Taking a stand is not an easy thing to do for most, especially when the cost of standing out may be your life. Last week, I had the honor of meeting and interviewing Sheik Sattar. This young, vibrant leader was a rising star behind a movement that has brought peace to the area, and hope to a people.

I’ve spoken to many Iraqis here in Ramadi; they all have a similar tale to tell, but it usually boils down to a few basic details. For about two years, al-Qaida did everything in its power to murder and intimidate the men, women and children of Ramadi and Anbar. Al-Qaida’s occupation was at a peak last year when they declared Ramadi the capital of the Islamic state of Iraq.

Then came the awakening. Tired of the violence, Sattar lost his father and three of his brothers; the sheik brought together various tribe heads, the ones that were still attached to bodies, and formed a coalition with American forces to fight al-Qaida.

I’ve learned to admire how much Iraqis will fight, despite the risks. When Sattar asked the members of his tribe to become police officers and help secure their neighborhoods and their families, men signed up by the hundreds. Because of government bureaucracy, many were not paid for months, and yet they still showed up for work and still took many risks. Of course, this resistance made Sattar a prime target.

A few bad men can cause so much harm. It’s easy to forget that only 19 men were responsible for most of 9/11.

There’s this wobbly theory, or group think, back home that if al-Qaida were not plotting death here in Iraq, they’d be herding sheep somewhere and living a happy, productive and peaceful life; but nothing could be further from the truth.

In life, you can either put up or shut up. Sheik Sattar spoke out when most were stilled by fear or too busy fleeing the country. The sheik had resources and could have done the same, but then the awakening would not have taken place, and his death would have meant nothing. There is a Spanish saying, “Nobody writes about cowards.”

Back home there are many who take part in the luxury of debates, the “what if” game, but the people of Anbar are denied that reality, because they are currently fighting a very dangerous group of people who would like to enslave them through violence and dominate them through fear.

Matt Sanchez Sheik Sattar

Sheik Sattar was killed on the first day of Ramadan, the date was no mistake, because a fanatic thought this day would have the greatest impact, and he was right. I’m a Christian and it would be hard to imagine showing my devotion to God by blowing someone up on Christmas Eve, but that’s what the death cult did to Sheik Sattar. I remember the sheik talking about the “islamist.” He looked at me, tapped his forehead as his eyes widened, his voice stuttered. “They are very, very, very not nice people.”

The people who killed Sheik Sattar, al-Qaida in Iraq, are the kissing cousins of those 19 men who brought us Sept. 11. I watched Sattar play with his young son. I’m not sure if he had more children, but he was raising this boy to be a leader. Now, he is dead.

The road to martyrdom runs in two directions. A photo of a slain police officer adorns posters throughout Ramadi. The police officer was killed by al-Qaida; his son is now a police officer in Ramadi where he is treated as the son of a hero. Now, Sattar is the latest al-Qaida martyr. Mourners shouted for death to the bin Laden franchise during Sattar’s funeral. The terrorists have had their symbols blotted out by the ugly reality of desperation. Zarqawi is dead, forgotten; the leadership is hiding in caves applying dye to their beards in preparation for an Internet close-up. Sheik Sattar is a figure that will go down in history. Can anyone name even one of the 19 hijackers?

Sattar told me he wanted to go to Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. “Wherever it took to find Bin Laden.” I thought he was kidding (he had a way of smiling when saying important things and then appearing serious right before a joke.) Yet what this man accomplished was no laughing matter.

For months now, Ramadi and much of Anbar has been a model for success, a more peaceful place. Taking a stand is dangerous but Anbar will be grateful for those who show courage.

Related special offer:

“The Final Move Beyond Iraq”

Matt Sanchez, originally from California, is a New York City-based writer currently embedded with the U.S. military in Iraq. His work has appeared in the New York Post, National Review and the Weekly Standard.

A corporal in the United States Marine Corps Reserve and a student at Columbia University where he’s working on degree in American Studies, Sanchez says his mission in Iraq is “to report on the stories that matter the most, first-person accounts by the men and women on the ground.” His blog, Matt-Sanchez.com, chronicles his work.

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.