The moment Iraq lost its courageous leader of the Anbar Awakening, Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, accusations were immediately cast against the organization of backwardness and terror, known as Al Qaeda.
But is Al Qaeda alone the sole beneficiary of the death of Sheikh Abu Risha?
I think it is wrong to point the finger at Al Qaeda alone for several reasons. Sheikh Abu Risha, may his soul rest in peace, was not characterized only for his fighting against Al Qaeda and expelling its elements from Anbar, rather, he also became a major symbol in Iraq…a symbol of solution!
Abu Risha was the Sheikh of a Shia-Sunni tribe; he fought Al Qaeda and presented an example of a safe province in Iraq. His name, as well as the name of his province, was frequently mentioned by General Petraeus and US Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, in the latest hearings of the American Congress.
The Sheikh had presented himself, his tribe and his city as proof of success that could be achieved throughout Iraq if political reconciliation was to be achieved and if all parties were to receive their share in the future Iraq.
Abu Risha did not demand to be head of a ministry, nor did he represent one sect over another. In fact he limited his demands to expelling the oppressors and followers of the Takfir ideology and demanded that security prevail, not only in Anbar, but the rest of Iraq as well
At the beginning, Americans described Sheikh Abdul Sattar as a political Bedouin and they questioned his intentions. Authority-obsessed figures in Baghdad believed that he wanted to establish a personal militia since he had lost eight members of family at the hands of Al Qaeda.
The best way to describe Abu Risha is as the man who provided a solution, in his region, to one of [biggest] problems of Iraq, namely, fighting Al Qaeda and rising above sectarian differences.
Therefore, it is difficult to believe that his only opponent would have been the Al Qaeda organization. Enemies of Abu Risha are opponents of the Anbar example itself. There are many more, other than followers of Al Qaeda, who would have benefited from the return of chaos to Anbar, not only in the country but also abroad, and those who are abroad are more dangerous and more able to get to Sheikh Abu Risha.
Sheikh Risha, who was surrounded by a tight circle of security, was assassinated in a treacherous way and this shows that a meticulous plot was weaved against him.
Al Qaeda may claim responsibility for the assassination of Abu Risha as it has often claimed responsibility for many incidents so as to declare victory; yet this should not distract us from the fact that the assassination of Abu Risha is the assassination of not only an individual, but also of a model.
Some attributed Abu Risha’s death to the meeting that he held recently with US President Bush. This link is real not because he provoked Al Qaeda only but the meeting may have provoked several parties that saw it as a change in American policies in Iraq.
There were two major outcomes of the meeting; the first was the endorsement of Abu Risha’s leadership in Anbar and the second was that Abu Risha had become a leader of more than just his tribe as a supporter of Arabism and a unified Iraq; thus he became an international figure.
After the meeting, Bush said that Anbar, “was once written off as lost. It is now one of the safest places in Iraq.” The assassination of the Sheikh took place because of that success, which had provoked enemies that are bigger than Al Qaeda.
What I want to say is that Al Qaeda is not the sole beneficiary of the assassination of Sheikh Abu Risha. He was assassinated because he was seen as an obstacle both inside and outside of Iraq.