By David Mays
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 13, 2007 - Today's assassination of an influential Sunni leader whose followers have been helping fight al Qaeda in Iraq will only bolster the war on insurgents, a chief spokesman of the Iraqi government said today. Ali Aldabbagh spoke with online journalists and "bloggers" via a conference call from Baghdad just hours after a roadside bomb exploded outside the farm of Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, killing the sheik and two of his aides.
Sattar was a "very brave man" who "took the lead to protect the al Anbar and all the worst areas at a time when everybody was afraid and scared of even talking against al Qaeda," Aldabbagh said.
Sattar led a group known as the Anbar Salvation Council. His followers sparked the so-called "Anbar awakening movement," during which Sunnis committed to join with coalition forces to seek peace and prosperity in the region.
The sheik was among a group of tribal leaders who met with President Bush on Labor Day at Al Asad Air Base in Anbar province. Sattar also participated in the Ramadi Reconstruction Conference along with leaders of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division and Multinational Force West this spring.
"The time for dictatorship is gone, and we are welcoming the new dawn of democracy and freedom here," the sheik said during the conference.
Sattar's Abu Resha tribe and other Sunni tribes increasingly have turned to coalition forces to help crush al Qaeda insurgents in the region.
Aldabbagh said he spoke with several tribal leaders associated with Sheik Sattar shortly after today's assassination. He said the killings "will not affect them, will not influence them" but will only motivate Sunnis in the region to fight even harder against al Qaeda insurgents.
"They have to continue in order to protect their region from any such terrorist groups," he said.
(David Mays works in New Media at American Forces Information Service.)