The leader of local Sunni tribes in Iraq who have joined American and Iraqi forces in fighting extremist Sunni militants was killed by a bomb today, Iraqi police officials said, potentially undermining what has become a new thrust of United States policy in the country.
It could be a significant setback for American efforts to work more closely with local tribes against Al Qaeda. Recently the council had begun to reach out to other tribes to bring them into closer cooperation with the American and Iraqi government, and had met recently with southern Shia leaders.Authorities imposed a state of emergency in Anbar Province following his assassination, police officials said. At least one other person escorting him was also killed in the explosion.
So Bush's big debut for Magical September just got further clouded. First the oil compromise collapses on the eve of his presentation. And now the guy Bush was parading around last week as the symbol of great promise in Anbar just got blown to bits. But don't worry. I'm sure Bush won't ... um ... dwell on these depressing details.
Mark Lynch has more on the meaning of Risha's death, including the speculation that Risha was not killed by Al Qaeda.
Nothing could have been more predictable than the murder of Abu Risha, the man most closely identified with America's Anbar strategy. He was the public face of the turn against al-Qaeda, and Petraeus immediately said that "it shows Al Qaeda in Iraq remains a very dangerous and barbaric enemy." But there's no reason to assume that al-Qaeda killed him - I'd guess that one of the nationalist insurgency groups, the ones which current American rhetoric pretends don't exist - is a more likely suspect. Other tribes deeply resented him. The major nationalist insurgency groups had recently issued a series of statements denouncing people who would illegitimately seize the fruits of their victorious jihad - of whom he was the prime example. All those photographs which swamped the Arab media showing him shaking hands with President Bush made him even more a marked man than before.
His murder graphically demonstrates that the other groups threatened by the American Anbar strategy were never going to just sit back passively and allow it to succeed - an obvious strategic point which has always seemed to elude surge advocates. The Sunni strategy as presented by surge advocates has always rested not only on a whole series of dubious claims about Iraqi Sunni politics, but also relies on a whole series of best-case scenarios in which nothing could go wrong. In Iraq, something always goes wrong.
That "something always goes wrong" bit? I'm guessing that won't make it into Bush's speech tonight, either.