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In an odd coincidence, shortly after posting this entry I read a passage from Bing West's The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq. In it, he describes a September, 2007 meeting in Anbar Province, hosted by the governor and presided over by Iraq's deputy prime minister. By that time the Awakening movement had turned the tide of the war in Anbar, and economic recovery and rebuilding were next on the agenda for what had been the deadliest quarter of Iraq. But while the purpose of the meeting was economic planning, West says "the real guest of honor was Sheik Sattar" - the Iraqi leader of the movement.
But someone else was in town, too - and he wanted to send the Sheiks a message on behalf of the American people: "Not good enough".
Senator Joseph Biden, who visited Iraq frequently, then took the podium to issue a blunt warning. "The American people can't want peace more than the Iraqi people", he said. "It's encouraging to see central government assisting you in Anbar. In America we are waiting to see how extensive that cooperation will be. If it is [extensive], you can count on America to stay. If it is not, you can say goodbye now."Probably just a "gaffe", I'm sure.
After the meeting, the sheiks mingled, nibbling on chicken and pita bread. Several were puzzled by Biden's lecture. They had expected to be congratulated for having thrown out al Qaeda. When I chatted with [Iraq's] Deputy Prime Minister Salh, he was annoyed. "It took your country thirteen years," he said, "to get a constitution and a set of laws. Why are you talking defeatist?"
Within a few days of that event, Sattar was assassinated, a tragedy the AP declared had "dealt a setback to one of the few success stories in U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq".
Still, the loss of such a charismatic leader is bound to complicate efforts to recruit more tribal leaders in the war against the terror network. Two Pentagon officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the matter, said the assassination sent a chilling message about the consequences of cooperating with the Americans.In reality, neither murder or Joe Biden's mouth could stem the tide against al Qaeda in Iraq.