Iraqi Insurgent Leader Captured, Najaf Shrine Bombed

Two stories this morning typify the two steps forward, one step back line of progress in Iraq: Shortly after it was confirmed that a major Iraqi insurgent leader was captured, a car bomb detonated outside a shrine in Najaf, killing thirty.

The AP reports that Mohammed Hila Hammad Obeidi, also known as Abu Ayman, was arrested March 7 but announcement held pending positive identification via DNA tests. He is “believed to have led the Secret Islamic Army in Babil province south of Baghdad and is said to have close ties to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, head of al-Qaida in Iraq. He was also an aide to the chief of staff of intelligence during Saddam Hussein’s regime.” Additionally, he was apparently behind the kidnapping of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena.

The car bomb was outside the “sacred” Imam Ali shrine in Najaf. According to AP, “Such attacks are rare in Najaf, which is tightly controlled by police and Shiite security guards. Iraqi Shiites consider any attacks within Najaf as a grave provocation.”

Update: David Cloud has a tangentially related story in today’s NYT. The lede:

Last August, under daily attack from car bombs and mortars, the Marines took down the only bridge over the Euphrates River for miles around. Now they are trying to rebuild it.

With the bridge down, marines say, insurgents and foreign fighters can no longer infiltrate as easily into this town near the Syrian border in western Anbar Province, the heavily Sunni Arab area that has formed the heart of the insurgency. But Iraqis who live on the river’s northern bank grumble that they have no easy way to get to town to buy and sell goods or to see the doctor.

This almost perfectly encapsulates the difficulty of trying to fight a war and conduct nation building simultaneously.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.