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Reporters on the Job

A Sheikh or Not? Correspondent Sam Dagher was in Tikrit profiling a Sunni sheikh working closely with – and being paid handsomely by – the US military (see story).

"Sheikh Sabah al-Hassani told me he was one of the princes of Shammar, a legendary tribe, which stretches from northern Iraq and Syria all the way to Yemen. They once ruled the Arabian peninsula, including modern day Saudi Arabia, before their reign was usurped by the House of Saud. The mother of King Abdullah, the current Saudi monarch, hails from the Shammar," says Sam.

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In his effort to ascertain the tribal credentials of Sheikh Sabah al-Hassani, he dug into his mental Rolodex of Iraqi tribal chieftains. "I asked him if he knew Sheikh Fawaz al-Jarba, a Shammar sheikh I met in Baghdad several times in 2005. It's widely known in Iraq that the Jarba and Toga clans of Shammar are the "princely houses." Sheikh Sabah, who hails from the lesser Al-Sayeh clan, smiled and then said, yes.

Sam says he then followed up with another testing question: " 'Do you know Sheikh Ghassan al-Obeidi?' I asked. He's one of the tribal chiefs of the Obeidi tribe that I had met in 2004. The Obeidis' presence extends from Kirkuk to neighboring Salahaddin province and other parts of Iraq," says Sam.

Before the sheikh could answer, they were interrupted by the arrival of his visitors: Obeidis. They had come to ask that one of their chiefs be released from Iraqi Army custody after he was rounded up during a raid.

"You are bakheet," he told Sam, using a Bedouin word.

"Excuse me?" Sam replied.

"Lucky. You asked about something and it emerged," he said. Sam wondered if the sheikh wasn't the "lucky" one for seizing on an opportunity to dodge Sam's question.

East Not West: The Nov. 6 article, "Israel puts Jerusalem on the table," misidentified the territory annexed by Israel after the 1967 Six-Day War. It was East Jerusalem.

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– David Clark Scott

World editor