Bomb Kills Key Iraqi Sheikh
A roadside bomb has killed an important Sunni tribal leader who was cooperating with U.S. troops fighting al-Qaida insurgents in Iraq. Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha and two bodyguards died in the attack near his home in Ramadi, the capital of al-Anbar province. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has details from the Pentagon.
Abu Risha was the leader of the Anbar Salvation Council, also known as Anbar Awakening, an alliance of Sunni clans backing the Iraqi government and U.S. forces to push al-Qaida fighters out of western Iraq.
President Bush met Abu Risha and other tribal leaders during a highly symbolic trip to Anbar province on September 3.
Last year, the Sunni sheikhs switched their allegiance from al-Qaida to the Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad.
Mr. Bush said he was pleased with the progress in Anbar, which has gone from one of the most violent, anti-U.S. areas in Iraq to a security success story.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters that Abu Risha's death is a major loss.
"It is a most unfortunate and tragic loss," said Whitman. "It demonstrates the lengths that the enemies of Iraq will go to to divide Iraq and to deny all Iraqis a better, brighter, more prosperous and peaceful future."
Al-Qaida once controlled large areas of Anbar, but the terrorist network angered local tribal leaders with its indiscriminate killing of civilians and harsh interpretation of Islam.
Abu Risha was part of a group of young sheikhs whose power grew after their elders fled Anbar following the assassination of senior sheikhs by al-Qaida insurgents.
He was instrumental in getting young men to join local police forces, a development that has sharply reduced violence and forced many al-Qaida fighters to flee to other parts of Iraq.
A charismatic figure, Abu Risha lived within the walls of a massive compound that houses several villas, his extended family, camels and palm trees. The compound is guarded by a tank and sits across the street from the largest American military base in Ramadi.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman says his death is a reminder of the continuing resolve needed in Iraq.
"It serves to remind us that the struggle will require continued perseverance of the Iraqi people and the leadership and wisdom of men with the character and vision of the likes of Sheikh Abdul Sattar," said Whitman.
The U.S. military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, highlighted what he called dramatic security gains in Anbar during testimony to the U.S. Congress this week.
Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, says Abu Risha's death will raise questions about U.S. efforts in Anbar.
"Well I think it is really important because the Bush administration has been trying to make an argument that what they are doing is fostering bottom-up reconciliation and the center of that is in al-Anbar," said Katulis.
"Here is a major figure who was killed in an attack, we don't know who has done it, but it raises some serious questions of whether there is truly reconciliation and really sustainable security and stability being created by these efforts on the part of the Bush administration," he added.
General Petraeus called the killing of Abu Risha a terrible loss for Anbar province and all of Iraq.
He says the attack shows al-Qaida in Iraq remains a very dangerous and barbaric enemy.
Sunni group says assassination will strengthen resolve
Yesterday Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha was killed by a roadside bomb near his home in Ramadi.
He led a Sunni alliance that was instrumental in driving Al Qaeda out of what was once an insurgent stronghold.
Al Qaeda said it was responsible for the killing of Sheik Risha, Al Jazeera television reported.
Tribal leaders from the Anbar Salvation Council say the killing has given them the energy they need to go after the remaining Al Qaeda insurgents.
Mr Bagel: One wonders why there wasn't more security around this important ally of the new Iraqi Government.
It would seem that despite the US military portraying Al Qaida as on the run and disorganised, they still have a command capable of making important decisive tactical strikes against the alliance between the Iraqi government and the US.
It isn't just a co incidence that at a time General Petraeus has been reporting the Anbar province as a good example of Iraq US co-operation the very Sheikh central to this cooperation is murdered.
Al-Qaida is a ruthless enemy that will stop at nothing to ensure that there is a division between the Sunni and Shia segments of Iraqi society.
The targeting of Sheik Abdul Sattar Abu Risha is not only designed to intimidate all Iraqis who decide to co operate with the US forces in Iraq, the strike was designed to embarras General Petraeus in front of congress and President George Bush.
Al-Qaida despite its indiscriminate penchant for killing civilians knows that tactically it needs to create political division with the US about the war in Iraq. This it has achieved.
As Sun Tzu pronounced in the Art of War, divide and conqueror. It would seem Al-Qaida can read.
ABC News: Sunni Bush ally dead in bomb blast
ABC News: Sunni group says assassination will strengthen resolve