Some mourn, but others celebrate death of 'traitor'

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The death of Sheikh Abu Risha, the charismatic, chain smoking young sheik, has had a huge impact in Iraq as well as the wider Arab world.

There was a sense of shock among many, especially the country's Sunni community. Ali Hatem al-Sulaiman, deputy chief of the province's biggest Sunni tribe, said that if "only one small boy remains alive in Anbar, we will not hand the province over to al-Qa'ida.

But messages were being posted on international jihadist websites exulting at the end of "the traitor and apostate". One called him "one of the biggest pigs of the Crusaders".

The killing took place on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan, and on the eve of the first anniversary of the founding of the Anbar Salvation Council, a tribal alliance led by the sheikh, which had been battling al-Qa'ida fighters in the western province with some success. Last night Anbar was under a state of emergency with the routes to Jordan and Syria closed down and US reinforcement on standby to be airlifted to the area.

The attack on the sheikh was followed by a car bombing in Baghdad, the first in the Iraqi capital for more than a week, killing four people and injuring 12 others, leading to fears of an escalation of violence during Ramadan, which has become the norm in Iraq.

According to Iraqi sources, Sheikh Abu Risha told associates he would spend Ramadan in Jordan, where the import export business run by his family had offices. This may have given his enemies an opportunity to plan the bombing.

According to the American military, violent incidents in Anbar have fallen in the last month. However Abu Risha and his tribal allies had survived several previous assassinations attempts. In June, a suicide bomber assassinated four Sunni sheikhs who were cooperating with Americans in Anbar, detonating an explosive belt as they gathered inside a large Baghdad hotel.

The following month a suicide truck bombing at Taji, north of Baghdad, again aimed at a meeting of Sunni tribal sheikhs who had agreed to oppose al-Qa'ida, killing five people and wounding 12 others.

One of the sheikh's principal bodyguards, Samir al-Nimrawi, is reported to have received a threat, purportedly from al-Qa'ida, that he would be killed "whatever the Americans try to do to protect him".

Abu Risha's critics accused him of corruption, sectarianism and using government money to run his own private army.