Fantastic article from Moni Basu, an AJC reporter in Iraq, on the death of a prominent sheik:

Sheik Abdul Sattar al-Rishawi was young for a tribal leader — only 37. Regal in his flowing muslin robes trimmed with gold, white headdress and a neatly groomed goatee.

His name was uttered in all circles. From the moment I landed in Ramadi, Iraq, I heard al-Rishawi mentioned in almost every conversation — by American soldiers and Marines, Iraqi army and police and the people on the street. One resident hailed him as the closest thing to God.

“We consider the sheik our first line of defense,” Iraqi Army Col. Hamid Khalaf Salim told me last April at a joint U.S.-Iraqi security station.

No other man, perhaps, was as vital to keeping the peace in Iraq’s lawless Anbar province. Certainly, the U.S. soldiers who worked with him in Ramadi knew it. And apparently, so did the terrorists he helped defeat.

A bomb planted near his Ramadi home killed al-Rishawi on Thursday, just 10 days after President Bush lunched with him during a quick visit to Iraq and two days after Ramadi residents marked the first anniversary of the “Anbar Awakening.”

He was allegedly al-Qaida’s No. 1 target. It is understandable why.

Fed up with the senseless violence consuming the Sunni province — including the assassination of his own father and three of his brothers— al-Rishawi rallied fellow tribal sheiks last September and launched what he called the Anbar Salvation Council.

His strategy was simple: Let’s join hands with each other and with American forces to purge al-Qaida in Mesopotamia from our province. We are tired of the bombings, beheadings and mortar attacks, he said. Tired of seeing the blood of our people flow like the Euphrates through our city.

Let’s put down differences over Iraq for a moment and mourn the loss of this man. I’m tired of people — U.S. troops and Iraqis — trying to do the right thing and getting blown up.

Basu breaks a couple of journalistic traditions in her article — namely writing in the first person. But, I think it works in this situation, helping us understand the level of importance of the sheik. Plus, Basu’s earned the right to break tradition — she’s been in Iraq for more than a year. Who can say they’d trade places with her?