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US draws new Iraq-Al Qaeda link

The US military says it caught the man who ties Osama bin Laden's network to Iraq.

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The US military on Wednesday added new grist to the Bush administration's claims that the Al Qaeda that American forces are battling in Iraq is an extension of the group that was behind the 9/11 attacks.

At a press conference in Baghdad, Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner said the military had nabbed the seniormost Iraqi leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, a man he said was the link between that outfit and Osama bin Laden.

The news appeared to further indicate a connection between Al Qaeda in Iraq and the global network, though many critics are skeptical. Analysts and some Iraqi officials say the groups share goals and ideology, but there is little evidence of tactical guidance from Mr. bin Laden or his colleagues.

"The Americans have been playing up the role of Al Qaeda in the context of the insurgency.... Al Qaeda is clearly an important segment in the counterinsurgency campaign, but it's not the only one. It may not be the biggest quantitative factor but qualitatively they are important," says Martin Navias, a counterterrorism expert at the Centre for Defence Studies at King's College in London.

Mr. Navias says there is a physical connection between "Al Qaeda central and Al Qaeda in Iraq."

He cites the letter sent by Al Qaeda's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former Al Qaeda in Iraq leader, in 2005. That letter, he says, dealt with the goal to expel Americans from the country and to establish an Islamic state. Mr. Zarqawi was killed by US forces in June 2006.

The operational impact of the capture of Khaled Abdul-Fattah Dawoud Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, nabbed in Mosul on July 4, is unclear. Dozens of operatives described as senior Al Qaeda in Iraq officials have been killed by US or Iraqi forces in the past three years with little apparent long-term effects on the group's operations.

For example, on June 20, 2006, the spokesman for US-led multinational forces in Iraq, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell (Bergner's predecessor), announced that US forces had killed another Mashhadani. Mansur Suleiman al-Mashhadani was killed in Yusifiyah, south of Baghdad.

"We do know that Sheikh Mansur was a key leader in Al Qaeda in Iraq with excellent religious, military, and leadership credentials within that organization," Caldwell told reporters. He described him as Zarqawi's right-hand man and a liaison between Al Qaeda and tribes in the restive area.

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