BAGHDAD – Iraq has arrested five high-ranking members of the Islamic State, including a top advisor to militant group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an operation involving US and Turkish intelligence agencies.
The capture of the men, two Syrians and three Iraqis, is a breakthrough in Baghdadi's hunt, experts said Thursday, underscoring the deep security cooperation within the US-led coalition against the Islamic State despite political tensions in the region.
One of the men, Ismail al-Ithawi, who trades under the pseudonym Abu Zaid al-Iraqi, is considered part of the inner circle of Baghdadi and was responsible for financial, religious and security portfolios throughout the Iraqi and Iraqi territory Syria, said Hisham al-Hashimi, an expert on Islamic state, who advises the Iraqi government.
"This is the operation that broke the skull of the Islamic State, other operations were bone fractures only," said Hashimi, who is regularly briefed by Iraqi intelligence officials. "Soon Baghdadi will be killed or captured."
Iraqi and US officials have long said that they believe Baghdadi is hiding in the last area in Syria controlled by the Islamic State near the border with Iraq
Prime Minister Haider's spokesman Abadi said Thursday that the information from Ithawi had led to two recent Iraqi air strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria.
"This is a demonstration of the development of Iraqi intelligence services," said spokesman Said al-Hadithi
Hashimi said that Ithawi had also provided bank information to Iraqi and American interrogators who would have helped create valuable sources of funding for the Islamic State [ISBN]
Iraqi state television late Wednesday and later in the New York Times
Early Thursday, President Trump touted the arrests in a tweet: "Five most wanted leaders of the IS have just been captured been taken! " The spokesman for the anti-Islamic coalition, Lieutenant Colonel Ryan Dillon, said in a Twitter post that the arrests were a "major blow" for the group and underscored the extent of cooperation between two US allies in the fight against the US Islamic State: The Iraqi security forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)
The breakthrough came in February, Hashimi said, when Turkish officers arrested Ithawi in Turkey using information from the Iraqi intelligence service. He was then extradited to Iraq, where he was interrogated by Iraqis and Americans.
Over months of questioning, Ithawi provided the bank information and revealed the encrypted communication that the group uses in the news app Telegram. Hashimi said the investigators persuaded Ithawi in late April to contact key people of the Islamic State in Syria and lure them across the border to Iraq, where they were arrested.
Among them was the head of the Islamic Saddam al-Jamal state territory in the Syrian province of Deir al-Zour. The other three, one Syrian and two Iraqis, were senior field commanders.
Her pictures were broadcast on Iraqi state television on Thursday.
Abadi declared in December, after a three-year bloody campaign, the complete victory over the Islamic State to recapture the cities and towns that the group took over in 2014. He and American officials have repeatedly said that the fight against the Islamic State will expand into combat, but toward intelligence and police to prevent the group's attacks. Iraq
In Syria, the Islamic State still controls one Part of the territory near the border with Iraq. An American-backed effort to expel the group was led by the SDF.