Report: Al Qaeda leader disbands joint cell

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has disbanded the joint Iraqi-Syrian terror cell, which the White House recently tagged as a transnational threat to the United States. 

In a statement to Al Jazeera, Zawahiri ordered al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to limit his operations to within Iraq's borders. 

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The al Qaeda-affiliated militant group, Jabhat al Nusra (JAN), will be responsible for the group's activities inside Syria, the terrorist leader said. 

Earlier this year, al-Baghdadi announced the merger of AQI and JAN into the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). 

Al Qaeda's violent resurgence in Iraq and expansion into Syria represented a "transnational threat network" that could possibly reach from the Mideast to the United States, the White House said in October. 

The teaming of al Qaeda's Syrian and Iraqi factions has developed into "a major emerging threat to Iraqi stability ... and to us," a senior administration official told reporters at the time. 

"It is a fact now that al Qaeda has a presence in Western Iraq" extending into Syria, "that Iraqi forces are unable to target," the official added. 

However, the merger never received the blessing of al Qaeda's senior leadership, with the AQI leader going against the organization's wishes, Zawahiri said. 

"Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made a big mistake in forming the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant without consultation," according to the statement. 

While ISIL has been dissolved, the threat facing Iraq's nascent government from al Qaeda continues to worsen. 

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made a public pitch for more aid from the U.S. and the international community to help Iraq battle al Qaeda during a recent visit to Washington. 

In a speech at the U.S. Institute of Peace, al-Maliki said al Qaeda “found a second chance” in Iraq after it was initially defeated, thanks in part to the instability created by the conflict in Syria.

“Al Qaeda is a dirty wind that wants to spread worldwide,” he said. 

The Iraqi leader told the White House that U.S. military aid was important for his country’s fight against al Qaeda, saying that his country needed weapons specifically for counterterrorism, in addition to Abrams tanks and F-16s.

The White House and Pentagon failed to reach a bilateral security deal with Baghdad that would allow a handful of American troops to remain in the country after the U.S. pullout in 2011. 

That lack of a deal prevented Washington from fielding a postwar force in Iraq after the final withdrawal in December of that year. 

White House critics claim President Obama's inability to lock in a postwar deal with Iraq opened the door for al Qaeda's return to power in the country.