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 his own.
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 surge.
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 diappeared.
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.