Deputy leader of Islamic State captured in Iraqi army’s ‘most difficult’ cross-border operation

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi announced the capture of a deputy leader of Islamic State on Monday, the day after elections marked by a historically low turnout.

Mr Kadhimi said that Sami Jasim Muhammad al-Jaburi – for whom the United States offered a $5 million bounty in 2015 – was detained in a “complex external operation”.

He said the cross border mission was "one of the most difficult" Iraqi forces had ever executed, without providing further details.

Iraqi intelligence officials told The Associated Press that Jasim was detained in an identified foreign country and transported to Iraq a few days ago. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak of the operation on the record.

Jasim reportedly served as ISIS finance minister in 2014, when the group held swathes of territory and had extensive revenue-generating operations, including ransoming kidnapped foreigners, extorting local populations in Iraq and Syria, looting antiquities and smuggling fuel.

US State Department reward poster for Sami Jasim Muhammad al-Jaburi (centre)

Credit: US State Department

Mr Kadhimi’s announcement came as the country awaited the results of early elections on Sunday that few expected to significantly change the balance of power in Iraq.

Many Iraqis expressed widespread disillusionment with elections that were introduced following the US invasion in 2003, saying they had been unable to address corruption, lawlessness and impunity for militias whose power has only grown in recent years after they were officially recruited by the state in the war against ISIS.

Mr Kadhimi came to power in May last year promising to rein in rogue pro-Iran militias, who have continued carrying out attacks on American targets in Iraq.

ISIS in contrast has carried out relatively few high profile attacks since Iraqi security forces declared victory over the terrorist insurgency in summer 2017 after recapturing Iraq’s second city Mosul from the group in a gruelling nine month battle.

While a suicide bombing that killed 35 people in a busy Sadr City market in Baghdad in July was a notable exception, the group has instead mostly focused on low-level attacks, carrying out kidnappings and murders in rural areas, often by setting up flying checkpoints on lonely highways at night. 

Despite this the group is a shadow of its former self. At its zenith ISIS controlled a third of Syria and Iraq, with the group’s late leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declaring a caliphate from Mosul in summer 2014.

After Iraq declared victory over ISIS, its remaining fighters reverted to an underground insurgency, while Baghdadi fled to Syria, where he was killed in a US raid in October 2019. 

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