The US military says it has killed the “right-hand man” of slain Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Major General William Caldwell says Iraqi Mansur Suleiman al-Mashhadani was killed on Friday by US forces in Yusifiyah, south of Baghdad.
“We do know that Sheikh Mansur was a key leader in Al Qaeda in Iraq with excellent religious, military and leadership credentials within that organisation,” General Caldwell said.
He describes him as Zarqawi’s right-hand man and a liaison between Al Qaeda and tribes in the restive area south of Baghdad.
The Mashhadani are a major tribe of Sunni Arabs.
“He was tied to the senior leadership, including having relationships with both Zarqawi and al-Masri,” General Caldwell said, referring to Abu Ayub al-Masri, whom the US military claim to be Zarqawi’s successor.
“We do think that his death will significantly continue to impact on the ability of this organisation to regenerate and organise itself.”
General Caldwell says Sheikh Mansur was “multifunctional” with responsibilities including spiritual advice, recruitment, leadership and media operations.
A large framed picture showing Sheikh Mansur before and after he was killed has been displayed by General Caldwell in the same manner as a picture of Zarqawi’s dead face after he was killed in a US air strike on June 7 near the restive city of Baquba.
One part of the composite picture showed him clean shaven with a thin moustache and wearing a black T-shirt, while the other showed a dust covered, bruised and blood-stained face.
Describing his killing, General Caldwell says US troops had attempted to stop the vehicle in which Sheikh Mansur was travelling with two others.
He says when they kept driving they decided to fire at them from a helicopter that had been backing up soldiers on the ground.
General Caldwell says coalition forces were “following and tracking him for sometime as the intent was to capture him”.
“When that proved something that was not able to be achieved by forces involved in that operation, they went ahead and used air assets to engage and destroy that vehicle,” he said.
The General says the two others who died with Sheikh Mansur were “foreign fighters, with one Abu Tareq being a cell leader”.