BAGHDAD (Reuters) - One of the leaders of Iraq’s pro-government Sunni tribal fighters was killed late on Tuesday by a suicide bomber in western Anbar province’s capital of Ramadi, one of his men said.
Mohammed Khamis Abu Risha was touring a checkpoint manned by his fighters in Ramadi when a suicide bomber hugged him, said one of his men. Four of Abu Risha’s bodyguards were killed in the blast, the source added.
“He used to routinely visit us to give us directions and duties.... Tonight we were waiting for him at our checkpoint,” said the fighter, who asked not to be identified for security reasons. “But we suddenly heard an explosion in the preceding checkpoint. We rushed to the scene and he was killed. His body was mutilated beyond recognition.”
Abu Risha, who was in his 30s, was the commander of hundreds of men in the desert province’s capital, where security forces and a smaller number of pro-government Sunni tribal fighters have for months been battling tribesmen furious at Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and militants hailing from the al Qaeda splinter group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Abu Risha was the nephew of Ahmed Abu Risha, who is the formal leader of all pro-government Sunni fighters in Anbar. But both men’s reputation has suffered in the five-month war. Many Anbaris accuse the two of corruption and pursuing a personal agenda.
Both had supported anti-government protests all last year, but then turned on the demonstrators at the end of 2013.
When security forces forcibly cleared Ramadi’s protest camp in late December, tribal fighters revolted, but ISIL moved swiftly to take advantage of the insurrection by sending fighters into Ramadi and its sister city Falluja. The Abu Rishas soon organized a pro-government fighting force, and Mohammed Khamis Abu Risha became his uncle’s pointman.
Maliki promoted the Abu Risha family’s fighters as proof that western Anbar’s general population was on his side.
But many ordinary people appeared deeply resentful of the Abu Rishas and spoke of them as benefiting financially from their relationship to the government while hundreds of thousands of civilians were displaced by the battles around Ramadi and Falluja.
The hostility was in stark contrast to 2006 and 2007 when Sunnis across Anbar wholeheartedly endorsed a tribal revolt against al Qaeda.
Reporting by Kamal Nim'aa in Anbar; Isra' al-Rube'ii in Baghdad