Bush meeting with Sattar Abu Risha, Anbar (as published in dozens of Arab papers)
It's kind of lost in the shuffle of the coming battle over the various Iraq reports, but I find myself morbidly fascinated by the photos and reports which have circulated in the Iraqi press about Bush's meeting in Anbar with the controversial head of the Anbar Salvation Council Sattar Abu Risha. The pictures themselves speak volumes: look at Bush's shit-eating grin and Abu Risha's detached contempt, and figure out which is the supplicant in this scenario.
An hour with Bush was really quite a coup for Sattar Abu Risha. The head of the Anbar Salvation Council has a rather unsavory reputation as one of the shadiest figures in the Sunni community, and as recently as June was reportedly on his way out. As a report in Time described him,
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 Marines have unwittingly turned Sheikh Sattar into a warlord who will turn the province into his personal fiefdom.
In June, Abu Risha's position in the Anbar Salvation Council came under a fairly intense internal challenge. As the Washington Post reported at the time,
Ali Hatem Ali Suleiman, 35, a leader of the Dulaim confederation, the largest tribal organization in Anbar, said that the Anbar Salvation Council would be dissolved because of growing internal dissatisfaction over its cooperation with U.S. soldiers and the behavior of the council's most prominent member, Abdul Sattar Abu Risha. Suleiman called Abu Risha a "traitor" who "sells his beliefs, his religion and his people for money."
That's our guy. That's the pillar of America's Sunni strategy, and a key player in Fred Kagan's fantasy life.
And I didn't even mention the widely discussed, sensational rumor that he had skipped town with $75 million in American cash - which evidently wasn't true, or else was just a "misunderstanding" which has been "resolved", but does speak to endless circulation of unpleasant rumors about the guy's corruption and mercenary behavior. I wish I could have been there as Abu Risha nodded along sagely while Bush promised to funnel large-scale American economic development funds in Anbar, perhaps offering the services of his own highly professional office in seeing to the disbursement of the funds. It's kind of humiliating to watch an American President get rolled by a two bit, corrupt petty shaykh.
But that's not even the worst of it. According to one widely disseminated account of their meeting, Bush acted shocked when Abu Risha complained about Sunnis being killed in Baghdad because of their names, claiming he had never heard of such things. It's impossible to know the accuracy of this account, since it comes out of an Iraqi press not known for its fealty to professionalism or standards of evidence. But if true, what an astonishingly depressing admission of ignorance of one of the most important aspects of the Iraqi situation: he has never heard of the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad.