Many other tribal leaders saw the sheik as a collaborator with the US. The sheik used the Americans to get as close to power as possible in Baghdad and the Americans used [ sheikh’s] Anbar Council to work as their proxies trying to eliminate al-Qaeda in Iraq.
VOICE OF ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER/PRODUCER: Pepe Escobar talks with senior editor Paul Jay about the recent murder of Sheik Abu Risha and the ramifications for Anbar Province. Pepe is a correspondent for the Real News and a columnist for Asia Times Online.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: On September 13, President Bush addressed the nation and spoke to the world in a speech titled “On the Way Forward in Iraq.” On that very day, Sheik Abu Risha was killed in Anbar Province, the very place that President Bush said a great success had been achieved in Iraq. First let me play you a piece of President Bush’s address.
GEORGE W. BUSH, US PRESIDENT: Anbar province is a good example of how our strategy is working. Last year, an intelligence report concluded that Anbar had been lost to al-Qaeda. Some cited this report as evidence that we had failed in Iraq and should cut our losses and pull out. Instead, we kept the pressure on the terrorists. The local people were suffering under the Taliban-like rule of al-Qaeda, and they were sick of it, so they asked us for help. In Anbar the enemy remains active and deadly. Earlier today one of the brave tribal sheiks who helped lead a revolt against al-Qaeda was murdered. In response, a fellow Sunni leader declared: We are determined to strike back and continue our work. And as they do, they can count on the continued support of the United States.
Pepe, who is Sheik Abu Risha? And why was he so important to the American plans?
PEPE ESCOBAR: Sheik Abu Risha is one of the most important sheiks in Anbar Province. He belongs to the Al Dulaimi tribe, which is one of the top tribes in Anbar. He had a congregation of something like 42 tribes and sub-tribes united in something that started as the Anbar Sovereignty Council, and nowadays it’s called Anbar Awakening. This was not General Petraeus’ idea. Far from it. In fact, what the White House was spinning, that the sheiks were—the Americans were collaborating with the sheiks. No, the whole thing is the sheik started the council because part of his family was killed by fighters from al-Qaeda in Iraq. It was not a mistake. These killers were Talibanizing Anbar last year. And part of the sheik’s family was on the way. They were considered relatively moderate Sunnis. So they were killed in a firefight. So Sheik Abu Risha starts the Anbar Council basically to get rid of al-Qaeda, of course, because these sheiks, they are tribals, Iraqi tribals. They are not Salafi jihadis. They are not jihadis. They don’t want a caliphate. They are Iraqi nationalists and they were against the occupation. The problem is al-Qaeda in Iraq was trying to Talibanize Anbar. So this was a different agenda. So when al-Qaeda in Iraq established in Anbar province between 2005, 2006, they committed—let’s say they overplayed their hand, and their gruesome, extreme methods were taken by the Sunnis as an affront, actually. And a lot of innocent people were killed. Like, they were killing garbage collectors; they were killing innocent Sunni civilians. And the family of Sheik Abu Risha was caught in this crossfire. And that’s why Abu Risha, united with around 200 sheiks from these 42 tribes, started the Anbar Sovereignty Council. The Americans arrived later on. In fact, General Petraeus was very clever, because he saw the possibilities of using local proxies to fight al-Qaeda, because obviously the Americans would never be able to break inside the sea of fish of the resistance. And al-Qaeda was part of the guerilla, the Iraqi Sunni resistance against the occupation.
JAY: What will be the significance of the death or the assassination of the sheik? Will it in any way affect the way his tribe fights al-Qaeda? Will it change the situation in Anbar Province?
ESCOBAR: The sheik, he was posing as a collaborator of the Americans. This, of course, occasioned tremendous disgruntlement all over the Sunni Arab world, not only in Iraq, but in other parts, like in Syria, in Jordan, or even in Egypt. Because for most of the Middle East, what we’re dealing with is a Western occupation. Whatever you spin it in the White House, in the West, for internal US public consumption, the Middle East views this as a Western occupation by the US.
JAY: Why couldn’t the sheik have fought al-Qaeda without posing or posturing as doing so in alliance with the US?
ESCOBAR: Because the sheiks and some of the sheiks of some of the parts of the Dulaimi tribe were trying to use this as a platform to go back to government in Baghdad. They were trying to ingratiate themselves to the Americans, maybe as a shortcut to go back to the Green Zone. Don’t forget that Sheik Abu Risha had political aspirations. He wanted to be part of the government. And he wanted Sunni Arabs, tribals, to have participation in the government in Baghdad. Most people know—in the case of Anbar it’s at least 97%—they consider the government in the Green Zone as a Shiite government indebted to the Iranians. So for them this is not a representative government. So the sheik used the Americans to get as close to power as possible in Baghdad, and the Americans used the Anbar Council to work as their proxies eliminating al-Qaeda in Iraq. The thing is most of the groups; in fact all the groups that really matter in Anbar are the guerrilla insurgent groups, like the 1920 Revolutionary Brigade, like Jaish al-Sunna, like Hamas in Iraq. And these were against either the Americans, either Abu Risha or his sheiks, and of course al- Maliki’s government in the Green Zone. And it’s very important that these groups, this is what the Americans are really fighting in Iraq. But at the same time, the Sunni Arab, hardcore guerrilla groups could also be sending a message directly to the Americans saying, “Look, you’re fighting us here, we are the resistance, and anybody who collaborates with you will be killed on the spot.”
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.