Two Al-Qaida Leaders Reportedly Killed in Rocket Assault in Iraq

BY Larisa Epatko  April 19, 2010 at 5:08 PM EDT

U.S. and Iraqi forces killed two al-Qaida in Iraq leaders in a nighttime rocket attack, officials said Monday, in what has been called a significant blow to the terrorist group.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told reporters in Baghdad that ground forces surrounded and killed Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who were hiding in a safe house in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit. The prime minister showed reporters photographs of the corpses, and the U.S. military later confirmed their deaths.

Al-Masri is reportedly the head of al-Qaida in Iraq and al-Baghdadi is purportedly in charge of its affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq.

Al-Maliki called the deaths of the two al-Qaida leaders “a quality blow breaking the back of al-Qaida.”

Vice President Joe Biden also referred to the deaths as a “potentially devastating blow” to al-Qaida, while U.S. forces commander Gen. Raymond Odierno said, “There is still work to do but this is a significant step forward in ridding Iraq of terrorists,” quoted The Associated Press.

A U.S. helicopter crashed during the attack, killing a soldier, the U.S. military said.

Also Monday, Iraq’s election commission said it would recount ballots cast in Baghdad during March 7 national elections, in which a coalition led by former prime minister Ayad Allawi edged out al-Maliki’s alliance to win 91 seats in the 325-member Parliament. Al-Maliki’s coalition, which won 89 seats, has said votes were manipulated, requiring a manual recount of the Baghdad votes.

“After the recount, we are hoping the results of the election in Baghdad will change,” said Hajim al-Hassani, a leader of al-Maliki’s bloc, State of Law, The New York Times reported. “Whatever the decision will be, we will accept it.”

The partial recount is expected to take at least a week, as the three-member court tasked with investigating election complaints considers additional allegations of fraud.