The Vatican, The Anbar Awakening and the "Protector of the Chaldean Catholics"

A quick recap: In September 2006, Sheikh Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha formed the Sunni Anbar Awakening, an alliance of tribes in the Anbar province, to counter — with training by and cooperation with U.S. military — the presence of Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. “I swear to God, if we have good weapons, if we have good vehicles, if we have good support, I can fight Al Qaeda all the way to Afghanistan,” he was reported to have said (“An Iraqi Tribal Chief Opposes the Jihadists, and Prays” March 3, 2007).

As Steve Schippert noted at the time, most Americans were oblivious to Sattar’s contributions to the counter-terrorist effort (“This Is Counterterrorism, Senator” National Review April 25, 2007):

The most significant local ally of Coalition and Iraqi government in Anbar province — and surely in all of Iraq — is Sheikh Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi, or, more properly, Sheikh Abd al-Sattar, where “Abd” translates into “slave” or “totally subordinated” (to God, of course). Sheikh Abdul Sattar is instrumental in fighting and defeating al Qaeda; the incredibly influential Ramadi man sees al Qaeda as terrorists who seek to destroy his country and who are exploiting and murdering his people, Sunni and Shia alike. Al Qaeda wants him dead more than any other man in Iraq, and they have tried numerous times to kill him.

Sattar said recently, “The time for dictatorship is gone, and we are welcoming the new dawn of democracy and freedom here.” He is a powerful Sunni from Anbar province, and, on Iraqi national television, he has pledged his allegiance to Prime Minister al-Maliki — a Shia — and to the democratically elected Iraqi government. In an overt (and televised) gesture of his determination and solidarity with the Iraqi government, Sheikh Abdul Sattar sliced the palm of his hand with a knife and proceeded to pound the blade into the table before him.

The perceived civil war in Iraq is in many ways more a product of foreign Iranian and al Qaeda instigation than internal Iraqi hatred. Had al Qaeda not bombed the Shia al-Askari Mosque and had Iran not provided arms and funds to both sides of the ensuing sectarian killings, there is no telling where Iraq would be right now. It certainly was not in civil war then. Both Iran and al Qaeda require chaos and instability in order to achieve their aims in Iraq. Sattar’s mission is to foil their plans.

Part and parcel of the Anbar Awakening’s success was the tribal alliance’s ability to work cooperatively with Americans — according to Col. Sean B. MacFarland of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division:

“If you talk to these sheiks, they’ll tell you that they’re in no hurry to see the Americans leave al-Anbar.”

“One thing Sheikh Sattar keeps saying is he wants al-Anbar to be like Germany and Japan and South Korea were after their respective wars, with a long-term American presence helping … put them back together,” MacFarland said. “The negative example he cites is Vietnam. He says, yeah, so, Vietnam beat the Americans, and what did it get them? You know, 30 years later, they’re still living in poverty.”

In fact, over the course of 9 months, the Sahwah Al Anbar, or “Anbar Salvation Council“, was able to expel Al Qaeda from Ramadi (once an insurgent stronghold and the capital of Al Qaeda operations) and the Anbar province in general — a victory which he dedicated to the victims of 9/11:

“In the month when the terrorists attacked the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, we dedicate the victory of Anbar Province to the families of the victims who suffered that criminal act,” the letter said, which was addressed directly to Bush.

“With the help of the president of the United States, we pledge to continue to cooperate and communicate with you to continue to get good results,” the letter said.

On September 13, 2007, al-Rishawi was killed along with two of his bodyguards by a roadside bomb near his home in Ramadi, Anbar, Iraq — 10 days after meeting President George W. Bush at a U.S. base in Anbar. Sheikh Ahmed was selected by his fellow Sheikhs of Anbar province to lead the Sahawa Al Anbar and carry on his brother’s legacy (“Iraqis vow to fight al Qaeda after sheikh death” Reuters Sept. 14, 2007).

* * *

This week, a friend forwarded me the following news story from the Arab press: A letter from Pope Benedict XVI to Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha (SahwataliIraq.com).

The article is in Arabic, but the gist of it is that on April 28, 2008, Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, President of the revival in Iraq in his official headquarters in the city of Ramadi, met Sheikh Iyad George Aziz, a major leader within the Chaldean Catholic community.

The article references a letter from the Vatican to Sheik Ahmed (delivered to him by Sheikh Iyad), responding to his Christmas and New Year’s greetings and expressing the positive desire to join the Muslim-Christian dialogue. The full text of the Vatican’s letter:

From the Vatican March 4, 2008

Dear Sheikh Ahmed Basi’ Abu Risha,

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI was pleased to receive the Christmas and New Year’s message which you sent to him, and has asked me to thank you. He appreciates the sentiment which has prompted you to write him.

In his message for the 2008 World Day of Peace, His Holiness extended an invitation “for every man and woman to have a more lively sense of belonging to the one human family, and to strive to make human coexistence increasingly reflect this conviction, which is essential for the establishment of true and lasting peace.” With these sentiments, His Holiness encourages you and all men and women of goodwill in your efforts to promote harmony and reconciliation throughout your region.

With assurance of my prayers and good wishes, I am yours sincerely,

Archbishop Fernando Filoni

* * *
As readers are no doubt aware, by virtue of their Christian faith, the Chaldeans have been subject to horrible persecution, the imposition of jaziyah, kidnappings and even targeted assassinations by Al Qaeda in Iraq.

As my source reports, Sheikh Iyad has apparently agreed to join the Sahawa [Awakening], allowing Sheikh Ahmad to add “Protector of the Chaldean Catholics” to his list of formal titles in a public ceremony covered by Arab media:

After hearing Sheikh Iyad’s account of the suffering that the Chaldean Catholics have endured in Iraq, Sheikh Ahmad publicly declared that from this time forward they would be under his protection, that anyone who killed a Chaldean will be regarded as one who has killed in a member of his tribe (under the medieval Islamic concept of qisas this is a capital offense), and money will be provided from the Sahawa al-Iraq treasury to rebuild the churches and cemeteries that al-Qaeda destroyed. He justified this by quoting from the Qu’ran and stating that there should be no compulsion in matters of religion because truth stands free from error.

Consequently, in a moment of Muslim-Christian solidarity, it would appear that the Chaldeans have a new and very significant protector from persecution at the hands of Al Qaeda.

Related Reading

  • “Ramadi from the Caliphate to Capitalism”, by Andrew Lubin. Proceedings Magazine Issue: April 2008 Vol. 134/4/1,262 provides an detailed look at how Sheikh Sattar Abdul Abu Risha and his Sons of Anbar, together with the assistance of the U.S. Army’s 1st Brigade Combat Team (BCT) and the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, turned around a city once regarded as “a lost cause” and proclaimed by Al Qaeda as the capital of their new caliphate.
  • Hope for Iraq’s Meanest City How the surge brought order to Fallujah, by Michael Totten City Journal Vol. 18, No. 2 Spring 2008:

    The results of the Anbar Awakening and the surge are plain to see. Since the Fifth Marine Regiment’s Third Battalion rotated into Fallujah in September 2007, not a single American has been wounded there, let alone killed. …

    “The al-Qaida leadership outside dumped huge amounts of money and people and arms into Anbar Province,” says Lieutenant Colonel Mike Silverman, who oversees an area just north of Ramadi. “They poured everything they had into this place. The battle against Americans in Anbar became their most important fight in the world. And they lost.”

    (Michael Totten blogs regularly at Michael Totten’s Middle East Journal).

  • Sons of Iraq Screened for ISF, by Spc. Amanda McBride. Multi-National Force Iraq Sunday, 13 April 2008. The “Sons of Iraq” (two thirds of them Sunni, one-third Shia — formerly “Concerned Citizens Groups”) are being transitioned to formal membership in the Iraqi Security Forces:

    “There is a phenomenal interest in the ISF,” said Getchell, a native of Bridgewater, Mass. “Those who have been in the Sons of Iraq program are our priority over those who are not part of the Sons of Iraq program. They stepped forward to defend and protect their areas, so they’ve already shown the propensity to be part of the security process.”

    In March, Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division and Sons of Iraq conducted a combined medical engagement in Arab Jabour, treating residents for minor injuries, such as scrapes, sprains and allergies.

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