The US command announced the arrest of an al-Qaeda leader it said served as the link between the organization's command in Iraq and Osama bin Laden's inner circle, enabling it to wield considerable influence over the Iraqi group.
The announcement was made on Wednesday as the White House stepped up efforts to link the war in Iraq to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, with a growing number of Americans opposing the Iraq conflict. Some independent analysts question the extent of al-Qaeda's role in Iraq.
Khaled Abdul-Fattah Dawoud Mahmoud al-Mashhadani was the highest-ranking Iraqi in the al-Qaeda in Iraq leadership when he was captured July 4 in Mosul, US military spokesman Brigadier General Kevin Bergner said.
Bergner told reporters that al-Mashhadani carried messages from bin Laden, and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, to the Egyptian-born head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri.
"There is a clear connection between al-Qaeda in Iraq and al-Qaeda senior leadership outside Iraq," Bergner said.
He said al-Mashhadani had told interrogators that al-Qaeda's global leadership provides ``directions, they continue to provide a focus for operations'' and ``they continue to flow foreign fighters into Iraq, foreign terrorists.''
The relationship between bin Laden and the al-Qaeda in Iraq leadership has long been the subject of debate. Some private analysts believe the foreign-based leadership plays a minor role in day-to-day operations.
Analysts have also questioned US military assertions that al-Qaeda in Iraq is the main threat to US forces there.
Former Pentagon analyst Anthony Cordesman quoted a background brief by US military experts in Iraq this month that said that al-Qaeda in Iraq was responsible for only 15 percent of the attacks there in the first half of this year.
Even before al-Mashhadani's arrest, US military officials have insisted that links exist between the local al-Qaeda group and the bin Laden clique. From time to time, officials have released captured letters indicating a flow of policy instructions to the group's commanders in Iraq.
Although numerous armed groups operate here, al-Qaeda in Iraq's signature attacks -- high-profile truck bombings against civilian targets -- were largely responsible for unleashing the wave of sectarian slaughter last year that transformed the character of the conflict, US officials say.
"What we've learned, from not just from the capture of al-Mashhadani but from other al-Qaeda operatives, is that there is a flow of strategic directions of prioritization, of messaging and other guidance that comes from al-Qaeda senior leadership to the al-Qaeda in Iraq leadership," Bergner said.
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