BAGHDAD – Mourners vowed revenge and perseverance Friday at the funeral of the leader of the Sunni Arab revolt against Al Qaeda militants who was assassinated just 10 days after meeting with President Bush in Iraq's Anbar province.
More than 1,500 mourners marched along the highway near the home of Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, who was killed along with two bodyguards and a driver Thursday by a bomb hidden near his house, just west of Ramadi.
Scores of Iraqi police and U.S. military vehicles lined the route to protect the procession as it followed the black SUV carrying the sheik's Iraqi-flag draped coffin.
"We will take our revenge," the mourners chanted along the 6 mile route to Risha's family cemetery, many of them crying. "We will continue the march of Abu Risha."
Abu Risha was buried one year after the goateed, charismatic, chain-smoking young sheik organized 25 Sunni Arab clans under the umbrella of the Anbar Awakening Council, an alliance against Al Qaeda in Iraq, to drive terrorists from sanctuaries where they had flourished after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
Al-Qaida's front in Iraq claimed responsibility in a Web statement Friday for the slaying of Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, a leading figure in the U.S.-backed revolt of Sunni sheiks against the terror network.
"Allah enabled your brothers ... to track down and assassinate the imam of infidelity and apostasy ... one of the dogs of (U.S. President George W.) Bush," said the statement by the Islamic State of Iraq. It described Thursday's murder of Abu Risha, killed by a roadside bomb near his home in Anbar province, as a "heroic operation that took over a month to prepare."
U.S. officials credit Abu Risha and allied sheiks with a dramatic improvement in security in such Anbar flashpoints as Fallujah and Ramadi after years of American failure to subdue the extremists. U.S. officials now talk of using the Anbar model to organize tribal fighters elsewhere in Iraq.
Bush hailed Abu Risha's courage during his short Sept. 3 visit to al-Asad Air Base, and vowed in his nationally televised address Thursday night to help others carry on his work.
"Earlier today, one of the brave tribal sheiks who helped lead the revolt against Al Qaeda was murdered," Bush said. "In response, a fellow Sunni leader declared: "We are determined to strike back and continue our work." And as they do, they can count on the continued support of the United States."
Many high-ranking officials were on hand for the funeral, including Iraq's interior and defense ministers and National Security Adviser Mouwaffak al-Rubaie.
"We condemn the killing of Abu Risha, but this will not deter us from helping the people of Anbar — we will support them more than before," al-Rubaie declared. "It is a national disaster and a great loss for the Iraqi people — Abu Risha was the only person to confront Al Qaeda in Anbar."
But in open-air Friday prayers in the streets of Baghdad's Shiite slum Sadr City, a stronghold of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, imam Muhanned al-Gharawi told thousands of worshippers that the assassination was an example of the government's inability to provide security for Iraq.
"The Iraqi people have lost trust with this government and killings are still going on — the latest is the assassination of the Anbar Awakening Council leader," he said. "Everyone is threatened with death in this country as long as the American Black House is still giving the orders."
In scattered violence around Iraq on Friday, a suicide truck bomb hit a police checkpoint near Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, killing four policemen, a Beiji police officer said.
South of Baghdad, unidentified gunmen killed three farmers who were taking their turn guarding a village, police said.
Farther south in the city of Hillah, gunmen attacked the home of Col. Hussein Ali Hassoon al Khafaji, an Iraqi army battalion commander, killing a guard and wounding another, police said.
In a helicopter assault mission west of Baghdad, three suspected insurgents were killed and three American soldiers were injured, the U.S. command said.
Iraqi soldiers led the raid Thursday on a mosque in Karmah, a town in Iraq's western Anbar province some 50 miles west of the capital, the U.S. military said in a statement. The target was a high-ranking Al Qaeda in Iraq leader, believed to be responsible for orchestrating murders, sniper attacks and the planting of roadside bombs.
During the operation, people fleeing the mosque fired at American troops — wounding three of them with non-life threatening injuries. U.S. and Iraqi forces retaliated with ground fire and close air support, killing three suspected insurgents, the military said.
The military statement did not say whether the targeted Al Qaeda figure was among the dead.
Troops also discovered four rockets, roadside bomb-making materials and 50-caliber ammunition rounds inside the mosque, the statement said.
The U.S. command also released more details on the deadly Sept. 10 accident in Baghdad that killed seven soldiers, including two sergeants who helped write a New York Times op-ed article sharply critical of the Pentagon's assessment of the Iraq war.
Sgt. Omar Mora and Sgt. Yance T. Gray were among seven NCOs who wrote the Aug. 19 piece entitled "The War As We Saw It" expressing doubts about American gains in Iraq.
Another co-author, Staff Sgt. Jeremy Murphy, was shot in the head while the article was being written. The Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader flown to a military hospital in the United States and expected to survive.
The U.S. command said the accident occurred in the Baghdad suburb of Shula when soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade were in an armored transport truck on their way back from a raid in which they had captured three insurgents suspected of attacks on U.S. and Iraqi soldiers.
"The unit was returning to base after the raid when their vehicle apparently lost control and fell approximately 50 feet from a highway overpass," the military said in a statement.