The Anbar Salvation Council waging total war against al-Qaeda in Iraq

Amid fields of wheat and barley, dozens of armed men emerged along a dirt road leading to the fiefdom of the Bu-Fahed tribe in Hamdhiyah, an idyllic corner of restive Anbar Province, just north of Ramadi. "Welcome to our proud sheikhs. Down with terror," read banners on the road.

Dozens of sheikhs and tribal elders in flowing gold-trimmed camel-hair cloaks, many clutching colorful worry beads, streamed into a conference hall. Each was frisked by tribesmen to guard against suicide bombs.

The meeting looked to be a typical gathering, but its true purpose was for top sheikhs to issue an ultimatum: quit supporting Al Qaeda and turn in relatives belonging to the group.

Like dominoes, tribes reeling from a campaign of killing and intimidation by Al Qaeda have been joining, one by one, the US-led fight against Al Qaeda in Iraq in this Sunni Arab province. Last month, US Gen. David Petraeus told Congress that violence was down significantly here and that the tribes were key to the transformation.

At the gathering in Hamdhiyah last week, tribal leaders took their place in rows of white plastic chairs in the presence of a handful US military officers.

"The tribe has gone through its most difficult period. We have lost many dear sons. What complicates matters is that some of our same sons have embraced terrorists and carried out their orders," Sheikh Haqi Ismail al-Fahdawi told his fellow tribesmen.

He told them that they must now encourage young men to join the Army and police and write to sheikhs from other tribes in Anbar to pressure them to hand over fugitives from the Bu-Fahed who were Al-Qaeda members and also use their families who remained behind as leverage.

"The days of writs of forgiveness are over," he said.

Another tribal notable, Hussein Zbeir, grabbed the microphone from Sheikh Haqi and spoke more bluntly about Al Qaeda's role: "If it was not for the coyotes among us, no one would have been killed, kidnapped, or bombed. You know who among you brought the Yemeni with the suicide vest."

Soon thereafter, Abu Risha appears. He arrives in a motorcade of SUVs and police pick-up trucks bristling with machine guns.

The door of one of the vehicles is flung open. Abu Risha emerges wearing dark wrap-around sunglasses and dressed in the finest tribal attire.

He hugs Sheikh Jabbar who leads him by hand into the meeting. "Anbar is one tribe and our awakening will sweep through all of Iraq, God willing," he tells the Bu-Faheds.

In an interview later, he proudly pulls out a pistol from a holster tied around his waist. He says it was given to him by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. His father and four of his brothers, he says, were killed by Al-Qaeda.


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