(by Eli Lake, NYSun.com) WASHINGTON – The pro-American Sunni sheiks who drove Al Qaeda from its Iraqi base in Anbar province are scrambling to settle who will succeed Sheik Abdul Sattar al-Rishawi after he was murdered yesterday by a bomb placed beneath his car.
The murder of the sheik, who headed the Anbar Awakening, the organization now sending hundreds of volunteers to join the Iraqi national police and army, stunned residents of Anbar as well as their allies in the American military. The 35-year-old sheik was handing out certificates for food and medicine to the poor at his country villa for the first day of Ramadan. After the Ramadan ritual, the sheik traveled to the provincial offices for Anbar when along the road a bomb under his car exploded.
After news spread of the murder, the head of provincial security, Colonel Tariq Yusuf, placed Anbar under martial law with 24-hour patrols by his security officers. The Shiite-led Interior Ministry sent a team to investigate the murder and announced it would build a shrine at the entrance to Anbar province, on the road that connects Ramadi to Baghdad.
Rishawi, also known as Abu Risha, defied Al Qaeda in Iraq last September and managed to build the organization that was touted this week in testimony on Capitol Hill by General David Petraeus and by President Bush in a surprise visit earlier this month to the province, which until then had been too dangerous for American senior leaders to visit.
In a televised address to the nation last night, Mr. Bush praised the numerous successes in Anbar, though he conceded that most of the benchmark goals for the Iraqi government and security forces have not yet been met.
The murder of Rishawi sent tremors throughout Washington. General Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, issued a statement calling the bombing a “terrible loss for Anbar and all of Iraq.” The general pinned the bombing on Al Qaeda in Iraq, which had targeted the sheik for months, but said he was confident that the work of the Anbar Awakening and its military wing, known as the Anbar Salvation Front, would continue.
A military officer monitoring the situation closely said the early forensic reports on yesterday’s attack suggest the work of Osama bin Laden’s organization because of the sophisticated nature of the bomb, which evaded electronic countermeasures and bomb-sniffing dogs. “The working theory is that a senior, highly trained Al Qaeda operative disguised himself as a beggar and managed to slip the bomb under the sheik’s car,” the officer, who requested anonymity, said.
A hunt in Anbar, led by Colonel Yusuf, has already commenced to track down the bomber. Meanwhile, jihadist Web sites affiliated with Al Qaeda have claimed credit for the assassination, though in the past such sites have claimed false credit for terrorist acts.
Mr. Bush also acknowledged the bombing in his speech last night announcing the drawdown of some five combat brigades by next summer. “In Anbar, the enemy remains active and deadly,” Mr. Bush said. “Earlier today, one of the brave tribal sheiks who helped lead the revolt against Al Qaeda was murdered. In response, a fellow Sunni leader declared: Ã¢â‚¬ËœWe are determined to strike back and continue our work.’ And as they do, they can count on the continued support of the United States.”
Last night, the Anbar Awakening’s leadership was searching for Ahmad Zezia al-Rishawi, a brother of the slain Abu Risha. If Mr. Rishawi was not with his brother when the car exploded and is alive, he would become the interim leader of the group. If he is dead, one possible successor could come from outside the Risha tribe, the group’s chief of national political operations, Sheik Hamid Farhan al-Hays, said. The sheik will oversee the funeral of Abu Risha.
Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.
Click here for a photo of Sheik Rishawi with President Bush.
1. What is the Anbar Awakening?
2. What happened to Sheik Abdul Sattar al-Rishawi, leader of the Anbar Awakening?
3. Why does General Petraeus, commander of the Multi-National Force in Iraq, believe al-Qaeda terrorists killed Sheik Rishawi?
4. What proof is there that al-Qaeda is responsible for Sheik Rishawi’s murder?
5. How did President Bush react to Sheik Rishawi’s murder?
6. How do you think Sheik Rishawi’s murder will affect the Sunni Muslims’ cooperation with the U.S. military and Iraqi police and army?
EXPLANATION OF SUNNI AND SHI’A MUSLIMS
-Just as there are many denominations of Christianity (such as Catholic or Protestant) and Judaism (such as orthodox or liberal) there are a number of denominations of Islam.
-The major denominations of Islam are Sunni and Shi’a.
-Sunni and Shi’a have significant theological differences from each other, but possess the same essential belief.
-Sunnis make up the majority of Muslims worldwide (80%- 85% of all Muslims are Sunni).
-However, Shi’as are in the majority in Iraq (approximately 60-65% of Iraq’s population are Shi’a).
-Sunni Muslims are the minority in Iraq (approximately 32-35% of the population are Sunni) Of the Sunnis in Iraq, only 12-15% percent are Arabs, while 18-20% percent are Kurds.
-Sunni Arabs enjoyed favor under Saddam’s rule, and until recently were working with or sympathetic toward al Qaeda.
For previous articles on Sheik Rishawi’s fight against al Qaeda, go to Army Times at armytimes.com/news/2007/03/ap_sunnisheiks_iraq_070325
and the NY Sun at nysun.com/pf.php?id=51693&v=3107779811
Go to whitehouse.gov for President Bush’s speech to the nation in its entirety.
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