Posted By Ahmed Abduallah
September 19, 2007
President George Bush wouldn’t be able to maintain his claim that Iraq’s security is improving, especially in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province, after last week’s brutal assassination of one of the key U.S. allies in the war-torn country, Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Reesha.
The 37-year-old leader, a former anti-U.S. fighter who turned into an ally when he decided to fight Al-Qaeda, was killed last Thursday in a roadside bomb attack near his home in Anbar’s provincial capital, Ramadi. Abu Reesha's assassination was strongly condemned by senior U.S. and Iraqi officials. His funeral was attended by more than 1,500 mourners among which were Iraq's national security adviser, interior minister and defence minister along with the second-in-command of U.S. forces in Iraq, Lt-Gen Raymond Odierno.
"It is a national Iraqi disaster. What Abu Reesha did for Iraq, no single man has done in the country's history,” said Iraq's national security adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie.
Abu Reesha's death isn’t just a huge loss for Sunni Arabs, but it also reconfirms that Anbar is still a dangerous province unlike what the American President claimed in his last visit to Iraq.
In the early years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, Anbar began witnessing the worst attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians, especially in Fallujah and Ramadi. According to AFP, the deadliest threat to U.S. occupation forces, "improvised explosive devices" or makeshift bombs, first appeared in the western province, causing more than 40 percent of American casualties between 2003 and 2006.
Blood of thousands of occupation troops and Iraqi soldiers was shed along with hundreds of Anbar citizens who were looking for nothing but security in their own country. November 2006 was the deadliest in the province when Fallujah witnessed the highest number of deaths after the U.S. army decided to take over the city. At least 137 U.S. troops and an unknown number of civilians were killed during that raid.
A leaked U.S. military report published by the Washington Post last November said Al-Qaeda had become the most powerful force in Anbar after the failure of U.S. and government forces to restore stability in the province.
The violence in Anbar also claimed the lives of Abu Reesha’s father and two brothers in September 2006. The young leader then decided to fight Al-Qaeda in cooperation with U.S. occupation forces, who provided his tribe with funding, training and protection, under the "Handshake Agreement".
Abu Reesha, who met with Bush during his last visit to Iraq last week, launched the Anbar Awakening Conference, a group of 42 Sunni tribes who turned against Al-Qaeda to stop deadly attacks against innocent civilians.
“I promise Iraq, let me finish with Anbar and I will next cleanse Baghdad," he was quoted as saying last year.
And over the space of 12 months, Abu Reesha and his tribesmen drove Al-Qaeda from many of the province's towns and villages.
Before Abu Reesha’s assassination, a huge celebration was held in Anbar to mark the anniversary of the province’s "awakening" on Tuesday, the 11th of September. On that day, Abu Reesha told Al Arabiya TV News: "We did not support the U.S. forces or anyone else. We fought on behalf of our people and defeated al-Qaeda. We came to save Iraq from deaths, terrorism, and ruin. We will continue to defend Iraq and we will continue to raise the flag of Allahu Akbar (God is the greatest), and we will enter Baghdad. We are not interested in the post of minister, prime minister, or president of the republic".
According to the BBC, Ahmed Abu Reesha has been named as the tribal group's new leader after the death of his brother. He said after his appointment that “all the tribes agreed to fight al-Qaeda until the last child in Anbar."
Last week, the U.S. hailed the tribesmen success when U.S. military officer Major Lee Peters told AFP that since the end of March there had been 110 days of "zero attacks" in Ramadi, compared to nearly 25 to 30 attacks a day between January and March.
And on September 3, President Bush shook hands with Abu Reesha and told U.S. troops that the success in Anbar could lead to a reduction in troop numbers in Iraq.
But the sheikh's assassination eliminates the U.S. causes for optimism.