A regional al-Qaeda leader was killed Tuesday as U.S. and Iraqi forces continue to put pressure on the terrorist organization following the reported deaths of two top-ranking figures over the weekend, officials say.
Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri were killed in a joint operation Sunday in what U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden called a "potentially devastating blow" to al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The joint forces quickly followed that up with a morning raid on Tuesday. U.S. and Iraqi forces acting on intelligence information killed suspected insurgent leader Ahmed al-Obeidi in the northern province of Ninevah, Iraqi military spokesman Maj.-Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said.
Al-Moussawi said the slain insurgent, known as Abu Suhaib, was in charge of al-Qaeda in Iraq's operations in the provinces of Kirkuk, Salahuddin and Ninevah.
U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza said American and Iraqi security forces would be keeping pressure on al-Qaeda.
"They're still a threat here, and we will not lose sight of that," he told The Associated Press.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq has remained a dangerous force as the U.S. prepares to withdraw most of its troops. The terror group has launched repeated attacks on civilian targets in Baghdad in an attempt to sow chaos and exploit political deadlock in the wake of the inconclusive March 7 parliamentary elections.
The terrorist organization in the past has reacted to the deaths of leading figures with new attacks, but it was not immediately clear whether scattered violence Tuesday across the country was related.
The killing of the al-Qaeda figures comes at a critical time for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has staked his reputation on being the man who can restore stability to Iraq after years of bloodshed. The prime minister is locked in a tight contest with secular challenger Ayad Allawi to see who will form the next government.
Al-Maliki's coalition trails Allawi's bloc by two seats in the 325-seat parliament, and neither has yet been able to secure enough support from other parties to muster a majority.
Al-Maliki's bid to keep the prime minister's office received a second boost Monday when Iraq's election commission announced it would recount ballots cast in Baghdad, after complaints of fraud lodged by al-Maliki's coalition. The recount could potentially give the Iraqi prime minister's bloc more seats than Allawi's.