BAGHDAD -- U.S. forces killed a top al-Qaida in Iraq leader this week who they believe was responsible for kidnapping and killing American soldiers last year, a U.S. general said yesterday.
Abu Osama al-Tunisi was killed Tuesday south of Baghdad in an airstrike, the latest in a series of operations targeting the leadership of the Sunni militant group, Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson told Pentagon reporters by teleconference from Iraq.
"His death is a key loss," Anderson said of al-Tunisi.
Coincidentally, the death of a man with the same name and job description was announced more than a year ago on a jihadi Web site, an international terrorism consultant said yesterday.
Since June, when a troop buildup reached full strength, U.S. forces have focused their operations on weakening al-Qaida in Iraq, one of several militant groups participating in the Sunni-led insurgency. Anderson said those operations have disrupted the organization, which has been blamed for many of the most sensational bombings in Iraq.
President Bush mentioned progress in reducing the rate of attacks when announcing his plan to begin withdrawing the 30,000 additional troops brought in this year to help quell insurgent and sectarian bloodshed.
The first 2,200 troops slated to leave under the drawdown completed their deployment Sept. 17 and are headed home, a military spokesman said yesterday. The members of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit had been stationed in Anbar province, where an alliance of Sunni Arab tribal leaders has been credited with helping to drive out al-Qaida in Iraq militants.
Insurgents, however, have hit back in recent days, unleashing a string of deadly bombings and assassinations across the country timed to coincide with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
As many as 40 Sunni Arab gunmen attacked Shiite Muslims in Jaara yesterday, killing 15 people and injuring four others in a village south of Baghdad that has seen many residents flee at gunpoint, Iraqi police said.
An Air Force F-16 jet dropped two 500-pound bombs on a building where Tunisi was allegedly meeting with other al-Qaida in Iraq militants near Mussayib, about 40 miles south of Baghdad, Anderson said.
Two other suspects were killed in the blast, and two were detained, he said.
Tunisi, Anderson said, was originally from Tunisia and was considered the "emir of foreign terrorists" responsible for bringing Sunni Arab fighters into Iraq.
Alexandra Zavis and Julian E. Barnes write for the Los Angeles Times.