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Sunni Awakening resolute in face of Iraq bombing

A suicide bomber on Sunday killed at least 43 in an attack on members of the Sunni Awakening, which helped turned the tide against Al Qaeda in Iraq. Iraqis are concerned Al Qaeda could regain ground as the US pulls out its combat troops next month.

By Staff writer / July 19, 2010

Iraqi soldiers inspect the scene of a suicide attack in Radwaniya, southwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday. Twin suicide bombings killed scores of people on Sunday, including dozens from a government-backed, anti-Al Qaeda militia lining up to collect their paychecks near a military base southwest of Baghdad, Iraqi officials said.

Khalid Mohammed/AP

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Baghdad

In one of the deadliest single attacks in Iraq this year, insurgents on Sunday targeted the Sunni militia that was crucial in turning the tide against Al Qaeda in Iraq.

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That bombing claimed at least 43 lives and rekindled memories of the 2006-07 peak of both Iraq's civil war and its insurgency. It is the latest in a string of recent attacks against Iraqi police and the Sunni Awakening, or Sons of Iraq. Members of the Awakening, a collective movement recruited by the US military to fight AQI, were attacked while waiting on Baghdad's southwest outskirts to receive paychecks from the Iraqi government.

Government officials and Awakening leaders blamed AQI.

“It is Al Qaeda – they are targeting us because we hurt them, we paralyzed them,” says Abu Mustafa, the South Baghdad deputy Awakening commander, who would only give his nickname for security reasons. “Now [Al Qaeda militants] are trying to find a gap, a weak spot in order to regain the ground.”

Indeed, the attack comes at a time of political flux in Iraq. Iraqi politicians continue to bicker over forming a new government, resulting in an open-ended power vacuum that has festered more than four months after national elections. With the US due to pull out all combat troops by Sept. 1, Iraqis are concerned that AQI could further capitalize on the political uncertainty.

“This will have consequences if it is not brought under control … if that push from Al Qaeda is not stopped,” says a resident of Fallujah, a key city in Iraq's western Anbar province, once renowned for its Sunni militancy and Al Qaeda presence, which the Sunni Awakening helped to subdue. “People are losing their lives, they are losing their sons… We are on the ground, we can see it. The fact is there is pushback from Al Qaeda, timed as the Americans leave. Al Qaeda is sending a message to families: ‘If you go after us, we will go after you.’”

Biden and military: No change in drawdown plans

US Vice President Joe Biden, speaking hours after Sunday’s attacks, said neither the lack of a new government nor the violence would halt the withdrawal, leaving just 50,000 support troops in Iraq after August.

The drawdown – from a peak of more than 170,000 American troops in late 2007 – “will not in any way affect the physical stability of Iraq,” Mr. Biden told ABC News.

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