A high-profile Sunni Arab sheik who collaborated with the American military in the fight against jihadist militants in western Iraq was killed in a bomb attack on Thursday near his desert compound. The attack appeared to be a precisely planned assassination meant to undermine one of the Bush administration’s trumpeted achievements in the war.
Two guards were also killed in the attack on the sheik, Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi, who just last week shook hands with President Bush during Bush’s surprise visit to Anbar, in which he extolled the cooperation with Sunni clans that has made the province, once Iraq’s most dangerous, relatively safe.
Iraqi and American officials were stunned by the assassination, which came just hours before Bush was to address the American people about his plans for Iraq. But they said it would not derail the collaboration of the alliance of Sunni clans, known as the Anbar Salvation Council.
Abdul Sattar, 35, who was also known as Abu Risha to Iraqi and American commanders, had become the public face of the Sunni Arab tribes in lawless Anbar province that turned against the Sunni jihadists of al-Qaida in Mesopotamia and began to fight on the side of the Shiite-led Iraqi government and the American military. The Salvation Council was formed one day short of a year ago.
Local papers often featured photographs of the robed sheik talking with the American commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, with other American generals and with the Shiite prime minister, Nouri Kamal al-Maliki. But he was not unequivocally supportive; he often complained about the government’s failure to give his men the arms and support they needed.
He had credibility with the tribal leaders because he and his family had suffered so much loss at the hands of the jihadi extremists. In an interview earlier this year, Abdul Sattar said that his father had been killed in an attack by al-Qaida of Mesopotamia in 2004 and two of his brothers were abducted and never heard from again; a third was shot dead. He had survived three car bombs outside the Anbar home he shared with his wife and five children.
On Thursday, the American military said a bomb destroyed the vehicle he was in, but it was unclear whether it was a roadside bomb or a suicide bomber.