Ramadi Attacks Rattle Growing Sense Of Calm

In Iraq, the apparently coordinated explosions that rocked the capital of Anbar province also destroyed what had been a growing sense of security.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And now to Iraq. Yesterday, a triple car bomb attack destroyed what had been a growing sense of security in Ramadi - that's the capital of Anbar province. The U.S. military blamed al-Qaida, but as NPR's Quil Lawrence reports, there are other currents threatening to undo the hard-won peace in Anbar.

QUIL LAWRENCE: Sheikh Ifan al-Isawi is supposed to be the new face of Anbar. He greets visitors outside his home in Fallujah, and leads them past his bulletproof BMW into his reception hall. The walls are covered in pictures of Ifan shaking hands with American military officers, with President George W. Bush and even Barack Obama, who met the sheikh as a senator.

He also has a showroom of the weapons taken from al-Qaida militants. He's a leader of the Anbar Awakening, tribal sheikhs who fought alongside U.S. troops to stabilize the region. Ifan doesn't mind being associated with the Americans. What's more, in this Sunni Arab province, he doesn't mind being linked to the Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

Mr. IFAN AL-ISAWI (Leader, Anbar Awakening): We study to decide with who we will unite.

LAWRENCE: Ifan and his comrades are now planning for the political awakening of Anbar, which they hope will finally bring Sunni Arabs the voice in government that they failed to claim so far in the new Iraq.

Mr. AL-ISAWI: Now, people of Anbar, they don't care for al-Maliki. Shiite or Sunni, they don't care. They care, and they are worried about, the guy who will build Iraq and who will build security in Iraq, and he will make Iraq peaceful - the most important thing. We don't care if Shiite, Sunni, al-Maliki. We need someone who will continue fighting against al-Qaida (unintelligible) and build Iraq.

LAWRENCE: But with Iraq's national election season under way, the Awakening leaders have yet to declare an alliance with Maliki or any other block. Rumors ricochet around the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi that different Awakening leaders have joined with another Sunni alliance or even other Shiite parties. In the political uncertainty, there's also a dangerous hint of chaos and a growing uptick in violence.

General STEVE LANZA (Spokesman, U.S. Forces): That was truly a heinous thing that happened in Ramadi yesterday.

LAWRENCE: General Steve Lanza briefed reporters today on the car bombings that he blamed on al-Qaida.

Gen. LANZA: And I just want to highlight that as the first responders did come to help people yesterday, they were then attacked by another explosion. And to make it further worse is that the hospital where these people were being treated was attacked. There is no more disruptive force, there is no more heinous force in this country than those that would attack people in that manner.

LAWRENCE: Still, Lanza maintains that Anbar is quieter than almost any time since the 2003 invasion, even as American troops draw down. In downtown Ramadi, signs of life return cautiously amid the bombed-out streets.

(Soundbite of factory)

LAWRENCE: Workers at this ice factory returned only a few months ago. They wrestle with the 100-pound blocks of ice Iraqis use for the many hours when there's no electricity to power a refrigerator. This part of town saw pitched street battles during the worst of the violence. The Americans cleared out all the shops and put up a machine gun nest. U.S. troops pulled out in June and the ice factory reopened. Abu Ahmed(ph) says he's happy to be back, but he's not impressed with the reconstruction.

Mr. ABU AHMED: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: They asked for a billion dinars when it only cost them a million to fix the road, says Abu Ahmed; that's how it's done. He doesn't have to mention names. The Americans freely admit that the reconstruction contracts were steered toward the tribal leaders of the Awakening. And the sheikhs have begun to trade charges about which of them truly fought al-Qaida, and which simply joined the movement for profit. Accusations have given way to insults, and the sheikhs' houses feel more and more like armed, rival camps. As for Abu Ahmed, he says he's not going to vote for anyone in the coming election.

Mr. AHMED: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Abu Ahmed says: I'm afraid God might punish me for electing someone who has done nothing good for the people.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Ramadi.

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