On April 18th, Iraqi police raided the hideout of the two top terrorist leaders in Iraq. Abu Omar al Baghdadi and Abu Ayoub al Masri were both killed, along with several of their followers. Electronic and paper documents were captured, that showed the two were in direct contact with Osama bin Laden and other senior al Qaeda leaders. Al Masiri was the successor to Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who was killed four years ago. Al Masiri was chosen by the top al Qaeda leaders, who are suspected of having a hand in Zarqawi being located and killed. Zarqawi was unpopular with bin Laden and other senior al Qaeda because of the large scale killing of Iraqi civilians. Al Masiri tried to change tactics, but al Qaeda had already triggered the "civil war" Zarqawi sought to start, and Shia Arab death squads were murdering Sunni Arabs in large numbers. The Sunni Arab minority tried to do the same, but they were vastly outnumbered (there were six times as many Kurds and Shia Arabs), and the Americans were after them as well. By 2007, most Sunni Arabs had either fled the country, or were negotiating with the Americans (not the Shia dominated Iraqi government) to switch sides. The U.S. brokered that deal, and by 2008, terror attacks were down over 90 percent. They continued to decline, as the Iraqi security forces got better, and took advantage of information (about who terrorists were and where they were) provided by the many Sunni Arabs who had turned on their al Qaeda champions.
So far this year, most of the al Qaeda middle management was killed or captured. This is what left Masiri and Baghdadi so vulnerable. They had lost their supporting players. Worse, the missing mid-level leadership was the pool from which replacements for Masiri and Baghdadi would be chosen. The actual replacements will either be inept locals, or unpopular foreigners. Neither option bodes well for the future of al Qaeda in Iraq.
It was two years ago that U.S. combat deaths (19) hit an all time low. This was the continuation of a trend that began a year earlier. Iraqi deaths (532 civilians and security forces) were also the lowest that year, but indicate that the Iraqis have taken over most of the fighting, and were suffering over 96 percent of the combat deaths. The nature of the fighting has fundamentally changed in the last year, with the Iraqi security forces finally coming into their own, after years of recruiting, training and weeding out those who were inept, unwilling or disloyal. At this point, U.S. troops concentrated on mentoring Iraqi combat units, and going after key terrorist operatives (leaders, financial supporters and technicians). This was the tactic pioneered by the Israelis several years earlier, and was critical in shutting down the Palestinian terror campaign that began in 2000.