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Originally published September 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 14, 2007 at 2:08 AM

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Iraq tribal leader allied with U.S. killed

Thursday's assassination of a Sunni Muslim tribal leader who was one of the United States' highest-profile allies in Iraq could undermine...

Iraq developments

Video may be of pilot: An insurgent group released a video Thursday showing what it called the body of Air Force pilot Maj. Troy L. Gilbert, who died when his F-16CG crashed Nov. 27, 2006. It included a photograph of his identification card and footage of his aircraft's wreckage site. The Intel Center monitoring group obtained the footage.

Civilian deaths: A new survey by ORB, a British polling agency that has conducted several surveys in Iraq, suggested the civilian death toll from the war could be more than 1 million. ORB said it drew its conclusion from a survey of 1,461 adults responding to the question: "How many members of your household, if any, have died as a result of the conflict in Iraq since 2003?" ORB said its poll had a margin of error of 2.4 percent.

Iran connection: The U.S. military said Thursday that Iran provided the rocket that hit Camp Victory, the post that houses the U.S. Army headquarters near Baghdad's airport, injuring 11 soldiers and killing one other person Tuesday.

Graft arrest: U.S. troops have taken into custody an Iraqi army battalion commander — whose name and rank were not released — suspected of ordering militia attacks on U.S. forces, the military said Thursday.

Iraqis freed for Ramadan: The U.S. military began releasing Iraqi detainees Thursday to mark the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, Iraqi and U.S. officials said.

Seattle Times news services

BAGHDAD — Thursday's assassination of a Sunni Muslim tribal leader who was one of the United States' highest-profile allies in Iraq could undermine U.S. attempts to recruit former foes to stabilize the country.

Sheik Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, who as head of the Anbar Salvation Council met with President Bush in Iraq less than two weeks ago, had just left a ceremonial building where sheiks greet guests and was returning home when a bomb ripped through his armored vehicle, killing him, his nephew and two bodyguards.

Interior Ministry spokesman Abdel Karim Khalaf said it was unclear who was responsible for the blast. Suspicion immediately fell on al-Qaida in Iraq, but the organization hadn't claimed credit for the killing by Thursday night. Others suggested Abu Risha could have fallen victim to rival Sunnis worried about political competition.

The timing of the explosion, hours before Bush was to give a nationally televised address on Iraq policy, was a reminder of the tenuous nature of U.S. claims of success in Anbar province, where tribal rebellions against al-Qaida in Iraq have become the Bush administration's No. 1 example of military progress here.

"A year ago the province was assessed 'lost' politically," Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told a congressional hearing Monday. "Today, it is a model of what happens when local leaders and citizens decide to oppose al-Qaida and reject its Taliban-like ideology."

The vast western desert of Anbar province stretches from Baghdad to the Jordanian border and has been a stronghold of the Sunni insurgency and al-Qaida in Iraq. The predominantly Sunni population makes it unique in Iraq, a factor some believe makes its tribal alliance difficult to replicate elsewhere.

Abu Risha, along with dozens of other tribal leaders, agreed to renounce al-Qaida in Iraq a year ago. Their group gained widespread attention in the United States earlier this year after American troops began to support it and absorb its members into the Iraqi government's security forces late last year.

The arrangements with the tribes led to a significant drop in attacks on U.S. forces in Anbar and became a model for similar deals in Diyala province, north of Baghdad, and some Baghdad neighborhoods.

After Abu Risha's meeting with Bush, the government quickly allocated an additional $70 million to Anbar's budget. Some areas of the province receive as much as 20 hours of electricity daily compared with only two in most of Baghdad.

Among other things, Abu Risha was credited with cleaning up Anbar's capital, Ramadi, once a bastion for the Sunni Islamic extremist movement, a place so dangerous last summer that the chances of gunfire or a bomb on any two-hour patrol were about 90 percent, Marines said. Attacks there are rare now.

The head of Anbar's governing council said Abu Risha's death, which came on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and one day shy of the anniversary of the council, wouldn't derail the movement.

"There will be another Abu Risha and another Abu Risha." Abdul Salam Abdullah said.

Iraqi officials imposed a state of emergency in Anbar after the assassination, and tribal leaders met and appointed Abu Risha's elder brother, Ahmed, to take the helm of the Anbar Salvation Council. The family belongs to a small clan of the Dulaimi tribe, Anbar's largest.

Abu Risha's high profile made his death unsurprising, said Lt. Col. Richard Welch, a U.S. expert on Iraq's tribes. "You can't have that kind of high visibility here and not expect something like this."

In June, a suicide bomber killed four Anbar Salvation Council sheiks and eight other people at a Baghdad hotel.

Thursday's assassination appeared certain to raise questions about U.S. ability to persuade tribal leaders in the rest of the country to follow Abu Risha's example.

"It's a kick in the back side to the American effort, no doubt about it," said retired Army Gen. William Nash, now at the Council on Foreign Relations.

While the assassination could harden the resolve of some Iraqis to expel insurgents, Nash said, others might decide it is too dangerous to cooperate with U.S. and Iraqi forces.

In interviews, Abu Risha often had said he'd decided to take up arms against religious extremists after they killed his father and three of his brothers.

He had high political aspirations in recent months, sending envoys to meet with tribal sheiks in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood and saying he was ready to assume a role in the central government. He had said days ago that he and other tribal leaders planned to run in the next elections as a political bloc.

For all his positive publicity, Abu Risha was a subtribal sheik who made his living smuggling and was a known bandit. But he delivered thousands of men when the United States asked for fighters against Sunni extremists, Brig. Gen John Allen, the deputy commander of U.S. forces in Anbar, told McClatchy Newspapers in June.

"Go find a tribal leader that isn't a smuggler," Allen said.

Compiled from McClatchy Newspapers, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and

The Associated Press.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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