April 28, 2008

Abu Abed Survives

Among the biggest reasons for the significant decline in violence in Iraq over the past year is the Sunni Awakening (or Sahwa). The movement includes tribal sheiks, former Sunni insurgents, and community leaders who have come together to cooperate with coalition forces and defend their localities against AQI. The result has been the "Sons of Iraq" (formerly known as the "Concerned Local Citizens") program, a motley assortment of 90,000 (mostly Sunni) Sahwa foot soldiers. Because the SoIs/CLCs have been so successful, they have increasingly come under attack by AQI.

Perhaps the most famous of all SoI commanders is Abu Abed. Rumored to be a former insurgent, Abu Abed leads a 600-man strong unit in Baghdad's Amiriya neighborhood -- once one of the most dangerous places in the capital. His group was formed after an infamous Western-style gunfight with the "White Lion," the local AQI leader in Amiriya, last summer. As AQI counter-attacked, a U.S. Stryker unit arrived to bail Abu Abed out. A new alliance was formed. Many see Abu Abed as a hero; others see a darker side to groups like his. Everybody thinks he is an important leader in the movement.

It was perhaps inevitable, therefore, that AQI would try to assassinate him. Over the weekend, Abu Abed was attacked as he arrived for a meeting with tribal leaders. Two of his guards were killed, eight were injured, and Abu Abed received shrapnel wounds in the head, eye, and back. On Sunday, he was back at work, declaring to re-double his efforts against AQI: "It will make me double my effort 10 times over. I will keep chasing the wanted and the terrorists, day and night."

AQI is playing a double-edged game. They have long sought to intimidate and eliminate opponents, and for a long time were successful. Sometimes it works. But when it fails, their actions leave them worse off than before by feeding the motivations behind the Awakening to begin with. It's nice to see the tribal vendetta system working for us for a change.

Update: A reader passed along this much darker assessment of Abu Abed. Like many involved in the Awakening, the jury is still out as to whether they mainly want to defend their homes and neighborhoods, or whether they are re-grouping for round two of the insurgency/civil war.