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Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 13, 2006; 1:00 PM

Washington Post Pentagon reporter Ann Scott Tyson will be online Friday, Sept. 14 at noon ET to discuss the death of Iraqi tribal leader Abdul Sattar Abu Risha and the future of U.S. efforts to turn local residents against al-Qaeda in Anbar province.

Abu Risha Killed in Bomb Attack in Iraq (Post, Sept. 13)

Submit your questions and comments before or during the discussion.

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Ann Scott Tyson: Greetings everyone. I look forward to your questions today.

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Richmond, Va.: What is equally sad about the killing of Abu Risha (i.e. equal to the death of a human being under such horribile circumstances) is that anyone who has even the slightest knowledge of this part of the region knows it was inevitable -- just a matter of time -- which points, once again, to the ignorance of those in charge of this war who have no understanding of the dynamics of the region and how impossible it was to get out once we got in. The sadnesses just keeps piling up.

Ann Scott Tyson: I am sure that both Sattar and the U.S. military realized he faced a great threat, especially given how many other tribal leaders in Anbar had been killed over the past couple of years for cooperating with U.S. forces, and how many members of his own family he had lost. As one U.S. military officer who had worked with Sattar told me yesterday "you can pretty much kill anyone if you try hard enough."

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Princeton, N.J.: How does encouraging Sunnis in Anbar to form militia (without without police uniforms) aid reconciliation? How will this idea work in the cities -- Baghdad, Basra, Mosul and Kirkuk? Anbar has less than percent of the people of Iraq and they are almost entirely Sunni. How can events there have a great affect on the rest of the country? What is the objective now in Iraq? A loose confederation of antagonistic tribal and city states? Who will have the power to get the states with oil to share the wealth? Is this just another example of the "Big Lie"?

Ann Scott Tyson: Thanks for your question. U.S. officers say that the goal is to incorporate the tribesmen in the government security forces, and that is currently happening in Anbar, although not as quickly as people there would like. The thousands of tribal members who have volunteered to be police and soldiers in Anbar's capital of Ramadi, for example, are in uniform and recently began to be paid by the central government. But for several months before that they were essentially volunteers, and some were threatening to quit.
On how it would work in cities, especially where the population is mixed, that is clearly much more difficult and complicated. What I saw emerging in Baghdad was a situation where you would have a Sunni enclave with a local Sunni armed force recruited from tribes or former insurgents, but not yet officially hired as police, and then in the next neighborhood you would have government police forces and Shiite militia, and these forces clearly could be antagonistic or in confict. So a key question is how to integrate those forces in mixed sectarian areas.

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Scottsdale, Ariz.: I'd like to know how the perpetrator of that -- or any -- roadside bomb is determined? AlaQaeda is certainly the prime suspect, but I can imagine some Shiites weren't too happy to have the Anbar Sunnis armed and gaining power. So many enemies!

Ann Scott Tyson: According to military analysts the Sunni insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq is the main suspect, based on the timing of the attack, how it was carried out, and recent history in the area. Still, initially one analyst said that until an investigation was complete one could not rule out tribal rivalries (Sattar was a bit of an upstart and had made some enemies), or the Shiite motive you mentioned.

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Montreal: Ms Tyson, can you comment on these amazing reports that Admiral Fallon, CENTCOM commander, called Gen. Petraeus a "an ***-kissing little chicken****" and added, "I hate people like that," during their first Baghdad meeting? Fallon was allegedly particularly angry about Petraeus being set up in Mitch McConnel's office to sell the surge to wavering GOP congressmen in February. Did that really happen? Thanks.

Ann Scott Tyson: I have no knowledge that anything like what you described happened, although military officials have commented on some serious tensions over the summer as Adm. Fallon and Gen. Petraeus planned different courses in Iraq. It is interesting to compare how President Bush has elevated the role of Petraeus whereas in the past he seemed to rely most heavily on the previous leader of Central Command, Gen. John Abizaid.

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Raleigh, N.C.: Good afternoon! A demographic question about Anbar: What percentage of the population is Sunni, what percentage is Shiite, and what percentage is other? What percentage is Arab, what percentage is Kurd, what percentage is Turkomen, what percentage is other?

Ann Scott Tyson: The total population of Anbar Province is 1.2 million people, and the population is at least 95 percent Sunni Arab. A quarter of the people live in the Anbar capital of Ramadi. I don't have the percentages for the other sects and ethnic groups at my finger tips, sorry.

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Boston: Overlaying the maps of Baghdad's neighborhoods provided by both Gen. Jones (showing where ethnic cleansing has been achieved) and Gen. Petraeus (showing where the levels of sectarian violence has dropped) shows a very high correlation between these two factors. Wouldn't a logical question for Petraeus be how much of the drop of sectarian violence was experienced in neighborhoods that had effectively been cleansed?

Has The Washingington Post, other media, or Congress asked for the actual data underlying Petraeus' charts so that a neighborhood-by-neighborhood comparison could be made to assess the effect of ethnic cleansing? If the military's methodology and data are so sound, there is no reason to classify the data. Too bad this wasn't challenged more before conventional wisdom set in that the surge brought sectarian violence down in Baghdad.

Ann Scott Tyson: Military officials in Baghdad acknowledge that, at least to a degree, sectarian violence fell because of "diminishing returns," ie the neighborhoods were already segregated, mainly with Sunnis pushed out, so naturally the killings would drop. Other factors in the drop likely included the decision of Shiite militia to lay low initially, and the increased U.S. troop presence in neighborhoods, which clearly has also curtailed sectarian violence.

I and other reporters at the Post have asked for much more detailed data on a range of conditions in Iraq than the military so far has been willing to supply. We will keep trying.

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Carlsbad, Calif.: Is the new "tribal support" for U.S. occupation a result of the "surge" as President Bush and Gen. Petraeus allege, or is it a result of al-Queda excesses and a strategy to build Sunni capabilites for an inevitable violent conflict (civil war?) with the Shia government and Iran?

Ann Scott Tyson: Tribal leaders in Anbar started switching sides in the fall of 2006 (and in some areas as early as 2005), long before the U.S. miltiary "surge" began in Iraq, andlargely I believe because they felt their own survival/power was threatened by Sunni extremist insurgent groups such as Al Qaeda in Iraq. The prospect of the U.S. military leaving, and the rapid rise of sectarian violence in 2006 may have also been a factor in leading the Sunni tribes to decide that siding with the U.S. was their best option.

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Timonium, Md.: This article should have been on the front page in bold letters. Finally, a leader came forth and he actually thanked the American people for their sons and daughters. Truly this is worthy of a re-print. Yes, he is a dead leader, but his message was so encouraging that more Americans should be exposed to it. While the president tries, yet again, to spin good news, here is the real-time, real, not contrived good news. I know I was greatly encouraged after reading his comments.

Ann Scott Tyson: You make a good point, and I should add that several other Iraqis I spoke with in July and August in Ramadi, such as local officials and police, mentioned similar appreciation for U.S. soldiers and Marines working in their city.

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Pasco, Wash.: Thanks for taking my two questions. Roughly what portion of the population of Anbar are tied in with the groups now working with the U.S.? Are we just arming and training militia to fight the Shia militias in another six months?

Ann Scott Tyson: I would say that the majority of Sunni tribes in Anbar - about 40 or 50 - which represent the bulk of the population, have now sided with the U.S. The U.S. goal is not to arm Sunni militia to fight the Shia militia - however, when I have spoken with members of the local Sunni armed groups that are emerging in Baghdad and Baqubah, I have found that while they say they want to work with the Shiite-dominated government, they also want to take on Shiite militia such as the Mahdi Army.

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Bowie, Md.: I read in the week's Economist that Kurd territory if functioning as if it were an independent country; even uniformed customs officers wear a Kurdish insignia instead of an Iraqi one. Has Iraq already self-partitioned?

Ann Scott Tyson: There is a high degree of autonomy in the Kurdish areas in the north, where for example the government has refused to disband Kurdish militia, and they wear special uniforms. Having said that, I would not say the country has partitioned, and leaders from all the regions clearly want access to Iraq's national resources.

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Rolla, Mo.: Can you provide more info on Sattar's background? I believe that he had ample reasons to have enemies, and it wasn't just his alignment with the U.S. against al-Qaeda. He was no choirboy.

Ann Scott Tyson: You are right in that Sattar, like most tribal leaders in Anbar, was known to have been involved in smuggling and other illegal activities and had supported the Sunni insurgency. The Sunni tribes have serious rivalries even as they work together, and there is no doubt that Sattar, coming from a smaller tribe, generated envy as he rose in fame.

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Cottonwood, Ariz.: Ann, thank you for making time to answer questions on a busy news morning. Isn't aiding and arming Iraqi militias awfully close to what the Reagan administration did in Afghanistan during the 1980s? That ended with the Taliban.

Ann Scott Tyson: First I should say that the U.S. military claims they are not arming the local groups, which I understand would be illegal. But they are subsidizing them by paying some of the local fighters and providing them with fuel and other logistical support. I don't see a close relationship with Afghanistan in the 1980s because in that case the U.S. sought to arm fighters against the occupying Soviet military.

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Anonymous: "The thousands of tribal members who have volunteered to be police and soldiers in Anbar's capital of Ramadi, for example, are in uniform and recently began to be paid by the central government." But when the shooting between their insurgent tribesmen and U.S. forces starts, which way will they fire?

Ann Scott Tyson: Some U.S. troops I spoke with also voiced wariness of working with former insurgents, not so much in Ramadi and Anbar but around Baghdad and in outlying areas. Having said that, I have seen some very close relationships between U.S. troops and the Iraqis they work with. In past years in Ramadi, it was absolutely true that the police were working with insurgents, and would abandon their posts before attacks, and often be found dead at the end of firefights. Now, however, the atmosphere in Ramadi is quite different and there is more trust between the two sides.

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Alexandria, Va.: What ever became of the "War Czar," Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute?

Ann Scott Tyson: He is still very much involved, and traveled to Anbar with President Bush on Labor Day.

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Redding, Conn.: Doesn't it seem logical to you that one important cause of the current cooperation between Sunni tribes and the U.S. Army in Anbar is the economic or political intervention of the Saudis? Reporting just a few months ago indicated that al-Qaeda operatives were on the verge of establishing a safe haven in Anbar province. Do you think it was likely that the Saudis were going to sit on their hands while a group dedicated to the overthrow of their political and religious hierarchy settled itself along their borders? Pre-"surge," the Saudis talked about sending their own soldiers into the region; do you really think that they have had a "hands-off" attitude since then?

Ann Scott Tyson: That's an interesting point. Clearly the Saudis have very close relations with some of the Sunni tribes in Iraq, but I don't have specific knowledge in their role in the tribes switching sides.

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Winter Park, Fla.: Are there any concerns about the recent deaths/shooting of three (four?) of the soldiers who were co-writers of the New York Times editorial -- The War As We Saw It -- that was critical of the war and war policies? Have there been any other strange "coincidences" involving any of the other soldiers/co-writers? Thanks. These are great chats.

Ann Scott Tyson: In my experience, the suggestion that any soldier who expressed dissenting views would be killed as a result of that is unfounded. Sadly, with so many wounded and killed each month these things do happen.

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Washington: Isn't the failure of the Iraqi parliament to complete constitutional review, pass an oil law, and meet other political benchmarks more attributable to Kurdish Regional Government opposition to a strong(er) Baghdad? They have completed their own oil law and are letting out contracts, and this is what has caused negotiations to collapse. Meanwhile, the constitutional negotiations are stymied regarding Kirkuk and the powers of regions and the center, also because of Kurdish Regional Government objections. Why are these failures painted in the media as the result of Sunni-Shia antagonism? Why isn't the U.S. government talking about this?

Ann Scott Tyson: Good question. I am not an expert on the details of the wrangling over the legislation, but undoubtedly Kurds play a key role as well as the Sunni and Shiite political factions.

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Milwaukee: I think I read somewhere that Abu Risha was basically a thug and aligned with the U.S. forces basically as part of a power struggle to gain control of the province. So is that the strategy, to give arms to shady characters as long as they kill some al-Qaeda members, and probably a few of their own enemies and Shiites as well?

Ann Scott Tyson: Undoubtedly we are dealing with many shady characters in Anbar and Iraq -- as one U.S. soldier in Baghdad recently said to me "you almost need to find the 'good' bad guys."

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Olympia, Wash.: Can you provide some insight as to how U.S. Special Forces in al-Anbar have contributed to the successes of tribal engagement, and how instrumental they have been in turning around the Sunni tribes to cooperation with the U.S.? All we ever hear of is how succesful the Marines have been, but we never receive reports of the work that goes on behind the curtains between the tribes and U.S. Special Forces teams. Thank you.

Ann Scott Tyson: Great question. Yes, U.S. Special Forces teams operating in Anbar over the years were critical in engaging with key tribes, and did a lot of painstaking work behind the scenes that helped to lay the groundwork for the decision by tribal leaders to switch sides. Unfortunately, it is difficult for reporters to gain access to spend time with these teams, and as a result their work does not get the credit it deserves.

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Lacey, Wash.: How involved with the U.S. military is the Albu Nimr tribe? I noticed a picture of Sheik Hatem of the Albu Nimr with President Bush last week at Al Asad Airbase. How is the situation in the al-Furat region west of Ramadi?

Ann Scott Tyson: I have not been to the al-Furat region west of Ramadi for about a year, but when I was there the Albu Nimr tribe was already cooperating and providing tribesmen to work as police. Given that the Albu Nimr leader met with Bush I imagine that cooperation has continued.

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Ann Scott Tyson: Thanks for the many excellent questions! I am signing off now.

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