One of the sheikhs credited with the Anbar Awakening wants to put his experience to use in another theater: Afghanistan. Sheik Ahmad al-Rishawi has studied the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan and believes he can help lead a rebellion against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and wants to fight alongside Americans to put his plans into action:
The leader of the tribal confederation that has fought to expel Al Qaeda from most of Iraq’s Anbar province is offering his men to help gin up a rebellion against Osama bin Laden’s organization along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
In an interview, Sheik Ahmad al-Rishawi told The New York Sun that in April he prepared a 47-page study on Afghanistan and its tribes for the deputy chief of mission at the American embassy in Kabul, Christopher Dell. When asked if he would send military advisers to Afghanistan to assist American troops fighting there, he said: “I have no problem with this; if they ask me, I will do it.” …
“Al Qaeda is an ideology,” Sheik Ahmad said. “We can defeat them inside Iraq and we can defeat them in any country.” The tribal leader arrived in Washington last week. All of his meetings, including an audience with President Bush, have been closed to the public, in part because the Anbari sheiks, while likely to win future electoral contests, are not themselves part of Iraq’s elected government.
Of his meeting with Mr. Bush, Sheik Ahmad said he was impressed. “He is a brave man. He is also a wise man. He is taking care of the country’s future, the United States‘ future. He is also taking care of the Iraqi people, the ordinary people in Iraq. He wants to accomplish success in Iraq.”
Ahmad’s brother Sattari originally led the Anbar Awakening. AQ assassinated Sattari last September in what looked like a severe blow to the American-Sunni alliance. Ahmad took control of the tribal leadership of the group and has pressed forward, and now sees victory within his grasp over the foreign extremists that attempted to usurp the roles of native Iraqi tribal leaders.
Ahmad also met with Congressional leadership on his Washington trip, urging them to keep American troops in Iraq until the Iraqi Army is fully trained and ready to handle all security matters. He used the models of Japan and Germany, as John McCain has done during his campaign, to outline what he sees as the future of US-Iraqi relations. He wants a close partnership, having seen what American power can do when the proper strategies and tactics come to bear.
Would his experience in Iraq help in Afghanistan? His perspective on how to break AQ’s grip on the Sunni imagination would benefit the US, and Ahmad would have tremendous credibility among Muslims in talking about the benefits of an American partnership. The issues and situation in Afghanistan are quite a bit different, though, with the Pashtun tribal leadership much more closely aligned with the Taliban than Iraqi sheikhs were with AQ or even the Saddamist insurgents. The US probably sees Ahmad as much more valuable where he is, helping bring stability and peace to western Iraq.
Still, it shows the tremendous change in Iraq that Ahmad would publicly volunteer to serve with the Americans in Afghanistan. Two years ago, who could have predicted that from a Sunni sheikh in Anbar? The repudiation of al-Qaeda and its lunatics could not possibly be more explicit.