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CAMP BLUE DIAMOND, Iraq — The assassination of an important local leader will not destroy the progress made in Iraq’s Anbar province, Camp Blue Diamond soldiers said Friday.

Formerly one of the most vicious regions in the country, Anbar is now touted as a wartime success story by U.S. and Iraqi leaders who cite the area’s dramatic fall in attacks and large degree of public participation in rooting out insurgents.

A key leader in that effort, Sheik Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, a Sunni, was killed Thursday when an explosion hit his armored vehicle outside his Ramadi home. A car bomb also detonated and two bodyguards were killed, according to media reports.

Abu Risha headed up the Abu Risha tribe and was a leader in the so-called “Anbar Awakening” — an alliance of more than 40 local tribes pledging to act against al-Qaida.

He was familiar to Camp Blue Diamond in his work with Coalition Forces to bring security and economic development to the region, said Jack al-Jumaily, 1st Brigade Combat Team 3rd Battalion 69 Armor Regiment linguist. The sheik will be remembered as “a courageous man,” he said.

Gen. David Petraeus, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Bush also mourned Abu Risha’s loss. Bush met Abu Risha just weeks ago during a surprise visit to Anbar and mentioned his death in a speech to the nation Thursday night on the status of the war.

“Earlier today, one of the brave tribal sheiks who helped lead the revolt against al-Qaida was murdered,” Bush said, adding that Sunnis who continue the work of Abu Risha can count on “continued” U.S. support.

While the timing of the assassination — just hours before Bush’s speech and on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan — was somewhat significant, previous attempts had been made on al-Rishawi’s life, said Capt. Diogo Tavares, 31, of Hillside, N.J.

Taveres is the Company C commander on an infantry unit with Camp Blue Diamond’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Battalion, 69 Armor Regiment.

The situation makes everyone more aware and security will continue to be “ever vigilant,” he said.

He hoped the violence will spur a stronger resolve within the community to root out al-Qaida insurgents, he said.

“It affects the local area — I compare it to a nation mourning JFK,” Tavares said. “He was a good leader who brought the community closer together.”

Marine Corps Lt. Mick Duffy remembers Abu Risha as a “quiet and reserved person” in their first economic forum meetings before he became an icon in the Anbar Awakening, he said.

“While you can’t pin the Awakening on just one person, it was his face that everyone saw,” Duffy said.

He echoed Tavares’ feelings that the community would rally against those responsible for the attack.

“I think the people in the community will be strong enough to move past this,” Duffy said. “I don’t know where we’re going in the next few days, but I know where we’re going in the next few months.”


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