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U.S. and Iraqi officials say the two most senior al-Qaida leaders in Iraq have been killed in a joint operation near the northern city of Tikrit.

Officials say Iraqi security forces backed by the U.S. killed Al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri and top al-Qaida militant Abu Umar al-Baghdadi Sunday during a raid on their hideout.

In a Monday briefing, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said the deaths are a "potentially devastating blow" to al-Qaida in Iraq.

The U.S. military says a Masri assistant and a son of Baghdadi also were killed in the raid and 16 suspected "criminal associates" were arrested.

In a Monday news conference, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki showed pictures of two bloody bodies that he identified as those of the al-Qaida operatives.

He said they were found dead in a small shelter under an al-Qaida safe house after Iraqi forces assaulted the building with missiles and ground forces.

Officials say the Egyptian-born Masri is also known as Abu Hamzah al-Muhajir. The U.S. military says he is directly responsible for high profile bombings and attacks against the Iraqi people.

Meanwhile, the U.S. says Baghdadi is also known as Hamid Dawud Muhammad Khalil al Zawi. Officials say the militant leader, who was called the "Prince of the Faithful," supported Al-Qaida in Iraq as the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq militant group.

The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, General Raymond Odierno, called the deaths of the two militants "potentially the most significant blow to Al-Qaida in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency." In a Monday statement, he said the deaths were a "significant step" in "ridding" the country of "terrorists."

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