- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2008

BAGHDAD (AP) — A suicide bomber attacked a checkpoint manned by a group fighting against al Qaeda in Iraq, killing 12 in one of a series of strikes yesterday against the largely Sunni movement singled out by Osama bin Laden as a “disgrace and shame.”

Leaders of the rapidly expanding U.S.-backed movement, credited with helping slash violence across the country by 60 percent since June, condemned bin Laden’s latest message to his followers.

“We consider our fighting against al Qaeda to be a popular revolution against the devil,” said Sheik Mohammed Saleh al-Dohan, head of one of the groups in southern Ramadi, a city in Anbar province where the movement was born.

Sheik al-Dohan blamed al Qaeda, which espouses a radical version of Sunni Islam, for bringing destruction to Iraq: “They made enemies between Sunnis, Shi’ites and Christians who lived in peace for centuries.”

Bin Laden and his fighters “are the traitors who betrayed the Muslim nation and brought shame to Islam in all the world,” he said.

In an audiotape that emerged Saturday, bin Laden warned Iraq’s Sunni Arabs against joining the groups, known as “awakening councils,” or participating in any unity government. He said Sunni Arabs who join the groups “have betrayed the nation and brought disgrace and shame to their people. They will suffer in life and in the afterlife.”

In the northern city of Tikrit, former dictator Saddam Hussein’s hometown, the local Salahuddin Awakening Council said the movement was founded in response to “the crimes of followers of Osama bin Laden in Iraq.”

The “Awakening Council’s fighters are protecting people from criminals,” the statement said, and demanded an apology “for those who have been harmed by the brutal acts of al Qaeda members.”

The groups took root in Anbar, once a hotbed of al Qaeda in Iraq activity, but have become a mass movement that includes more than 70,000 fighters who are paid a monthly salary of $300 by the U.S. to protect their neighborhoods.

In the most serious attack against one of the groups yesterday, a suicide bomber drove a minibus rigged with explosives into a checkpoint in Tarmiyah, 30 miles north of Baghdad, police and a member of the local awakening council said.

The explosion killed 12 persons, said Adil al-Mishhadani, a member of the council. The council commander, who gave his name only as Abu Arkan for security reasons, said later that the dead included three children on their way to school and nine council members.

Three persons were missing, he said.

In a western neighborhood of the capital, a mortar round thought to have been fired at a council headquarters wounded three civilians when it landed on a nearby house, a Baghdad police officer said.

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