ISIL leadership targeted in air strike, Baghdadi fate unclear, says Iraqi military
BAGHDAD – ReutersThe Iraqi Air Force carried out a strike on a house where Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was thought to be meeting other commanders, the Iraqi military said on Feb. 13, without making clear whether he had been hit.
In a statement, it said Iraqi F-16s had targeted the house in western Iraq on Feb. 11. It published the names of 13 ISIL commanders it said had been killed in the air strike, but the list did not include Baghdadi.
Three other ISIL positions in western Iraq were targeted in the same wave of air strikes, killing 64 fighters, the statement added.
The military said Baghdadi moved last week in a convoy from Raqqa, in Syria, to the region of al-Qaim, on the Iraqi side of the border, to discuss with commanders “the collapse happening in Mosul and to choose a successor for him.”
Baghdadi, an Iraqi whose real name is Ibrahim al-Samarrai and who proclaimed a “caliphate” straddling Iraq and Syria in June 2014, has been reported wounded several times in the past. His last known public message goes back to November last year, when he called on ISIL fighters to defend Mosul, their last major urban stronghold in Iraq.
Baghdadi’s health is unknown, but the Pentagon said six weeks ago that he was still alive and leading ISIL as it tries to defend the remnants of its crumbling “caliphate.”
U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have completed the first phase of the campaign to retake Mosul, removing the militants from the eastern side of the city last month.
An Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite paramilitary force is also battling the Sunni militants west of Mosul, trying to prevent their escape to Syria.