An Iraqi spy squad had dreaded Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in its sights last year but could not kill the world’s most wanted man due to a petty bureaucratic dispute, according to a media report.
Members of the “Falcons Cell”, an elite Iraqi intelligence squad, gathered in nervous anticipation in the bunker of their secret headquarters in Baghdad last November, knowing that their mission, should it succeed, could change the direction of the bloody war against the Islamic State.
Over 400 km away in the small border town of al-Qa’im, on the banks of the Euphrates, Baghdadi, the world’s most wanted man, entered a nursery school in the morning with his most senior aides and dozens of men ready to pledge allegiance to him as their new leader. The Falcons were poised to strike, the Sunday Times reported.
“We gathered information from our sources and knew he was going to be there,” one of the cell’s leaders, who asked to be identified by the pseudonym of Major Bakr, was quoted as saying by the daily.
The order was given to the Iraqi Air Force to strike the school, but the Defence Ministry took no action.
Slighted by the refusal of the Falcons to reveal the identity of the target, defence officials waited for an hour before the office of the Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, intervened.
By then precious time had been lost and Baghdadi was back on the move. Instead of an easy strike on a single gathering of ISIS’ top leadership, Iraqi fighter jets were forced to aim at a moving convoy of vehicles without knowing which one contained Baghdadi.
“The strike should have killed Baghdadi if it had happened on time, but we weren’t able to reveal the target and the fighter jets moved late,”
As missiles tore into the convoy, destroying at least 10 vehicles, Baghdadi’s personal bodyguard and a senior aide, were among those killed, but the Falcons’ prize catch eluded their grasp. Baghdadi, injured in the head and stomach, was whisked back across the border to safety in Syria.
“The opportunity to eliminate the entire leadership of the richest and best-equipped terrorist group in the world had been lost to a petty bureaucratic dispute,” the report concluded.