A key Sunni sheik who united with U.S. forces to fight al Qaeda militants in Iraq was assassinated Thursday by a roadside bomb, officials said.
The bomb struck a convoy carrying Sheik Abdul Sattar Abu Reesha and his security detail, a Ramadi police official and an Interior Ministry official said.
At least two of the sheik's bodyguards were killed and five other escorts were wounded in the afternoon attack.
Abu Reesha, 39, was head of the Anbar Salvation Council – also known as the Anbar Awakening – a coalition of tribes that has been working with the U.S. military to counter al Qaeda in Sunni-dominated Anbar province.
The council, funded and supported by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, was formed last year.
Al-Maliki blamed al Qaeda in Iraq for the killing, but said it would backfire against the insurgent group by further isolating it across the country.
Police said Abu Reesha was killed about a mile from his home, but the deputy head of the Anbar Salvation Council, Sheik Hameed al-Hayyes, said the bomb struck the convoy 50 meters from his home in a heavily secured zone surrounding the house.
Abu Reesha was one of several Sunni leaders who met with President Bush during the president's surprise visit to Anbar on September 3. In a photograph taken during the six-hour visit, a smiling Bush is seen shaking hands with the sheik.
Such attacks could actually be a measure of the success the United States is having in the restive province, Grange said.
Bush has repeatedly cited successful efforts to bring Anbar tribesmen over to the coalition's side in the fight against al Qaeda in Iraq as evidence of U.S. military success. Since the Sunni sheiks began cooperating with the U.S. military, violent attacks have significantly decreased in Anbar, once a hot spot for al Qaeda attacks.
Bush is expected to reiterate Anbar's success in a major address Thursday night.
LSB: Success in significantly reducing violent attacks? The leader of the movement is killed, and this shows "progress?"
ABU AARDVARK: Nothing could have been more predictable than the murder of Abu Risha, the man most closely identified with America's Anbar strategy... His murder graphically demonstrates that the other groups threatened by the American Anbar strategy were never going to just sit back passively and allow it to succeed - an obvious strategic point which has always seemed to elude surge advocates.