Michael Ware


AAM: "Like trying to hold water in the palm of your hand."

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SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: The U.S. military is knocking down reports that the new leader of al Qaeda in Iraq has been killed.

CNN's Michael Ware is live for us in Baghdad this morning.

Michael, good morning.


You're right, the U.S. military says that it believes that al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri is alive. There had been hope among the military that they had killed him in a recent operation. Some reports say this took place two days ago in the western township of Haditha, but that's yet to be confirmed.

What is confirmed is that an operation did take place. A U.S. military spokesman says several terrorists were killed. And while they originally hoped that al-Masri was one of them, subsequent identification of the bodies now makes it highly unlikely that al-Masri is dead. And, in fact, this military spokesman told CNN that the U.S. military believes that al-Masri is still alive and has not been killed in recent coalition forces operations -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: But, Michael, do they believe that in fact they are getting closer and closer to him?

WARE: Well, the military spokesman did say that the pursuit of al-Masri continues. We continue to get close to him. I mean it's hard to gauge what's real and what's not. We heard on the weekend the Iraqi national security advisor on Sunday saying we are very close to capturing or bringing this man in and -- killing or bringing this man in in chains. We then saw the U.S. military spokesman, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, express some skepticism about that.

I mean this is the great game. I mean, the military here is chasing phantoms, so they are very difficult to get a fix on. We saw this with Saddam time and time again while he was on the run. His sons, Udai and Qusai. And how many times the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, who was finally killed in June in a U.S. airstrike, there was just countless reports of his capture or death or near capture. This is just part of the spooky game that is pursuing these al Qaeda leaders here in Iraq -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Michael Ware in Baghdad for us.

Thanks, Michael -- Miles.

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MILES O'BRIEN: The leader of al Qaeda in Iraq is apparently still alive despite reports he was killed in a raid near Haditha. The U.S. military says it does not believe that Abu Ayyub al-Masri was killed, but DNA tests are under way to make sure.

CNN's Michael Ware has the latest for us from Baghdad -- Michael.

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Miles, there was speculation raised several hours ago that in fact al-Masri had been killed during a recent U.S. operation. But the U.S. military spokespeople are now saying that no, that in fact is not the case. They say that they believe that Abu Ayyub al-Masri has not been killed in recent coalition forces operations.

There was a raid. They say that a number of terrorists were killed. They'd originally hoped that he was one of them, but after examining the bodies and doing identification tests, they no longer believe that, in fact, he was killed.

They're still awaiting the results of DNA reports, according to other reporting. However, they are saying that he is still alive as far as they believe -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Hard to say one way or another, Michael, whether they're getting closer to finding him.

WARE: Miles, it's absolutely impossible. Even U.S. military intelligence admits you really can't tell.

As you go down one path, you find that these phantoms that they're chasing -- and that's very much what this al Qaeda leadership is like -- has gone down another path. I mean, we've seen this circle go round and round, time and time again.

How many reports there were on Zarqawi, the previous al Qaeda leader's death, before it actually happened in June this year? This is just a part of the chasing game that you see here in Iraq, as the U.S. forces try to crack this almost impenetrable al Qaeda network.

As an American commander in Ramadi said, "Al Qaeda works very hard to keep us from understanding its inner machinations." So that's the difficulty that confronts the U.S. forces here -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, and as we found out, it's not as if the death of Zarqawi, his predecessor in that role, really had much of an impact in the violence.

WARE: Absolutely not. I mean, this is one thing that has distinguished al Qaeda in Iraq, is its ability to replenish, not just leadership, but even rank and file, and entire cell networks. Indeed, what we have learned from the Iraqi insurgents, former Ba'athists and members of Saddam's military apparatus, is that, indeed, despite the Americans' recent penetration of the upper tiers, the killing and capturing of al Qaeda leaders, al Qaeda has done two things. It's become larger as it has soaked up local Iraqi guerrilla groups, but also the new breed of leader that has stepped up to replace those taken out by the Americans is tougher, nastier, and harder than the men they've replaced -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Michael Ware in Baghdad.

Thank you very much.

That's the word from Baghdad.

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MILES O'BRIEN: Dead or alive. U.S. military officers say they do not believe the new leader of al Qaeda in Iraq has been killed. This contradicts earlier reports he died in a raid. CNN's Michael Ware with more from Baghdad.



Just hours ago, very speculative reports emerged that the al Qaeda in Iraq leader, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, had, in fact, been killed by U.S. forces. However, it didn't take long before the U.S. military came back and said, no, that's not, in fact, the case. That they feel that there's no substance behind those reports.

What we know from a very messy and confusing picture, very typical of the war here in Iraq, is that a raid was launched by U.S. forces recently, perhaps just a couple of days ago, targeting a location where it was thought al-Masri may have been. During the engagement there, several terrorists were killed. The U.S. military spokesman says subsequent investigation of the scene, identification of the bodies, now leads the military to thinking it's highly unlikely al-Masri is dead. In fact, a U.S. military spokesman told us that, in fact, the U.S. military believes al-Masri is still alive and did not die in recent coalition forces operations.


M. O'BRIEN: Michael, give us a sense of the structure of al Qaeda in Iraq. Is it a top-down organization that is dependent on a single leader, or is it a dispersed series of cells as the regular al Qaeda is?

WARE: Al Qaeda in Iraq here is a very tight-knit organization, but extremely fluid. It's like a lizard with a tail. You can pull the tail off and somehow the tail grows back.

Everything is stovepiped or compartmentalized. So one structure or one wing of the organization doesn't necessarily know about the other. Even within military terms, a company, or a group of soldiers, groups within that company of soldiers don't even know about the other groups or can't lead you to them.

Yet there is command and control from the center. Messages are passed down. Broad targeting frameworks are passed down. Ideology. There's also coordination with other Iraqi insurgent groups and other al Qaeda elements in other parts of the country. So there is a well- structured, sophisticated organization, but it's very, very fluid. It's like, for the American forces, trying to hold water in the palm of your hand.


M. O'BRIEN: Michael Ware in Baghdad, thank you.