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Who's Your Baghdadi?

4:47 PM, Sep 18, 2007 • By AARON MACLEAN
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An Associated Press story which ran in today's Washington Post quotes Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the "leader of the Islamic State of Iraq," as offering a $100,000 reward for the assassination of Lars Vilks, a Swedish cartoonist who has depicted the Prophet Muhammad with body of a dog. Abu Omar has generously offered to up the reward to $150,000 if Vilks can be "slaughtered like a lamb."

Such fatwas bring to mind Salman Rushdie and the Ayatollah Khomeini. However, the discerning reader will note an important difference between the two incidents. Say what you will about the late Ayatollah, but at least he actually existed. As has been documented by Michael Gordon in the New York Times and covered by Frederick W. Kagan in THE WEEKLY STANDARD, U.S. intelligence is largely persuaded that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi is a fiction invented to obscure the largely foreign character of al Qaeda in Iraq's leadership cadre.

AQI's image problem is made especially difficult due to the fact that its actual leader appears to be Abu Ayyub al-Masri, which one could translate into English as "Ayyub's father, the Egyptian." Hardly a very Iraqi sort of name, which, we presume, lead to the almost naively charming fabrication of a name like Abu Omar al-Baghdadi ("Omar's father, the man from Baghdad")--an identifier as Iraqi as "Bill from Kansas City" would be American.

The nuance is no doubt lost on the AP, but it is very obvious to Arabic speakers. Regardless, it certainly seems irresponsible not to even mention the strong possibility that the man you are "quoting" from--and not just in this article, as a quick search of the AP reveals--is but a figment of the enemy's propaganda machine.