Job security isn't what it used to be for terrorists in Iraq. U.S. and Iraqi officials announced on Monday that the two top leaders of Al Qaeda in Iraq were hunted down and killed in a week long operation near Tikrit. Abu Ayyub Al-Masri, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq and his murdering cohort Abu Omar al-Baghdadi were discovered in a hole in the ground during a combined Iraqi-US military and intelligence operation. There's a satisfying synergy to learning that these two butchers were found in a hole in the ground.

It is especially important to note that the operation's success involved the Iraqi military and intelligence service, supported by U.S. personnel. This was not the U.S. acting on its own, or with a token level of assistance by Iraqi elements. A success story over the past couple of years has been the ability of the Iraqi military and intel organization to assume responsibility for security operations. Over the past year in particular, the Iraqis have shown an increasing ability to target and degrade the Al Qaeda in Iraq structure.

Admittedly a long time in the making, the training and building of the Iraqi forces has always been seen as a critical component of the effort to create a stable and democratic post-Hussein Iraq.
That effort has been quietly moving forward as other aspects of Iraq, notably the dysfunctional nature of its politics, have garnered more press. But all the while, with occasional frustrations and setbacks, the Iraqi forces have been gaining experience, confidence and trust.

The public has improved its perception of the home team and that has allowed further success, as the population proves more willing to work with the military in combating terrorism and violent elements. This cooperation and relative goodwill will be crucial in the comings months as continuing political discord following the recent elections will test the country's ability to not backslide into sectarian violence.

It's a work in progress to be sure. But there's good news in the deaths of two top terrorists that goes beyond simply removing murderers from the planet. Its a story of hard fought success and the promise of stability for the future when the Iraqis once again are on their own.

Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector and has recently returned to Diligence LLC, a company he cofounded in 2000, as President. He appears frequently in the media as an expert on counterterrorism, intelligence and homeland security. Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant, writer and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks," as well as major motion pictures.

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