The Washington Post's Amit R. Paley reports that senior intelligence officials in Iraq believe the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq and his top lieutenants may have hightailed it to Afghanistan, reflecting a growing disarray amongst the group. Once one of the most ruthless and dangerous of jihadi groups, AQI is now seriously weakened. The number of foreign fighters entering Iraq has dropped to 20 a month, down from 110 a month last summer. However, AQI is largely a homegrown, Iraqi group, albeit led by foreigners. It's likely the leadership is leaving; the foot soldiers are still around and many have joined local Awakening Councils. That's backed by the Post's sources, who say some Iraqi members of AQI have grown so frustrated with Abu Ayyub al-Masri's poor leadership (he took over after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in June 2006), that they've formed their own Sunni group. Paley and his Iraqi colleagues at the Post do a good job of tracking al-Masri's movements through his sources. One AQI leader said al-Masri and his lieutenants left Iraq in mid-June, went to Iran and thence to Afghanistan. An Iraqi intelligence officer in Anbar province said he left June 12 through the border town of Zorbatia. Other AQI members say he's just traveling and not "escaping." "We have been informed he left Iraq to Afghanistan for several things such as reviewing the situation of al-Qaeda in Iraq with (Osama) bin Laden," said Ali al-Qaisi, 32, the commander of a recruitment unit who lost a leg during a battle with U.S. troops in Samra. The man in charge at the moment may be a fighter known as Abdul Khalil al-Souri, who was came to Iraq in 2003 with Zarqawi as part of "the first line," a group of 33 fighters. That Paley got so many AQI guys to on the record and talk to him is impressive.
Alissa J. Rubin and Steven Lee Myers of The New York Times follow the Wall Street Journal's story yesterday noting that the U.S. and Iraq are close to a deal on the security agreement.
The emerging agreement, officials said, gives Iraqis much of what they want -- most notably the guarantee that there would no longer be foreign troops visible on their land -- and leaves room for them to discreetly ask for an extended American presence should security deteriorate.The two reporters have a fair bit of detail on what the deal might look like, so the story is well worth a read.
IN OTHER COVERAGE
Henry A. Kissinger writes for the Post's op-ed page that setting a deadline for a U.S. troop withdrawal is a Very Bad Idea, given how well things are going. He spends almost 1,200 words to argue President George W. Bush's old position that setting a deadline would just embolden America's enemies. That Bush has now repudiated that is not mentioned.
Wall Street Journal
Meanwhile, the Journal runs a free McCain political advertisement on its op-ed page in the form of some writings from Karl Rove, who calls Obama wrong, wrong, wrong on Iraq. He also repeats the slur that Obama didn't want to visit wounded troops in Germany unless it was a political event. Isn't there some kind of disclosure required for campaign contributions in kind?
Christian Science Monitor and USA Today
No Iraq coverage today.