Iraq's Sunni Sheiks Join Americans To Fight Al Qaeda

Not long ago it would have been unthinkable: a Sunni sheik allying himself publicly with American forces in a xenophobic city at the epicenter of Iraq's Sunni insurgency.

Today, there is no mistaking whose side Sheik al Rishawi is on. Outside his walled home, a U.S. tank is on permanent guard beside a clutch of towering date palms and a protective dirt berm.

The 36 year old sheik is leading a growing movement of Sunni tribesmen who have turned against al Qaida linked insurgents. The dramatic shift in alliances may have done more in a few months to ease daily street battles and undercut the insurgency here than American forces have achieved in years with arms.

"I was always against these terrorists," Sattar said in an interview inside his American-guarded compound, adjusting a pistol holstered around his waist. "They brainwashed people into thinking Americans were against them. They said foreigners wanted to occupy our land and destroy our mosques. They told us, 'We'll wage a jihad. We'll help you defeat them.'"

The difficult part was convincing others it wasn't true, and that "building an alliance with the Americans was the only solution," Sattar said. His movement, also known as the Anbar Awakening, now counts 41 tribes or sub tribes, though Sattar acknowledges that some groups in the province have yet to join.

"I'd say 20 percent of the credit for the change in Ramadi could be taken by U.S. forces," said Strickland. "The vast majority of the turnaround is due to the sheiks."

Still, Sattar complained the Interior Ministry had given police "one-tenth" the resources they needed from equipment to guns to food, despite promises to do more. Some of the fighters use automatic weapons they brought from home. "If I had the tools, I could wipe al Qaida from Anbar within five months," Sattar said.

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