Murder of US ally thrusts Anbar back to Iraq frontline
by Jay Deshmukh

BAGHDAD (AFP) - The brutal slaying of a high-profile US ally in Iraq's western Anbar province has brought the vast desert region back to the forefront of the country's relentless bloodletting.

The killing of Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Reesha by a roadside bomb on Thursday undercuts the US military's claim that security and stability have largely been restored to the overwhelmingly Sunni province of two million people.

The sheikh, a former anti-US insurgent turned ally of the military in its battle against Al-Qaeda, was killed near his home outside the provincial capital Ramadi.

Abu Reesha had launched the Anbar Awakening Conference, a group of 42 Sunni tribes which turned against Al-Qaeda in Iraq complaining of their exactions against civilians.

But Abu Reesha's assassination shows Anbar is as dangerous as ever and still far away from normality.

Sunni Arabs in Anbar were the first to turn against US forces after the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime, mounting a raging insurgency that tore through the world's most sophisticated military.

In the early years after the 2003 invasion, the province became the theatre of a brutal war focused on the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, while a string of towns along the Euphrates valley became insurgent strongholds and later safe havens for Al-Qaeda.

The most lethal threat to US troops, "improvised explosive devices" or makeshift bombs, first made their appearance in Anbar, causing more than 40 percent of American casualties between 2003 and 2006.

The bombs range in complexity from a small mortar round detonated by a trip wire to sophisticated charges that can punch a hole through armour.

More than 30 percent of American deaths have occurred in the province, with Fallujah being the focus of the deadliest fighting of the war through most of 2003 and 2004.

Insurgents shocked and angered US forces when they killed four foreign contractors in Fallujah and hung their bodies from a bridge in 2004.

In November of that year, US troops launched a major assault on Fallujah in which they recaptured the city but not before losing 137 soldiers, making that month the deadliest for the military of any since the invasion.

Even as Fallujah was virtually razed to the ground, insurgents in Ramadi continued to fight until the military finally regained control after a major push late last year.

Foreign fighters loyal to Al-Qaeda also steadily infiltrated the province to join local Sunni fighters.

A leaked US military report published by the Washington Post last November said Al-Qaeda had become the most powerful force in Anbar after the failure of US and government forces to stem the insurgency.

The battle for Ramadi was bloody. Thousands of US marines, soldiers and Iraqi troops fought fierce street battles with the Qaeda-led insurgents which left hundreds of residents dead.

The violence in Ramadi also took the life of Abu Reesha's father Sheikh Sattar Bzia, who died in a car bomb blamed on the militants.

The death shocked Abu Reesha, who felt betrayed by the local affiliate of Osama bin Laden's jihadist group.

Angered by the killing, he rallied other tribal chiefs to form the Anbar Awakening Conference which vowed to drive Al-Qaeda out of Anbar.

In addition to funnelling recruits into Ramadi's still puny police force, the tribesmen -- many of whom once fought the Americans -- formed their own 1,500-strong paramilitary force.

The shift by the tribesmen in a province for so long synonymous with conflict was touted as the key to the dramatic change in the balance of power not only in Anbar, but throughout Iraq.

"I promise Iraq, let me finish with Anbar and I will next cleanse Baghdad," Abu Reesha said last year.

And over the space of 12 months, he and his tribesmen did indeed drive Al-Qaeda from many of the province's towns and villages.

Last week, US military officer Major Lee Peters told AFP that since the end of March there had been 110 days of "zero attacks" in Ramadi, compared to nearly 25 to 30 attacks a day between January and March.

On September 3, US President George W. Bush shook hands with Abu Reesha and told US troops that the success in Anbar could lead to a reduction in troop numbers in Iraq.

But with the sheikh's death, much of the US cause for optimism has been called into doubt.
Murder of US ally thrusts Anbar back to Iraq frontline - Yahoo! News

What, what, what? Anbar isn't as safe and cozy as the U.S. claimed? Well, I'm shocked!

Surely they haven't lied about anything else?! [/extreme fucking sarcasm]