Thursday, November 29, 2007

More Iraqi Shia Join the Awakening Movement

As a few Iraqi bloggers continue to complain about the improving situation in Iraq, more Iraqis, Sunna and Shia, are working with Americans to fight Al Qaeda and other terrorists:

Sects unite to battle Al Qaeda in Iraq

Sunnis and Shiites work together at the local level to protect their neighborhoods from insurgents and militias.

By Doug Smith and Saif Rasheed, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
November 19, 2007

QARGHULIA, Iraq — Despite persistent sectarian tensions in the Iraqi government, war-weary Sunnis and Shiites are joining hands at the local level to protect their communities from militants on both sides, U.S. military officials say.

In the last two months, a U.S.-backed policing movement called Concerned Citizens, launched last year in Sunni-dominated Anbar province under the banner of the Awakening movement, has spread rapidly into the mixed Iraqi heartland.

Of the nearly 70,000 Iraqi men in the Awakening movement, started by Sunni Muslim sheiks who turned their followers against Al Qaeda in Iraq, there are now more in Baghdad and its environs than anywhere else, and a growing number of those are Shiite Muslims.

Commanders in the field think they have tapped into a genuine public expression of reconciliation that has outpaced the elected government's progress on mending the sectarian rift.

"What you find is these people have lived together for decades with no problem until the terrorists arrived and tried to instigate the problem," said Lt. Col. Valery Keaveny, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 509th Airborne unit in the Iskandariya area south of Baghdad. "So they are perfectly willing to work together to keep the terrorists out."

As late as this summer, there were no Shiites in the community policing groups. Today, there are about 15,000 in 24 all-Shiite groups and 18 mixed groups, senior U.S. military officials say. More are joining daily.

Here in Qarghulia, a rural community east of Baghdad, the results are palpable. Killings are down dramatically and public confidence is reviving.

"Sunnis-Shiites, no problem," said Obede Ali Hussein, 22, who stood at a checkpoint built by the U.S. Army along the Diyala River. "We want to protect our neighborhood."

For commanders in areas where Sunni-Shiite warring had brought normal life to a standstill, the unexpected flowering of sectarian cooperation has proved a boon.

"I couldn't do it without them," said Capt. Troy Thomas, whose 1st Cavalry unit is responsible for securing the Qarghulia area.


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