Babylon & Beyond

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IRAQ: The confessions of Abu Omar al Baghdadi?

May 18, 2009 | 12:39 pm


Iraqi authorities showed a videotape today of the man they say is Abu Omar al Baghdadi confessing to being one of Iraq's most wanted terrorists and admitting that his group received support from the mainstream Iraqi Islamic Party.

The man gave his real name as Ahmed Abed Ahmed Khamees al Mujmai and said he was born in Diyala province in 1969. He said he joined Al Qaeda in Iraq in 2005 and was appointed head of the Islamic State of Iraq, the umbrella group created to unite Al Qaeda-affiliated factions, in 2006.

Wearing a neatly trimmed beard and an open-neck blue shirt, the man appeared relaxed and under no pressure as he answered questions from an interrogator off camera about the activities of the Islamic State.

Financing comes from charities in Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, he said. The group also sustains itself "through robbing, spoils, contractors and other resources."

Orders are given by individuals outside of Iraq, including members of Saddam Hussein's former Baath Party and Al Qaeda. Tantalizingly, the man also said the group is "connected" with "people in the Islamic Party" -- the main Sunni party in parliament that forms part of the governing coalition.

Al Qaeda's goal in its activities "is to ignite war between Sunnis and Shiites," he said.

"The harm I inflicted meant the Iraqi people have been destroyed. I was at the head of these plans and played a vital role in implementing them," he said, seemingly expressing remorse.

There was nothing in these fairly generalized revelations, however, that was not already widely known about the activities of extremist insurgents in Iraq. There was only one glimmer that suggested inside knowledge: He said he had met with a known Al Qaeda figure whose name was blipped out on the tape.

Many are skeptical about the claim that the man is Baghdadi because similar past claims by authorities have turned out to be false. The U.S. military says it cannot confirm the man's identity, and a man claiming to be Baghdadi posted an audiotape on a jihadi website last week insisting that he is still free.

The authorities in Anbar province, where the Islamic State was born, have said they are hunting a different Baghdadi, whose real name is Hamed Zawi and who, unlike this man, is bald.

This is the first time, however, that the authorities have produced a videotaped confession, and it would be a major embarrassment for the government if it turned out not to be Baghdadi after all.

-- Usama Redha and Liz Sly in Baghdad

Photo: A coffee shop worker lays out cups while a local Iraqi television channel shows the confession of an Iraqi man alleged to be Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.  Credit: AFP / Ahmad al-Rubaye