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Dulim, Iraq - Masked militants of Al Qaeda in Iraq have been defeated – for the moment – in their battle to control this frontline farming village. For two years, this remote outpost 20 miles northeast of Baghdad, endured an Al Qaeda presence that imposed its will with killings and intimidation, forcing one sheikh out of town a few months ago
Last week, that same sheikh returned with a US Army Cavalry unit backed by an Iraqi Army battalion. He had persuaded the Americans that his people were "desperate" to create a US-funded militia to take on Al Qaeda in Iraq.
But Sheikh Thamir Hassan Ali miscalculated, underestimating Al Qaeda's fearful grip. The imam at the Dulim mosque refused to cooperate, adamant that setting up a Concerned Local Citizens (CLC) group would be a "declaration of war" against Al Qaeda. Only days before, militants had come, warning villagers that "collaborators" would die.
In the warmth of the morning sun, the imam finally agreed that the men would join the CLC. But by dusk, only seven had signed up, gingerly putting on their bright sashes and praying for a larger turnout.
The American decision to stay a few more days in Dulim tipped the balance. By Tuesday of this week, 60 men had joined the CLCs in Dulim and were manning three checkpoints around the town. So far, Al Qaeda has not responded.
"The power [of the people] is bigger than what Al Qaeda was expecting," Sheikh Thamir said Tuesday, contacted by phone. US and Iraqi forces remain for the time being. "People are happy, and have started to work again on their farms. I hope other villages will make the same decision, to release people from the fear of Al Qaeda."