Iraqi officials and security leaders vowed more severe blows against al-Qaeda after the organisation claimed to have a new leader.
An al-Qaeda-affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq, named a new leader last week to replace Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the former leader who was killed with his aide Abu Ayyub al-Masri on April 18th in a joint Iraqi-US operation. The announcement was made in a message on an online discussion forum.
Hussain al-Saneed, a member of the Iraqi Parliament's Security Committee, described al-Qaeda's announcement as a "desperate attempt to deceive public opinion into believing that it still has a presence in the Iraqi arena."
"Al-Qaeda wants to say to the world that it is capable of rearranging its ranks at any time and under any circumstances," al-Saneed said. "It also wants to say that the fall of the first line in its organisational structure in Iraq didn't affect the organisation's ability to carry out attacks. However, the truth is completely different from what has been announced."
Al-Saneed added that the intelligence available to the Iraqi government and forces confirms the collapse of al-Qaeda in Iraq in the wake of painful blows they have been recently dealt. "The voluntary surrender of wanted individuals to the Iraqi security forces is nothing but clear proof of that collapse," he said.
Scores of wanted individuals began surrendering to authorities across the country in recent weeks after the interior ministry set a deadline and provided assurance that they would receive fair treatment.
"However, in spite of these important achievements, we have to be careful and cautious by intensifying security measures and boosting co-operation between citizens and security agencies with the aim of chasing the remnants of terrorism and preventing them from carrying out attacks aimed at making some media gains," al-Saneed said.
Recent terrorist attacks in the country are attempts to draw media attention, according to the chairman of the Security Committee in Baghdad Provincial Council Abdul Kareem Dharb.
"Al-Qaeda is most likely trying to attract the attention of media so as to confirm its presence. It did the same thing by committing specific terrorist crimes, such as launching operations featuring more than one attack at the same time and at different locations, or involving the killing of the biggest number of innocent victims," he said.
Iraqi security forces continue to launch raids and make arrests in a number of Iraqi cities, part of a security operation codenamed "Operation Lion's Leap."
On Sunday (May 16th), security forces announced the arrest of a person described as the emir (commander) of al-Qaeda for the southern Baghdad area in an operation carried out by the Iraqi army in the al-Latifiya area.
Baghdad Operations Command spokesman Gen. Qassim Atta said that the arrested individual -- Mozahem Mohammed Horan -- served as the general commander of al-Qaeda's cells in the southern belt of Baghdad and was responsible for carrying out more than 50 terrorist attacks.
"The pursuit lasted for several months during which the Iraqi forces managed to collect important intelligence that allowed us to make the arrest without any resistance from him," Atta added.
In addition, seven of Horan's companions were arrested in the same operation. A team of Iraqi officers is now conducting extensive investigations with the arrested individuals pending their arraignment before the Iraqi judiciary.
During the operation to capture Horan, a large weapons cache was seized. It included 23 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) set to be buried at roadsides, 14 sticky bombs, 5 Grad missiles, as well as maps, Thuraya communication devices, and lists including names of officials and citizens believed to be targeted for assassination.
Gen. Mohammed Jawad al-Hendi, commander of Basra Operations, said that Iraqi forces arrested 13 people involved in the May 10th Basra bombings "and all of them are affiliated with al-Qaeda."
Bombings in which two car bombs and an IED were used ripped the city of Basra last week, killing and wounding 42 Iraqis.
According to al-Hendi, the arrested individuals "confessed to having committed the crimes of terrorist bombings in Basra."
In recent weeks, Iraqi forces also arrested major al-Qaeda-affiliates in a number of provinces. In Ninawa, a Saudi national, Mahmoud Mohammed Salama Bekhit, known as "Wali Wulat al-Mosul" (governor of Mosul governors), was arrested along with a number of his aides. Bekhit was wanted for attacks on civilians and security forces.
Iraqi forces captured 16 individuals in connection with the bombings that targeted the German, Egyptian and Iranian embassies last April. The group's leader, described as a senior al-Qaeda leader and the mastermind of attacks by Baghdad operations command, reportedly trained young Syrian nationals in carrying out the suicide attacks.
Many credited these successes to the security forces' improved training and use of modern equipment.
"The killing of leaders of the terrorist al-Qaeda organisation is clear proof of major developments taking place in the performance of Iraqi intelligence and security forces. This will make al-Qaeda in Iraq a weak organisation living its final days in Iraq," said Ali al-Allaq, secretary general of the Iraqi Cabinet.
"The latest attacks are an expected reaction to the painful and severe blows that Iraqi forces dealt al-Qaeda, which made them bring out whatever explosives they possessed for just one occasion," al-Allaq said.
To combat terrorism, the Iraqi government created intelligence taskforces to gather information obtained through tips from citizens and security force members.
"The intelligence gathering effort has led to the discovery of other cells that have links with al-Qaeda leaders across the world, and this will enable other countries to avoid the danger and terrorist activity," al-Allaq said.
Military operations will "continue to chase all the new leaders of al-Qaeda and their fate will be like that of their predecessors," Atta said.
"We're determined to inflict defeat on all the terrorists and to deal them the most painful blows," Atta added. "We won't give them a chance to rebuild their terrorist organisation anew to threaten the security of our country. We will be ready for them wherever they go."