Bush’s Fake Sheik Whacked:
The Surge and the Al Qaeda Bunny
A special investigative report from inside Iraq
by Greg Palast
Monday, September 17, 2007- Did you see George all choked up? In his surreal
TV talk on Thursday, he got all emotional over the killing by Al Qaeda of
Sheik Abu Risha, the leader of the new Sunni alliance with the US against
the insurgents in Anbar Province, Iraq.
Bush shook Abu Risha's hand two weeks ago for the cameras. Bush can shake
his hand again, but not the rest of him: Abu Risha was blown away just hours
before Bush was to go on the air to praise his new friend.
Here's what you need to know that NPR won't tell you.
1. Sheik Abu Risha wasn't a sheik.
2. He wasn't killed by Al Qaeda.
3. The new alliance with former insurgents in Anbar is as fake as the
sheik - and a murderous deceit.
How do I know this? You can see the film - of "Sheik" Abu Risha, of the guys
who likely whacked him and of their other victims.
Just in case you think I've lost my mind and put my butt in insane danger to
get this footage, don't worry. I was safe and dry in Budapest. It was my
brilliant new cameraman, Rick Rowley, who went to Iraq to get the story on
Rick's "the future of TV news," says BBC. He's also completely out of
control. Despite our pleas, Rick and his partner Dave Enders went to Anbar
and filmed where no cameraman had dared tread.
Why was "sheik" Abu Risha so important? As the New York Times put it this
morning, "Abu Risha had become a charismatic symbol of the security gains in
Sunni areas that have become a cornerstone of American plans to keep large
numbers of troops in Iraq though much of next year."
In other words, Abu Risha was the PR hook used to sell the "success" of the
The sheik wasn't a sheik. He was a fake. While proclaiming to Rick that he
was "the leader of all the Iraqi tribes," Abu lead no one. But for a
reported sum in the millions in cash for so-called, "reconstruction
contracts," Abu Risha was willing to say he was Napoleon and Julius Caesar
and do the hand-shakie thing with Bush on camera.
Notably, Rowley and his camera caught up with Abu Risha on his way to a
"business trip" to Dubai, money laundering capital of the Middle East.
There are some real sheiks in Anbar, like Ali Hathem of the dominant Dulaimi
tribe, who told Rick Abu Risha was a con man. Where was his tribe, this
tribal leader? "The Americans like to create characters like Disney cartoon
heros." Then Ali Hathem added, "Abu Risha is no longer welcome" in Anbar.
"Not welcome" from a sheik in Anbar is roughly the same as a kiss on both
cheeks from the capo di capi. Within days, when Abu Risha returned from
Dubai to Dulaimi turf in Ramadi, Bush's hand-sheik was whacked.
On Thursday, Bush said Abu Risha was killed, "fighting Al Qaeda" - and the
White House issued a statement that the sheik was "killed by al Qaeda."
There ain't no Easter Bunny and "Al Qaeda" ain't in Iraq, Mr. Bush. It was
very cute, on the week of the September 11 memorials, to tie the death of
your Anbar toy-boy to bin Laden's Saudi hijackers. But it's a lie. Yes,
there is a group of berserkers who call themselves "Al Qaeda in
Mesopotamia." But they have as much to do with the real Qaeda of bin Laden
as a Rolling Stones "tribute" band has to do with Mick Jagger.
Who got Abu Risha? Nothing - NOTHING - moves in Ramadi without the approval
of the REAL tribal sheiks. They were none-too-happy, as Hathem noted, about
the millions the US handed to Risha. The sheiks either ordered the hit - or
simply gave the bomber free passage to do the deed.
So who are these guys, the sheiks who lead the Sunni tribes of Anbar - the
potentates of the Tamimi, Fallaji, Obeidi, Zobal and Jumaili tribes? Think
of them as the Sopranos of Arabia. They are also members of the so-called
"Awakening Council" - getting their slice of the millions handed out - which
they had no interest in sharing with Risha.
But creepy and deadly or not, these capi of the desert were effective in
eliminating "Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia." Indeed, as US military so proudly
pointed out to Rick, the moment the sheiks declared their opposition to Al
Qaeda - i.e. got the payments from the US taxpayers - Al Qaeda instantly
This miraculous military change, where the enemy just evaporates, has one
explanation: the sheiks ARE al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Just like the Sopranos
extract "protection" payments from New Jersey businesses, the mobsters of
Anbar joined our side when we laid down the loot.
What's wrong with that? After all, I'd rather send a check than send our
kids from Columbus to fight them.
But there's something deeply, horribly wrong with dealing with these
killers. They still kill. With new US protection, weapons and cash, they
have turned on the Shia of Anbar. Fifteen thousand Shia families from a
single district were forced at gunpoint to leave Anbar. Those moving too
slowly were shot. Kids and moms too.
Do the Americans know about the ethnic cleansing of Anbar by our erstwhile
"allies"? Rick's film shows US commanders placing their headquarters in the
homes abandoned by terrorized Shia.
Rick's craziest move was to go and find these Shia refugees from Anbar. They
were dumped, over a hundred thousand of them, in a cinder block slum with no
running water in Baghdad. They are under the "protection" of the Mahdi Army,
another group of cutthroats. But at least these are Shia cutthroats.
So the great "success" of the surge is our arming and providing cover for
ethnic cleansing in Anbar. Nice, Mr. Bush. And with the US press "embedded,"
we won't get the real story. Even Democrats are buying into the Anbar
"awakening" fairy tale.
An Iraqi government official frets that giving guns and cover to the Anbar
gang is like adopting a baby crocodile. "A crocodile is not a pet," he told
Rick. It will soon grow to devour you. But what could the puppet do but
complain about his strings?
This Iraqi got it right: the surge is a crock.
Greg Palast is the author of "Armed Madhouse: from Baghdad to New Orleans -
Sordid Secrets and Strange Tales of a White House Gone Wild." See Palast's
reports for BBC Television's Newsnight, now filmed by Rick Rowley and
partners, at www.GregPalast.com
On his departure from Iraq, Al Jazeera's English language network agreed to
broadcast the Rowley/Enders film. I urge you to see it: click here. Palast
will update the report today on Air America's Randi Rhodes show.