Why was the story of Abdul Sattar Abu Risha so great until his death? Is it because he succeeded in expelling the Al Qaeda network, which dominated the Anbar province in Iraq that became its first kingdom after the fall of Afghanistan? Or is it because he had altered the map of Sunni leaders, who have spent the past four years as opponents only to the new situation? Or is it because he was the only successful Sunni leader? Or is it because the Americans considered him their ally, an independent even of the government? Or is it because of his charismatic character and his ability to influence the surrounding society, thus he became a leader beyond the borders of Anbar?
The affirmative responses to all the aforementioned questions made Abu Risha a legend. I remember a story published in the New York Times earlier this year, in which it announced the fall of Anbar at the hands of Al Qaeda and attributed desperate words to the US intelligence officer who was in charge of the province, who said “We have completely lost Anbar.” Shortly after, Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, leader of the Abu Risha clan – an offshoot of the Dulaimi tribe – announced that he would pursue Al Qaeda in every part of Anbar. Meanwhile, no one paid attention to his words as it was believed that this modest Bedouin force would not succeed in achieving what the US forces failed to achieve. But the surprise was Abu Risha’s landslide victory. As a result, the US forces established their first coalition with a Sunni leader, after having classified them as opponents.
Al Qaeda, which is widespread in Iraq, fears the spread of Abu Risha’s influence on the rest of their Sunni areas. Consequently, it launched an open war on both the military and the propaganda levels and tried to defame Abu Risha as being an agent for the US in order to turn his clan and the remaining Iraqi groups against him. However, Al Qaeda failed for two reasons: firstly, because Sheikh Abdul Sattar was fighting Al Qaeda because four of his brothers were killed at the hands of the terrorist network for reasons unrelated to politics or treachery. Secondly, he showed extraordinary ability in winning all battles against Al Qaeda due to his knowledge of the land and people as well as absolute loyalty shown by his own clan members. Anbar has been liberated of this evil movement, which is still inflicting damage on other parts of Iraq.
Abu Risha became a legend that prompted the US President George W. Bush himself to pay him a visit in his province even though the president does not usually leave Baghdad. Undoubtedly, Abu Risha’s resounding victory in difficult circumstances in Anbar, the defeat of the US forces and the failure of the Iraqi government forces have attracted many enemies. The Maliki government did not thank Abu Risha, rather it objected to arming his forces, indicating that he would be a danger to the regime, without presenting an alternative. In addition, armed Sunni opposition leaders attacked him because he “distorted their reputation.”
Naturally, Al Qaeda had conspired to assassinate Abu Risha in order to put an end to the increasing influence of the hostile Sunni clans. It is also natural that there are official anti-Abu Risha pockets in the new state – in which there are many conflicts over governance – which is supporting the armament of Shia militia at the expense of Sunni clans. Iraq is promised more victims. In fact, the challenge is not to preserve the lives of leaders, but to preserve Abu Risha’s project to purify every province, such as Anbar, from terrorism, chaos and civil war. Can his successor take on such dangerous responsibility knowing that there are conspirators in every dark corner of the province?