I’ve argued in the past, and still believe, that you can’t blame the news media for the fact that we’re losing the war in Iraq. But it’s hard to defend some press actions, such as the decision by the New York Times to bury the most important Iraq story of the weekend. Readers of the Saturday New York Times had to turn to the bottom of page A8 to read this dispatch from Edward Wong in Baghdad: “In Lawless Sunni Heartland of Iraq, a Tribal Chief Opposes the Jihadists, and Prays.”
Wong describes a trend I’ve been hearing about on the military grapevine but which hasn’t been much reported in the MSM: the growing willingness of tribal leaders in Anbar province to turn against al Qaeda and offer to fight for the government. The anti-al Qaeda sheiks have formed a group called the Anbar Salvation Council, and they’ve begun encouraging their young men to join the police and various militia forces to battle the jihadists. Thanks to the council’s efforts, the number of Iraqi police recruits in Anbar has shot up from 30 to 300 a month.
Wong’s story focuses on the council’s leader, Sheik Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawa, the 35-year-old chief of the Rishawai tribe, which accounts for about 40,000 of the 400,000 residents of Ramadi, the provincial capital. The sheik’s father and three brothers were killed, most likely by al Qaeda, but this hasn’t cowed him; it has only fueled his thirst for vengeance. Wong quotes a U.S. army civil-affairs officer, who emailed him before his own death in combat in December, that Sheik Abdul Sattar “is the most effective local leader in Ramadi I believe the coalition has worked with since they arrived in Anbar in 2003.”
A measure of caution is warranted here. We have heard before about tribal elders rising up against al Qaeda, and there have been previous reports about local militias, such as the Fallujah Brigade, which did not live up to their hype. But if the trends portrayed in Wong’s story continue, it will be a hugely significant break in the battle to reestablish control of Anbar province, the most lawless region of Iraq since the downfall of the Baathist regime.
You might think that this would deserve front-page play. But no. The Times editors have more important stories to place there, such as this article from Montpelier, Vermont: “Warm Winters Upset Rhythms of Maple Sugar.”