by Rob Kall
The local Sunni Iraqi leader, sheikh Sattar Abu Reesha, who has been credited as leading the fight gainst Al Qaeda and leading the recruitment of other tribal chieftans and leaders in working with the USA against Al Qaeda was killed, along with a bodyguard, in a bomb blast today.The Sheikh, credited by General Petraeus as the key leader pulling together other Iraqi tribal chiefs and leaders in ANbar and beyond, shook hands with President Bush just ten days ago. But OpEdNews has interviewed one of the few people to actually meet with the sheikh, and the story we are hearing about him, his relationship with the USA, and with the tribal leaders is very different than is widely being reported.This article will first provide an OpEdNEws interview with filmaker Rick Rowley*, who met with and Interviewed and researched Sheikh Reishi in July 2007 and provide background information on Sheikh Reeshi.
Rick Rowley is a filmmaker and journalist with Big Noise Films, who embedded for a week with the first armoured cavalry, in Taji, and then embedded with numerous Iraqi military groups for six weeks, who met with Sheikh Reesha and filmed in July, 2007. Rowley told me about the sheikh,
“He’s a figurehead. He was a story created by the americans “”a face to put on the American strategy in Anbar. He claimed in his interview that he was head of all the tribes in Iraq, which was absolutely ridiculous. Some said he was a highway man and con artist who sold himself to the Americans. Others said he was real.
“He was the face that was put on Petraeus’s story. Petraeus story that the iraqi tribes had turned on Al Qaeda and forced them out.”-
I asked Rowley, “What was your take when you spoke to Sheikh Reeshi?”-
He claimed to be the leader of all the tribes of Ramadi (Capitol of Anbar) and all the Arab tribes of Iraq””both Shia and Sunni, but he couldn’t even be in Ramadi. We had to meet with him in Amman. He wasn’t even in Ramadi much of the time. All the sheikhs and people on the ground there protested his claims and downplayed Abu Reesha’s significance.
We interviewed a shiekh from dulaimi tribe, which is the largest, most important tribe in Anbar, who said that Abu Reeshi was a fake, a con man who went to the Americans to get contruction contracts and funds for fighters. He said that Abu Reeshi was given $75 million. Apparently, the US Military can’t just give money to these leaders, so they call it construction funds.
But that’s only a part of the story. Petraeus failed to report that many of these tribesmen have been insurgent killers who have forced the all the Shia out of Anbar, which is why it’s safe. Rowley told OpEdNews,
The tribes we met who were working with the Americans were the insurgents and they made a decision to ally themselves temporarily with the americans in preparation for a bigger sectarian civil war with the Shia””that it was better to work with the americans and get resources from them in preparation for the fight with the Shia.
Petraeus didn’t reveal that Americans are actually arming groups who are directly preparing themselves for armed sectarian civil war. There are entire Shia component of villages who have been kicked out of Anbar by the same Sunnis who the USA has armed.”-
Rowley responded to question on his read on Petraeus report to congress,
Deliberately misleading and outright lies. When he said in his testimony that they are not arming them, they are applauding them from the sidelines, that’s an absolute lie. They’re not handing them arms, but they are providing them money to buy the arms and then pressuring the Iraqi government to incorporate them in their police.
Trying to put this into context, remembering the way the Bush administration has repeatedly built up stories, lies that later proved to be untrue, starting with Herbert Walker Bush’s proven false claims about Saddam, in 1993, brutalizing babies in a hospital, I asked Rowley, So this is another example like when the Bush administration made up the story, in 2002 and early 2003 about travelling weapons labs or the made up Jessica-Lynch-the-hero story? He replied,
Yes. Sheikh Ali Hathem told us, “This is nothing new for us. The americans like to create characters like disney cartoon heroes.”-
“What’s the bottom line to this killing,”- I asked.
Rowley answered, “It puts the lie to the statement that there’s security in the region.”-
“Bottom line,” finishing my interview with Rowley, I said, “This is a charade, a chimera, this success which Petraeus portrays is actually something that will fall apart when the money stops coming in and could actually explode into far worse conflict, when the troops leave.”-
An AFP article reported,
Sheikh Reesha was a prominent figure in the so-called Anbar Awakening Conference of Sunni tribes which formed an alliance with American troops in western Anbar province to claw back their neighbourhoods from Al-Qaeda.
A week ago, he attended a meeting of Iraqi government and US officials in Ramadi at which he urged other provinces to follow Anbar’s lead in cooperating with the central government.
The meeting, known as the Anbar Forum, was aimed at giving an economic boost to the western province, where Sunni Arab former insurgents have joined with US forces to fight Al-Qaeda.
“I wish we could do in all the provinces of Iraq what we did in Anbar, which is that the people and the government come together,” he said just three days after Bush made a surprise stopover at an airbase just 48 kilometres (30 miles) west of Ramadi.Bush had said during his lightning visit that a reduction in US combat troops in Iraq was possible because of progress on the security front in Anbar.He had shaken hands with the sheikh and praised the Anbar Awakening movement, a coalition of some 25 tribes which came together in September last year and pledged to fight Al-Qaeda militants by forming their own paramilitary units and sending recruits to the local police force.
Apparently, Sheikh Reesha was killed within the supposedly safe confines of his turf. AFP reports that he’d gotten out of his car to assist a handicapped person, then shortly after he returned to the car, the car bomb exploded.
Democracy Now, in a broadcast just a few days ago, including an interview with Rick Rowley, combined with footage shot in Iraq, described the role of Sheikh Reesha and the way Petraeus has “bought” the support and cooperation of local leaders.
RICK ROWLEY: … The papers are full of stories about a sheikh from Anbar who’s changed the course of the war in favor of the Americans. Abu Risha’s lieutenants have agreed to bring to us their stronghold in Ramadi, but we’ve been unable to speak with Abu Risha directly, and our contacts in Amman have discouraging opinions about his movement.
Moyad Abu Subiah has written about the resistance in Anbar since the war began.
MOYAD ABU SUBIAH: [translated] I’ve never heard of anyone named Sattar Abu Risha. Maybe there is a Sattar Abu Risha. Maybe there are many Sattar Abu Rishas.
RICK ROWLEY: Moyad said that Abu Risha was a ghost, a name that the Americans had attached to a public relations campaign. But that evening we finally spoke to the ghost. Abu Risha was not in Ramadi after all. He was right here in Amman behind elaborate security in the top floor of the Marriott Hotel.
SHEIKH SATTAR ABU RISHA: [translated] If you want to introduce me, I am head of the Iraq Awakening Council, leader of all the Iraqi Arab Tribes. I am real. I am not a ghost. And to the terrorists, I say that I will be in Anbar in five days, and if they want to see me, I am ready for them.
RICK ROWLEY: Abu Risha claims that he has secured most of Anbar province, a truly amazing victory. Anbar is the stronghold of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq. More US soldiers have died there than in any other province. Much of Anbar has been under the direct control of insurgents since 2004. And in Anbar’s most famous town, Fallujah, two all-out invasions, dozens of air strikes, tens of thousands of arrests and three years of curfews and continuous American raids have not ended resistance.
But the Americans claim that their alliance with Abu Risha now has turned the tide in Anbar. Attacks have dropped, roads have reopened, and al-Qaeda is retreating. Abu Risha has become a symbol of American success, and his alliance has become their template for fighting the insurgency everywhere in the country. They call this new strategy “reconciliation.”-
The question is, will this assassination help or hurt the USA? Will Iraqi leaders become more determined to fight Al Qaeda, or will they respond with fear or capitulation to the Al Qaeda efforts and message?
One thing is likely. It will cost the USA more to “buy” the support of the local leaders. Democracy Now’s report described how Petraeus had achieved success so far, using lots of cash;
RICK ROWLEY: While we were embedded with the Americans, we saw American military commanders hand wads of cash to tribal militias. And when he says that they are facilitating their integration into the country’s security forces, what he means is they’re pressuring Iraq’s government to incorporate these militias wholesale into the police forces. In fact, that’s one of the promises that these tribes are given, that after working with the Americans for a few months, they’ll become Iraqi police, be armed by the Iraqi state and be put on regular payroll. So it’s completely disingenuous, what he’s saying.
Will the success of Petraeus surge strategy, apparently highly dependent upon this one man, fall apart with his death? Will the progress that was built continue? We must hope for the best. But the report and observations by Rick Rowley suggest that the strategy was a fragile one, built on cash payoffs, to start with. That does not bode well.
We reported yesterday that not all of Petraeus bosses like and respect him with the adulation the members of congress portrayed during his hearings. According to an IPS report,
“Petraeus’s superior, Admiral William Fallon, chief of the Central Command (CENTCOM), derided Petraeus as a sycophant during their first meeting in Baghdad last March, according to Pentagon sources familiar with reports of the meeting.
Fallon told Petraeus that he considered him to be “an ass-kissing little chickenshit” and added, “I hate people like that”, the sources say. That remark reportedly came after Petraeus began the meeting by making remarks that Fallon interpreted as trying to ingratiate himself with a superior.”
Like so many of the fictions the Bush administration has perpetrated, events have unfolded that revealed the underlying truths and the lies used to hide them. Who would have thought the Petraeus fronted fiction would unfold so fast?It makes you think twice about the need for an apology to moveon.org for calling the General Betray Us that both dems and republicans called for.* Rick Rowley, David Enders and Hiba Dawood, with support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, filmed an expose on Abu Risha and the American strategy in Anbar that recently aired on Al Jazeera English. You can watch their report online at www.bignoisefilms.org