Thousands mourn slain sheik

Tribal leader had agreed to fight insurgents

al-Qaida group takes responsibility for killing

September 15, 2007|By Sam Enriquez and Julian E. Barnes | Sam Enriquez and Julian E. Barnes,Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Thousands of people paid respects yesterday to the sheik credited with forging ties between Sunni tribesmen and the U.S. military, and American leaders weighed the prospects of the brother who is expected to succeed him.

The U.S. military also reported that four U.S. soldiers were killed in Diyala province by an explosion near their vehicle. No names were released pending notification of their families, and no further details were available.

The insurgent group al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility yesterday in a Web site posting for the killing of Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, who had persuaded Sunni tribes that once backed the insurgents to cooperate with the United States and accept arms to fight the insurgents.

U.S.-led efforts in western Anbar province suffered a setback when he was killed Thursday by a bomb outside his home. President Bush has used Anbar as a measure of what he has called the success of the military buildup that began this year.

Ahmed Abu Risha is expected to take over leadership of his younger brother's tribal coalition, known as the Anbar Awakening Council. He lashed out at the insurgents for killing his brother, saying, "We are going to continue our fight and avenge his death."

At the Pentagon, Col. Sean B. MacFarland predicted that with Abu Risha dead, others will vie for increased influence over the Anbar Awakening Conference but will remain U.S. allies.

"There will be a different kind of leadership," he said, more diffuse but nevertheless united.

MacFarland, as commander of the 1st Armored Division's 1st Brigade, led U.S. forces in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, in 2006 and helped broker the deal between U.S. forces and Abu Risha in September.

The two Abu Risha brothers were a striking contrast, MacFarland said. Abdul-Sattar, who wore traditional clothing, was a charismatic risk-taker. Ahmed wears Western-style suits and is a businessman and deal-maker.

Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha's s critics said that he took too much credit for turning back the insurgents in Anbar and that his ambition alienated other tribal leaders. This summer, he traveled to Baghdad to meet with Shiite leaders.

Ahmed Abu Risha, who holds a degree in political science, "will have more of a consensus type of approach, where Sattar was more `my way or the highway,'" MacFarland said.

Abu Risha, who is being praised as a martyr, will have a lasting influence, McFarland said, and will be "more powerful in death than in life."

An estimated 1,000 people attended Abu Risha's funeral yesterday, paying respects to one of the few Sunni tribesmen who saw the value of reaching across sectarian lines.

Also yesterday, seven police officers were reported killed in the northern city of Baiji when a truck bomb blew up at a police checkpoint. In Falluja, west of Baghdad, one police officer was killed and two were wounded by a remote-controlled bomb planted near their car. And in Kirkuk, an Iraqi army officer was fatally shot in front of his house.

Sam Enriquez and Julian E. Barnes write for the Los Angeles Times.

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