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'Anbar model' under fire

Four Iraqi Sheikhs tied to the US's anti-Al Qaeda plan were killed Monday in Baghdad.

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What seems clear is that tribal leaders across Iraq are fully aware of the "Anbar model" and are seeking to follow it – either to "cash in," as critics say, or to help defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq.

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A recent encounter in the provincial government offices in Kirkuk in northern Iraq provided emblematic, if anecdotal, evidence. A Sunni sheikh jumped to his feet and heartily shook the hand of a stranger in the room he learned was an American visitor.

"Please take a message back to America, tell them all the sheikhs of Kirkuk don't want Al Qaeda here any more," he said. Noting that tribal leaders in other parts of Iraq, particularly in Anbar, are uniting against Al Qaeda, the elegantly dressed elder said, "We are making the same effort here; we do not accept others to impose their rule upon us."

And then the sheikh from Hawija – a particularly troublesome area southwest of Kirkuk that US forces have had trouble wresting from insurgents – added, "We are willing to stop the progress here of the Al Qaeda group, and we will succeed with America's help."

Told later of the incident, one US officer said wryly, "Well, that's nice to hear – because up till now I've been doing more arresting of tribesmen with that sheikh's name than cooperating with them."

Attack on the Mansour Hotel

The suicide bomber who attacked the Mansour Hotel on Monday hit a Baghdad landmark, on the western bank of the Tigris River, where Iraqi politicians, news organizations, and diplomats are based.

The hotel is situated across from an abandoned building that housed the former Ministry of Information during the Saddam Hussein's regime. It's a heavily secured area, with a checkpoint at the top of the road leading to the hotel and a vast metal gate at the entrance of the hotel itself.

Sheikh Rafai al-Fahdawi, a leading member of the Bu-Fahed tribe, which formally joined the Anbar Salvation Council in late April, said his cousin, Sheikh Abdul-Aziz al-Fahdawi, was killed in the attack, as was Sheikh Tariq Al-Assafi, head of the Bu-Assaf tribe, and former Anbar governor Sheikh Fassal al-Guood.

A leading Iraqi poet, Rahim al-Maliki, who had praised the tribal fight against Al Qaeda in his poems was also killed. He had his own show on state television and several episodes focused on Anbar tribes.

Sheikh Abdul-Aziz helped lead a meeting of the Bu-Faheds on April 25 in which they urged all their kinsmen to stop cooperating with Al Qaeda and to punish and banish all those who cooperate with the terror network.

Sheikh Jabbar al-Fahdawi, one of the senior members of the tribe, had said in that meeting that they received some weapons from the US military but that they were looking for stronger support.

Gaining the support of the Bu-Fahed tribe was a coup for US military forces in the fight against Al Qaeda. The tribe was among the staunchest supporters of Al Qaeda in Anbar.

Sheikh Rafai said that some of the tribal leaders killed in the Mansour blast had met with Maliki the night before to demand more support and a more active role for them in the province following their efforts to reduce the influence of Al Qaeda and regain the provincial capital, Ramadi, from its grip. Ramadi was declared in October as the capital of the Islamic state of Iraq but is now controlled by US and Iraqi forces.

"The support of the government has been weak and not at the level desired," he said in an interview Monday after the bombing.

He said it was unlikely that someone from within the tribe targeted the gathering and hinted that it might have been motivated by sectarian rivalries and carried out by militant Shiite parties that were not happy to see Sunni tribes gaining assertiveness and power.

"There are parties that do not care about the national interest. This attack will only increase our resolve and determination," he said.

Fierce debates have erupted over the wisdom of the US arming tribes and creating a "militia," as the government and the US were hoping to re-create the success in Anbar elsewhere.

This prompted Maliki to issue a statement on Friday to clarify his position. "The government does not fear the arming of the tribes, but it fears chaos and lack of discipline and the emergence of new militias. Everything must be done under the auspices of Iraqi sovereignty and government supervision and within a national context."