AL-QAEDA in Iraq is struggling to recruit volunteers for suicide bombings and other attacks, the US Army said yesterday, hours after the jihadist network confirmed the deaths of its top commanders.
Brigadier General Ralph Baker, a senior US officer in Baghdad, said no one could deny the killing of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayub al-Masri, who had direct links with Osama bin Laden, was a "decapitation" for its leadership.
The SITE Intelligence Group said the Islamic State of Iraq, the al-Qaeda front in the country, had announced for the first time the deaths of the two men.
But the insurgents also vowed in the internet message that other insurgents would take their place, under plans put in place ahead of the Iraqi-US military strike that killed them in a house north of Baghdad on April 18.
General Baker cautioned that the killing of AQI's previous military leader, the well-known Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who died in a US airstrike in 2006, had shown the insurgents were capable of rebuilding. But he said AQI was weaker now, and it would be harder for it to regenerate after hundreds of arrests recently.
"When Zarqawi was killed, someone stepped up and took his place," General Baker said. "This time, we believe there are less charismatic and combat-proven leaders remaining in al-Qa'ida that can step up and resume that leadership role as effectively."
Since January, Iraqi intelligence and security services, with US support, have captured or arrested 404 al-Qa'ida members, according to General Baker.
"Dozens of those AQI members have been mid- to upper-level leadership," he said.
"But it's just not the leadership that al-Qaeda will have trouble finding replacements for. We know they are having great difficulties recruiting suicide bombers" because of better security on Iraq's border with Syria.
"Although Iraq's government, US forces and Washington trumpeted the success of the joint operation that killed Baghdadi and Masri, a series of car-bomb attacks in Baghdad on Friday killed 54 people and wounded 201.
General Baker conceded that AQI was responsible, but argued that violence was falling
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