Are Zarqawi's Heirs on the Rebound?

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As tens of thousands of Americans and Iraqis patrol the streets of Baghdad as part of a new security plan, the insurgency has demonstrated it is still capable of well-planned and deadly attacks. And among its latest victims are two U.S. soldiers earlier kidnapped by a Qaeda-linked group on Friday.

The U.S. military announced Tuesday that the bodies of Private First Class Thomas Lowell Tucker, 25, of Madras, Oregon, and Private First Class Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, Texas, had been found in an area south of Baghdad. An Iraqi defense ministry official claimed that the appearance of the bodies suggested the captives had been tortured before they were killed.

The Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella group that includes Al-Qaeda in Iraq, posted an internet message Tuesday claiming that the group's new leader, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, had personally killed the Americans. Although the group has offered no definitive proof so far that it was responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Tucker and Menchaca, its statement promised that it would soon release a videotape to back its claim.

The suggestion that al-Mujaher, an Egypian named as leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq after the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was personally involved in the murder appears designed to score propaganda points and counter the impression that the organization had been rocked by the loss in recent weeks of its leader and — according to the U.S. — other key operatives.

Tucker and Menchaca were reported missing after an attack on a U.S. checkpoint in Yusufiyah, south of Baghdad, that killed Specialist David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Massachusetts. The attack came as the U.S. and the Iraqi government had appeared to seize the initiative in recent weeks: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki named ministers to the country's top security posts; al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed by an American air strike; and a series of raids in and around Baghdad preceded the high-profile deployment of tens of thousands of troops in Baghdad.

Still, despite a dusk-to-dawn curfew and checkpoints that have snarled traffic across the city, daily bomb attacks and sectarian killings have continued. U.S. officials stress that the security campaign is a long-term one, and its effectiveness can't yet be gauged. The insurgency, of course, remains determined to make it fail.