Sat, Sep 15, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Sunnis vow to avenge leader's killing

KISS OF DEATH US President George W. Bush, who on a visit last week shook the hand of the assassinated man, had praised his efforts in the fight against al-Qaeda

AFP , BAGHDAD AND RAMADI, IRAQ

Sunni Arabs in Iraq's Anbar Province vowed yesterday to avenge the death of their leader, Abdul Sattar Abu Reesha, as Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki blamed al-Qaeda for the murder of the key US ally.

Thousands of angry and grieving mourners joined the funeral procession of the slain sheikh in Ramadi, capital of the western desert province, carrying his body 10km from his home to the local cemetery.

"Revenge, revenge on al-Qaeda," shouted the crowd of mourners. "There is no God but Allah and al-Qaeda is the enemy of Allah. Abdul Sattar is the pride of Ramadi."

Abu Reesha and three bodyguards were killed on Thursday when a powerful roadside bomb ripped through their convoy near the tribal leader's home outside the city.

The assassination came on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and almost a year after Abu Reesha formed the Anbar Awakening Conference, a coalition of 42 Sunni tribes who joined forces with US troops fighting al-Qaeda in the province.

"We blame al-Qaeda and we are going to continue our fight and avenge his death," said Sheikh Ahmed Abu Reesha, who was elected new leader of the Anbar Awakening Conference soon after his brother's murder.

The Shiite prime minister was represented at the funeral by National Security Advisor Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, who condemned Abu Reesha's assassination.

"It is a national Iraqi disaster. What Abu Reesha did for Iraq, no single man has done in the country's history," Rubaie told the mourners gathered at the sheikh's house.

"We will support Anbar much more than before," he said. "Abu Reesha is a national hero."

In a statement issued by his office in Baghdad, al-Maliki said the attack bore "the fingerprints of al-Qaeda" and was "aimed at destabilizing the province of Anbar."

"We have set up an investigative committee to probe the circumstances of this incident and we are sure that perpetrators of this crime will be arrested and sent to justice," he said.

The killing of Abu Reesha is seen as a setback to US efforts to contain the violence raging through Iraq and to crush the Iraqi wing of Osama bin Laden's group, alleged to be key perpetrator of the bloodshed in the country.

The slow restoration of order in Anbar had been touted by the US military as one sign that its troop surge strategy was working.

US President George W. Bush, who on a visit to Anbar last week had shaken Abu Reesha's hand and praised his efforts against al-Qaeda, cited security improvements when he held out the prospect of a limited US troop withdrawal by next July in a televised address he made late on Thursday.

Meanwhile, a suicide bomber blew up his truck at a police checkpoint in the northern Iraqi town of Baiji yesterday, killing seven policemen, police said.

A police officer said the bomber detonated the explosives-laden truck when police stopped him and began to search the vehicle.

Baiji, an oil refining town, and its surroundings have often seen bomb attacks and kidnappings of workers and truck drivers.

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