Iraqi security forces are claiming to have captured Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the Emir of the Islamic State of Iraq (al-Qaeda in Iraq). It would be quite a feat capturing Baghdadi, who according to the U.S. military does not exist (a claim about which I have always been skeptical). Nobody has many details as of yet, beyond the reports by the Iraqi spokesman himself, and a quick skim through the major Iraqi insurgency forums didn't reveal any immediate responses or information. This isn't the first time that such figures have been reported arrested, so let's just wait and see if this one pans out. [*]
How much does it matter, if true? Depends on how much you think "al-Qaeda" is responsible for the recent uptick in violence and the ongoing hot conflict in the northern cities. My guess is that some portion of the recent wave of violence has to do with the disintegration of the Awakenings experiment -- either actively, through the return to the fray of some of the "former" insurgents who populated its ranks than by the remnants of AQI, or passively as they stop working as vigilantly to prevent attacks. Such Sunni groups are not part of AQI or the ISI, and indeed have been fighting against them bitterly for several years. To the extent that a significant portion of the recent violence is driven by their political struggles, then damping it back down requires a political solution with the Iraqi government. Hurting AQI by getting Baghdadi won't do a thing to address the mounting complaints of these non-AQI Sunnis over the Maliki government's foot-dragging on integration of the Awakenings into the security forces, selective repression of various Awakenings leaders, and so forth.
At the same time, if true then it would help simply by removing the public voice of the ISI from the fray, hopefully dealing a blow to its leadership, and giving the Iraqi government and MNF-I a breather after the recent spate of bad news on security. Some part of the violence does still seem to be directed by the ISI and AQI, and this could help with that aspect of it. In particular, many analysts believe that AQI/ISI have been responsible for many of the escalating attacks on Awakenings leaders and members over the last few months (although I think there's also a lot of internal jockeying for power and playing out of local rivalries going on there too). Hopefully, any advantage gained here will be used to shift the focus back to the urgent issues of political reconciliation... which, again, will not be solved by this kind of military success against AQI/ISI.
[*] Just out of curiosity, how does one verify the identity of a "fictitious person", exactly? Amusingly enough, most of the first round of stories of his arrest ran a stock picture of Abu Ayyub al-Masri/Abu Hamza al-Muhajjir, the military commander of AQI (who has himself been reported killed multiple times over the years); al-Arabiya has updated with a picture from a story they ran last year which claimed to reveal Baghdadi's true identity (and maybe even did). Is that because everybody made the same mistake when they searched the image database, or was the picture circulated by the authorities when the arrest was announced? If the latter, it would make you wonder about the accuracy of the identification...
Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.