Iraqi security forces have killed Abu Yaser al-Issawi, an Islamic State commander who had claimed to be the leader of the group in Iraq and its “deputy caliph”, Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi said on Thursday.
“Our heroic armed forces have eliminated Daesh commander Abu Yaser Al-Issawi as part of an intelligence-led operation,” Kadhimi tweeted.
“If this is indeed confirmed, it’s significant news, al-Issawi headed up IS’s entire Iraq operation,” tweeted Charles Lister, a director at the Middle East Institute think tank in Washington. “It’s worth awaiting more substantive evidence (..) previous claims have turned out to have been false.”
Last week, Islamic State claimed responsibility for a twin suicide bombing that killed at least 32 people in a crowded Baghdad market. It was the first big suicide bombing in Iraq for three years.
Iraqi authorities said the attack was a possible sign of the group reviving after its military defeat in 2017.
Suicide attacks on civilian targets were a near-daily tactic of the mainly Sunni Muslim insurgents during the US occupation of Iraq after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Many of the insurgents were later recruited by Islamic State, whose fighters swept across a third of Iraq in 2014.
By 2017, however, Islamic State insurgents had been driven from all territory they held in Iraq. Their paramount leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, died in 2019 during a US raid in neighbouring Syria.