US-Iraqi Intelligence Conduct a Sting That Nets Five Top ISIS Commanders

A coordinated operation between the US and Iraqi intelligence has netted five top ISIS commanders.


Five senior Islamic State officials have been captured, including a top aide to the group’s leader, in a complex cross-border sting carried out by Iraqi and American intelligence, two Iraqi officials said Wednesday.

The three-month operation, which tracked a group of senior Islamic State leaders who had been hiding in Syria and Turkey, represents a significant intelligence victory for the American-led coalition fighting the extremist group and underscores the strengthening relationship between Washington and Baghdad.

An Iraqi intelligence unit responsible for undercover missions had tracked an Iraqi man, Ismail Alwaan al-Ithawi, known by the nom de guerre Abu Zeid al-Iraqi, from Syria to the Turkish city of Sakarya, about 100 miles east of Istanbul, these officials said.

Mr. Ithawi, described by the Iraqis as a top aide to the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi, had been in charge of fatwas, or religious rulings, in the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate. He was also in charge of the education curriculum, and was a member of the body that appointed security and administrative leaders for the Islamic State’s territory, which had included large parts of Iraq and Syria.

He had been living in Turkey with his Syrian wife under his brother’s identity, one of these officials said.

The Iraqis sent the Turks an intelligence file they had amassed on Mr. Ithawi, and the Turkish security forces arrested him on Feb. 15, and extradited him to Iraq, this official said.

Iraqi and American intelligence officials then spent weeks interrogating him, learning the details and whereabouts of other ISIS leaders in hiding, the officials said.

The American-led coalition used this information to launch an airstrike in mid-April that killed 39 suspected Islamic State members near Hajin, in the Deir al-Zour district of Syria, the second official said.

The joint Iraqi-American intelligence team then set a trap, according to these officials. They persuaded Mr. Ithawi to contact several of his Islamic State colleagues who had been hiding in Syria and lure them across the border, the officials said.

The Iraqi authorities were waiting, and arrested the group soon after they crossed the frontier, the officials said.


Why did Ithawi betray his comrades? From Michael Yon writing on his experiences in the Battle of Mosul in 2008:

Moving on hot intelligence, Deuce Four conducted nine simultaneous raids on May 19th. One insurgent in particular was believed to know the locations of others. If the Deuce Four had gone in and just shot the man, he would be dead and useless, but instead LTC Kurilla asked him about the locations of two predominant terrorists. The insurgent answered, “For me to give the locations of these two men would be treason. However, in Iraq we have a saying: if death comes to greet you at your door, introduce him to your brother.” The soldiers loaded the Strykers and headed to that location. A capture-cascade had begun.

Several thoughts on this. First, this was only possible because ISIS territory has been whittled down to virtually nothing and so enticing them out of ISIS territory became markedly easier than it would have been between 2012 and 2016. Second, despite the political crap slinging going on between the US and Turkey, it is obvious that a lot of cooperation still exists. Erdogan is going to find that sixty years of NATO ties are hard to break. Most importantly, this is a public relations event, not an event of tactical importance. Had this been militarily significant, the Iraqis would have hidden these guys away until they wrung them dry and then produced them for a show trial. This announcement shows the coalition is damned certain these guys know very little that isn’t already known. Probably because ISIS is riddled with informers hedging their bets for when ISIS implodes.


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