Top Al-Qaida leaders had fled before U.S.-led offensive began
The American general commanding troops battling to clear fighters serving with Al-Qaida from Baquba said Friday that 80 percent of the top Al-Qaida leaders in the city fled before the American-led offensive began earlier this week, just as the Al-Qaida leadership fled Al-Fallujah ahead of the American offensive that recaptured that city in 2004.
Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the second-ranking American commander in Iraq, told reporters that leaders of Al-Qaida in Iraq had been alerted to the Baquba offensive by widespread public discussion of the American plan to clear the city before the attack began. He portrayed the Al-Qaida leaders' escape as cowardice, saying that "when the fight comes, they leave," abandoning "mid-level" Al-Qaida leaders and fighters to face the might of American troops - just, he said, as they did in Al-Fallujah.
Some American officers in Baquba have blamed the Al-Qaida leaders' flight on public remarks about the offensive in the days before it began by top American commanders, including Gen. David Petraeus, the overall commander in Iraq. But Odierno cast the issue in broader terms, saying Al-Qaida leaders were bound to know an attack was coming in light of President Bush's decision to pour nearly 30,000 additional troops into the fight in a bid to secure Baghdad and areas around the capital that have been insurgent strongholds. That included Baquba, which lies 40 miles north.
"Frankly, I think they knew an operation was coming in Baquba," Odierno said in a teleconference with Pentagon reporters from the American military headquarters in Baghdad. "They watched the news. They understood we had a surge. They understood Baquba was designated as a problem area. So they knew we were going to come, sooner or later."
Still, he implied American commanders may have played a part by flagging the offensive in advance. "I think they were tipped off by us talking about the surge, the fact that we have a problem in Diyala province," he said.
Jesus H Christ in a TV commercial, but reports have been coming out of Iraq for years about how the Iraqi police and military have been infiltrated by Al-Qaeda. The country's crawling with spies.