Iraq's Sunni sheikhs take the fight to Al Qaeda in Fallujah

The State Department’s contact with the Iraqi tribal leaders increased significantly in November, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials. Indeed, in a 2012 interview, Abu-Risha told The Daily Beast that he was frozen out of contacts with the U.S. government, which preferred to deal directly with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Iraqi government in Baghdad. Maliki himself had put out an arrest warrant for abu-Risha, a warrant that appears now to have been rescinded. Maliki in the last two months has held meetings with the Anbari leader as the threat from al Qaeda has grown.

“It has only been in the last few months that the U.S. embassy in Baghdad has been in contact with sheiks in Anbar,” said Sterling Jensen, an analyst at the National Defense University who served as the main translator for the U.S. Army in Ramadi at the beginning of the Anbar Awakening.

Jensen has remained in contact with many of the tribal leaders, including abu-Risha, since leaving Iraq. In an interview, he said al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, known as the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant (ISIL) has taken advantage of political protests that have been waged for more than a year against Maliki’s government. The protests galvanized a year ago after Rafi al-Issawi, a Sunni politician, announced he was resigning as finance minister and the Maliki government announced an investigation into alleged financial fraud and connections to Sunni death squads.