By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 15, 2007
BAGHDAD, Sept. 14 -- The Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq asserted responsibility Friday for planting the bomb that killed a prominent tribal leader Thursday, calling the assassination a "holy operation" that targeted Abdul Sattar Abu Risha for his alliance with U.S. forces.
A statement posted on the Web site of the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group believed to have been formed by al-Qaeda in Iraq, celebrated the killing of Abu Risha, whom it described as President Bush's "dog." A tribal coalition led by Abu Risha had fought against al-Qaeda in Iraq for the past year in Anbar province, leading to a dramatic drop in violence, and Abu Risha met with Bush this month during his surprise visit to Iraq.
"This blessed operation comes at the beginning of the month of conquest and victories so that it will be a new setback to the crusader's project and the crusader Bush's new strategy," the statement said, referring to the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The authors also warned that they would assassinate other tribal leaders.
At Abu Risha's funeral in Anbar's capital, Ramadi, hundreds of mourners vowed to retaliate against al-Qaeda in Iraq, a predominantly Iraqi insurgent group whose links to Osama bin Laden's organization remain unclear.
The size of the funeral crowd, which eyewitnesses estimated at more than 1,000 despite an emergency curfew that prevented many people from traveling from out of town, indicated the broad support Abu Risha had amassed as leader of the Anbar Salvation Council, which was formed a year ago Friday. Many wept as his flag-draped coffin was borne through Ramadi.
Speakers pledged allegiance to his older brother Ahmed, who was elected the new leader of the council.
In his first public remarks since assuming leadership of the council, Ahmed Abu Risha said he would honor his brother's memory by pursuing his assassins.
"We will have revenge against anyone who claims responsibility for this operation. We will follow him wherever he goes," he said.
Several representatives of Iraq's national government traveled to Ramadi to pay respects to the slain leader, including the national security adviser and ministers of interior and defense. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki remained in Baghdad, but his office issued a statement of condolence.
Meanwhile, the republic of Georgia announced Friday that it would withdraw all but 300 of its 2,000 troops from Iraq by next summer. Georgia has become a devoted U.S. ally in Iraq, maintaining a consistent military presence since the American-led invasion in 2003 as it has pushed for inclusion in the European Union and NATO.
At a news conference in Tbilisi, Georgia, Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili said the drawdown was part of an agreement between the Georgian and U.S. governments.
"We had an agreement with the Americans that we would cut our military contingent by the summer of 2008. This was set up from the very beginning and, accordingly, there will be no talk at all about any sort of reduction before that time," Kezerashvili said, according to the Associated Press.
Also Friday, a suicide truck bomber plowed his vehicle into a restaurant near the northern city of Baiji, killing at least 10 people, police said. The bombing occurred at the only restaurant in the village of Hijaj that had remained open during fasting hours of Ramadan, Hijaj police said.
They said four police officers were among the dead because a patrol had been set up outside the restaurant.
Also Friday, four U.S. soldiers were killed when a roadside bomb exploded near their vehicle in Diyala province, the U.S. military announced. A military spokesman said no further information about the incident was available.
Special correspondents Naseer Nouri and Saad al-Izzi and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.