Iraq: US-backed gangster assassinated

Issue 

On September 12, Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, a US-backed former crime boss in Iraq's Anbar province, was killed by a roadside bomb that struck his convoy in the western province's capital of Ramadi. Sattar died 10 days after he was feted by US President George Bush at a giant US air base in Anbar.

BBC News described Sattar as the operator of a "construction and import-export business with offices in Jordan and Dubai", and as the leader of a group of Sunni Arab tribal sheikhs, known as the Anbar Awakening Front, who have collaborated since late 2006 with the US occupation forces against "al Qaeda terrorists" in Anbar.

The December 28 Time magazine reported that, until "this summer, little distinguished Sattar from dozens of other sheiks in and around Ramadi except his reputation as a ringleader of successful highway bandits. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, Sattar is said to have made a fortune by nabbing cars moving along the unguarded roads of Anbar province.

"As the insurgency began to take shape in Anbar province in 2003, Sattar extended help to al Qaeda in Iraq, then led by Abu Musab al Zarqawi. A former al Qaeda fighter who spoke to TIME on condition of anonymity says Sattar offered the group cars, safe houses and local guides for the foreign volunteers.

"But that partnership was short-lived. When insurgents began raiding the highways as a means of fundraising, Sattar and his gang began clashing with insurgents in a turf war. 'He has no loyalty to anybody or any ideology', the former al Qaeda fighter says of Sattar", adding: "He wants money and power, and will shake the hand of anybody who he thinks can get him money and power."

The June 1 Time reported that "Sheikh Sattar, whose tribe is notorious for highway banditry, is also building a personal militia, loyal not to the Iraqi government but only to him. Other tribes — even those who want no truck with terrorists — complain they are being forced to kowtow to him. Those who refuse risk being branded as friends of al Qaeda and tossed in jail, or worse. In Baghdad, government delight at the Anbar Front's impact on al Qaeda is tempered by concern that the [US] Marines have unwittingly turned Sheikh Sattar into a warlord who will turn the province into his personal fiefdom."

"Sattar is well known as a former criminal", a tribal leader in Anbar who asked to be referred to as Hatam told Inter Press Service that same month. "The Americans are now spoiling him like a favourite child."

Sattar was reportedly given US$75 million by the Pentagon, ostensibly for "construction" work.

The June 11 Washington Post reported that Ali Hatem Ali Suleiman, a leader of the Dulaim confederation, the largest tribal organisation in Anbar, called Sattar a "traitor" who "sells his beliefs, his religion and his people for money".
Suleiman said of Sattar and the tribal leaders allied with him: "Those people have thrown themselves into the arms of the US forces for their own benefit."

Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Welch, a US Army official in Baghdad specialising in Iraqi tribal and religious affairs, told the Post that Sattar "made his living running a band of thieves who kidnapped and stopped and robbed people on the road between Baghdad and Jordan. That's how he made his fortune". Welch said that other tribal leaders accused Sattar of having passed false information to US forces about them in order to eliminate business rivals.

Describing Sattar's death as a "crippling blow" to US strategy in Anbar, the September 13 Time magazine observed: "The sheik may have been an unsavory character but to paraphrase what Franklin Roosevelt once said of a Central American dictator, 'He may be an SOB, but he's our SOB'."

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