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September 13, 2007
Death of Sheik Risha in Iraq Tests Gains in Anbar
One of the most influential and pro-American tribal leaders in Anbar province was assassinated today, killed by a roadside bomb:
Abu Risha was a leading member of the Anbar Salvation Council, a group formed a year ago Thursday that proved critical to a recent reduction in insurgent violence in the province. He worked closely with U.S. officials, a fact that made him a target of militants angry about his decision to cooperate with the United States and his ability to convince other tribal sheiks to follow. Brave words from Sheik Rashid and I hope they're true. But the reality is that the Council Risha headed up was fractious and argumentative. Risha's charismatic leadership overcame many doubts the tribal leaders had about working with the Americans to improve security. He will be greatly missed.
He and two bodyguards were killed near his home in Ramadi, a town that as recently as February was under the effective control of al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters. The explosion at roughly 3:20 p.m. local time destroyed the vehicle they were riding in.
An associate and fellow sheik, Jubeir Rashid, said members of the council expected attempts on Abu Risha's life, but vowed that "it will not deter us."
The assassination comes at a bad time and it is unclear just what effect this will have on the tribal council. But it is not likely to cause the collapse of efforts to bring security to Anbar nor will it deter the other sheiks from attempting to reconcile with the national government.
The Shia dominated Interior Ministry responded immediately:
Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Karim Khalaf said the attack on Abu Risha involved two explosions, the roadside bomb which killed him, and a nearby car bomb set to detonate immediately afterwards in case the first one missed its target. If Risha's death can bring the Sunnis in Anbar closer to the Shias in Baghdad, he will not have died in vain.
The Interior Ministry formed a National Police brigade, known as the Martyr Abdul Sattar Abu Risha Brigade, and dispatched it to Anbar province in case of an outbreak of further violence, Khalaf said. A delegation from the ministry also planned to travel to Anbar to begin an investigation.
"We will be building a great statue for Sheikh Sattar Abu Risha at the entrance of Anbar province, so it will be a witness to his great accomplishments for the people of Iraq," Khalaf said.