Finally, some good news out of Iraq: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, has been seriously injured during an airstrike by the US-led coalition last month, a source told The Guardian.
Initially the injuries were life threatening; ISIS leaders even made plans to name a new leader fearing Baghadi would die. But he has since made a slow recovery, though is not well enough to resume control over day-to-day operations.
Two separate officials – a western diplomat and an Iraqi adviser – confirmed the strike took place on 18 March in the al-Baaj a district of Nineveh, close to the Syrian border. There had been two previous reports in November and December of Baghdadi being wounded, though neither was accurate.
The diplomat confirmed an air strike on a three-car convoy had taken place on that date between the village of Umm al-Rous and al-Qaraan. The attack targeted local Isis leaders and is believed to have killed three men. Officials did not know at the time that Baghdadi was in one of the cars.
Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi official who advises Baghdad on Isis, told the Guardian: “Yes, he was wounded in al-Baaj near the village of Umm al-Rous on 18 March with a group that was with him.”
Baghdadi is understood to have been spending much of his time in al-Baaj, about 200 miles west of the Isis stronghold of Mosul. “He chose this area because he knew from the war that the Americans did not have much cover there,” said a source privy to some of Baghdadi’s movements. “From 2003 (the US military) barely had a presence there. It was the one part of Iraq that they hadn’t mapped out.”
If Baghdadi were to die, how would that change the terror organization? While that is certainly up for debate, the air campaign has forced the group's command and strategic decision-making to be done by other leaders, even though Baghdadi has authority as a religious leader, according to the Gaurdian report. And those military and Shura councils have played an increasingly active and important role since his recent injuries.
Nevertheless, Laith Alkhouri, director of Middle East and North Africa research for Flashpoint Intelligence, cautioned after speculation that he was killed late last year that the "ideology wouldn't die with him."