air campaign has limited the movements of Islamic State fighters, analysts say the only way to push the group out of territory is with capable ground troops, which are lacking in both Iraq and Syria.

The Iraqi officials said they believed the dead included the Islamic State ruler, or wali, of Anbar province, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Muhannad al-Sweidawi, and the ruler of Deir el-Zour province in Syria, Abu Zahra al-Mahamdi.

Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi researcher and an expert on the group, said that he, too, had heard that both men were dead, and that their killings would constitute a new threat to the group.

Al-Hashimi said that al-Sweidawi, like many of the group's leaders, had served in the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein and joined al-Qaida after Saddam's fall. Like al-Baghdadi, he had been detained by U.S. forces, but released, al-Hashimi said.

The Islamic State did not immediately issue any statement on the strikes.