By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, September 16, 2007 9:38 AM
BAGHDAD Sept. 16- -- U.S. soldiers captured a man they believe was responsible for killing Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, the leader of a Sunni tribal movement in western Iraq and a close American ally, U.S. military officials said Sunday.
During a raid of three buildings west of Balad on Saturday, U.S. soldiers captured Fallah Khalifa Hiyas Fayyas al-Jumayli, also known as Abu Khamis, a man described in a military statement as "closely allied with senior al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders in the region."
The death of Abu Risha, a charismatic tribal leader who helped form the Anbar Salvation Council last year, was a blow to American efforts in Anbar province. Abu Risha had risen to prominence on his public partnership with American soldiers and his commitment to driving out Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq from Anbar. Hewas killed Thursday when a bomb exploded outside his house in Ramadi, the provincial capital. Two weeks before, he had met with President Bush and expressed his continued support for American efforts in Iraq.
The U.S. military statement said Jumayli was working to kill other tribal leaders and allies of Abu Risha's in Anbar province. "He is also reportedly responsible for car bomb and suicide vest attacks in Anbar Province," the statement said.
U.S. soldiers continue to pursue other suspects involved in the bombing, said Rear Adm. Mark Fox, a U.S. military spokesman.
" We do not think the murderer acted alone," Fox told reporters in Baghdad.
U.S. and Iraqi leaders hailed the Anbar Salvation Council because its efforts against al-Qaeda in Iraq has reduced violence in what was once among the deadliest terrain in the country. The movement of Sunnis fighting alongside American soldiers against al-Qaeda in Iraq has spread to several other predominantly Sunni areas of Iraq. Both Sunni and Shiite political leaders praised Abu Risha as a pioneer in these efforts in the face of great personal risk, and said they expected the movement will not diminish in the wake of his killing.
"The Sunni society was under the domination of al-Qaeda, and they were refusing even to condemn them," said Humam Hamoudi, a senior leader in the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, a main Shiite political party. "And Sunnis now are fighting al-Qaeda as the Shiites were trying to fight al-Qaeda, so the Iraqi people are united against one enemy."
But the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella organization led by al-Qaeda in Iraq, has pledged to increase its operations during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began this past week. U.S. military officials have tracked an increase in violence every year during Ramadan and are concerned about a similar rise this year.
"Ramadan is always a peak period every year. None of us have any reason to believe that won't be the case again this year," said Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson, chief of staff to the No. 2 commander in Iraq, in an interview. "Hopefully we've been successful and they don't have the materials they use to have. We've put a dent in a lot of things."
On Sunday, wire services reported that suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters killed 14 people in Muqdadiyah, in Diyala province north of Baghdad. U.S. military officials in Diyala said Sunday afternoon they were unaware of recent violence in Muqdadiyah.
Also, a suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt, detonated himself in front of a cafe in Tuz Khurmatu, south of Kirkuk, according to Col. Abbas Mohammed Amin of the Kirkuk police. The blast killed 8 people and wounded 22, all of them Shiite Turkomen, Amin said.
Staff writer Megan Greenwell and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.