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Terrorists or scumbags? Took the money and ran from Iraq

Wednesday, February 13, 2008 Free Headline Alerts

BAGHDAD Al Qaida leaders have taken millions of dollars and escaped from Iraq, U.S. military officials said.

Scores of Al Qaida squadron and battalion leaders have fled Iraq following the U.S.-led surge in the Anbar and Baghdad provinces, Middle East Newsline reported. The officials said the commanders ran off with funds gained through abductions and racketeering allocated for operations and recruitment.

"Many of them are leaving with cash," U.S. Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, commander of Multinational Division-North, said. "I don't know if it's for personal gain or because they're tired of the organization and what it's doing and they just want to find another place to live. We are seeing an increasing spike in kidnappings and holding individuals for ransom, and then using that cash to pay the cell leaders or in some cases take the money outside of the country."

In a briefing on Feb. 11, Hertling said the flight of Al Qaida commanders has harmed morale in the Islamic insurgency movement. He said the departure of the commanders and cash has also led to a significant decline in Al Qaida operations and capabilities.

"I talked with an individual yesterday, as part of reconciliation, and [he] is promising to lay down the arms of his group because he's just had enough," Hertling said. "He's had enough fighting. And we're seeing increasing indicators that more and more groups not just Al Qaida but others are coming forward. The hardcore guys are still out there."

Officials said the flight of Al Qaida has been comprised of foreign fighters, most of whom come from such countries as Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Syria. They said many of the foreign commanders have fled Iraq for Syria.

"In terms of the countries I will state only one, that some of them we have seen specifically leaving to Syria," Hertling said. "Some of them are going back to Saudi Arabia and Qatar."

At the same time, Al Qaida has been abducting Iraqis and other nationals in the provinces of Diyala, Nineveh and Salah Eddin. In early February, the U.S. and Iraqi militaries uncovered an Al Qaida bunker that contained fuel truck drivers kidnapped, tortured and held for ransom. The northern city with the greatest Al Qaida activity was identified as Mosul.

Hertling said Al Qaida operatives were also fleeing Iraqi cities for the western desert. He said the operatives have been increasingly concerned of being reported by Iraqi civilians to authorities.

"They're staying overnight in abandoned mud huts or next to canals or in caves," Hertling said. "So literally they are going in much smaller groups than they have been in the past to just get out of the city so they can avoid capture. We are now even beginning to gather intel that some of them are saying it's not even safe in the desert because the night raids are coming to get them."

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