Assassination of Sheikh Shakes US Claims

Resistance to occupation seems to have risen after the assassination last month of Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, head of the al-Bu Risha tribe. Abu Risha had begun to cooperate actively with U.S. forces.

Abu Risha was killed Sep. 13 when a bomb exploded outside his house in the restive al-Anbar province to the west of Baghdad. His tribe is a branch of the powerful al-Dulaim tribe in al-Anbar.

The Bush administration used Abu Risha to send messages to many parties and groups in Iraq. The week before Abu Risha was killed, U.S. President George W. Bush met with him in Iraq, and claimed that al-Anbar province now suggested “what the future of Iraq can look like.”

“Bush kept his mouth shut when his little collaborator was killed despite all the protection he had,” a young man from Ramadi, capital of al-Anbar province, told IPS. “This was and will be the end of all those who take the path of collaborating with the occupation.”

Abu Risha, who had been arrested by Saddam Hussein, became the centrepiece of Bush administration efforts to show that its troops surge in Iraq had been a success.

Many Iraqis, even one of Abu Risha’s distant cousins, think differently.

“Sattar was a common thief, and we all knew him to be chief of a highway robbers gang,” Salim Abu Risha told IPS in Baghdad. “He and his gang brought shame to our tribe and the whole province, but the Americans tried to make a hero of him.”

It is no secret in Anbar province that Abu Risha’s activities were not legal either before or after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. When the U.S. government began to support the ‘Awakening of Anbar’ led by Sattar Abu Risha, which operated under the flag of fighting al-Qaeda, some people did begin to think differently.

“Americans always choose the worst of their collaborators to be leaders of their campaigns,” Sheikh Ahmed Ali of the Muslim Scholars Association told IPS in Baghdad. “Look at the governments and councils they chose to lead Iraq. This Sattar Abu Risha only provoked a division among the people of Anbar, and that was exactly what the Americans wanted.”

But many saw in Abu Risha an answer to their endless suffering. “We know what Sattar was, but what could we do but support him,” Ali Farhan, who worked as a captain in Abu Risha’s U.S.-backed militia told IPS.

“Those sectarian officials in Baghdad have destroyed our cities and deprived us of life for over four years, and someone had to do something about it,” said Farhan, who operated in an Iraqi police uniform added. “It is only cooperation with Americans that could solve the problem.”

Other Iraqis say the U.S. strategy of arming and backing certain Sunni militias has been a huge mistake.

“Americans applied a strategy that has affected some weak brains and hearts,” former Iraqi Army colonel Jabbar Saed from Fallujah told IPS. “They starved people, arrested those who opposed their occupation, killed a million Iraqis, supported sectarian militias and death squads, destroyed infrastructure to increase the rate of unemployment, and divided Iraqis into sects and now into tribes, just to make us feel that life would not be possible unless we work for them.”

Just Foreign Policy, a U.S.-based independent group, says more than one million Iraqis have died as a result of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation. The group is “dedicated to reforming U.S. foreign policy to serve the interests and reflect the values of the broad majority of Americans, rather than those of special interests both inside and outside of government.”

An Iraqi policeman who referred to himself as Colonel Saed spoke with IPS about U.S. policy in the siege of Fallujah during 2004 which left thousands dead, and destroyed much of the city. The crimes committed were not mistakes as U.S. officials claim, but a well organised and conducted strategy, he said.

“The only factor they did not calculate well was that Iraqis prefer starving to death to living under the dirty flag of occupiers,” Saed said.

Ali al-Fadhily is an IPS correspondent in Baghdad who works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, a U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who travels extensively in the region. Read other articles by Ali, or visit Ali's website.