The Challenge Of Creating A Lasting Peace

2007 A U.S. soldier prepares to fire at an insurgent position during a June firefight in the Adhamiyah district.
2007 A U.S. soldier prepares to fire at an insurgent position during a June firefight in the Adhamiyah district. (By Sgt. Michael Pryor Via Associated Press)
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By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 7, 2008

BAGHDAD -- The most powerful man in Adhamiyah suddenly appeared out of the darkness, sweeping into the alley behind a wall of bodyguards.

"The sheik," the American soldiers called out.

Sheik Amir al-Azawi had arrived to weigh in on a dispute that had ensnared an American military patrol, Iraqi soldiers, the sheik's son and members of the U.S.-backed Sunni security force known as the Awakening. The sheik's son was demanding that the Americans arrest two Iraqis detained on suspicion of planting a roadside bomb.

The U.S. troops had screened the men's hands for bombmaking residue, but found only dust. The soldiers said there would be no arrests without evidence.

Azawi moved to the huddle to listen and interject, and then over to the two detained Iraqis. Lifting his cane not far from their faces, he issued a warning: "If there is a second attack, I will come and hunt you."

For the American soldiers patrolling this Sunni enclave in northern Baghdad, it was another instance of working through rumors, hearsay and finger-pointing demands to arrest people. "We go through this every night," said 1st Sgt. Craig Patterson of the Army's 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment. "If these guys would have touched bombs, it would come up on the X-ray."

A year ago, Adhamiyah was one of the bloodiest districts in Baghdad. In the past few months, scores of shops have reopened in corners where soldiers remember the stench of rotting corpses. Men crowd outside cafes on streets once prowled by young thugs riding motorbikes and wielding assault rifles.

In the center of Adhamiyah, the Abu Hanifa mosque, one of the most prominent Sunni shrines in Baghdad, glowed under exterior lights. A year ago, soldiers said, gunmen opened fire on U.S. Humvees nearly every time they passed it.

Now, the challenge confronting the Americans is how to cement a peace that will not unravel after they leave.

Friction and Frustration

The Awakening fighters are growing increasingly frustrated that Iraq's Shiite-led central government has been slow to integrate them into the Iraqi police and military services. U.S. officers say the fighters appear to be breaking into factions.

Roadside bombs have suddenly become more prevalent in Adhamiyah. The U.S. military said 21 bombs were found in the area in the last 25 days of April, compared with three or four in all of March. Platoon leaders on patrol at Awakening checkpoints at the end of April sought information about the origins of fresh graffiti in support of the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

"It's escalating," said a checkpoint leader who gave his name as Abu Ahmad. "Some of the Awakening are chanting for al-Qaeda and using slogans for al-Qaeda. I think the district will pay the price because of these problems."

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