By now, we’re all familiar — even those who rely on the MSM — with the Anbar awakening. That’s the process by which Sunnis in what was formerly the center of the insurgency turned against al Qaeda, transforming Anbar province into a relatively stable area. It was this development more than any other that deterred the Democrats in September from pushing the U.S. into defeat in Iraq.
Now we may be witnessing a Shia awakening, in which the Shiite population in violent areas turns against the thuggish militias they previously have tolerated and even supported. Fouad Ajami, who visited Iraq for three weeks in August, reported on the beginnings of such a movement. Moreover, as Dafydd ab Hugh notes, even the New York Times has noticed this phenomenon. According to Sabrina Tavernise of the Times:
In a number of Shiite neighborhoods across Baghdad, residents are beginning to turn away from the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia they once saw as their only protector against Sunni militants. Now they resent it as a band of street thugs without ideology.
The hardening Shiite feeling in Baghdad opens an opportunity for the American military, which has long struggled against the Mahdi Army, as American commanders rely increasingly on tribes and local leaders in their prosecution of the war.
Why has this occurred? The Times offers this explanation:
The street militia of today bears little resemblance to the Mahdi Army of 2004, when Shiites following a cleric, Moktada al-Sadr, battled American soldiers in a burst of Shiite self-assertion. Then, fighters doubled as neighborhood helpers, bringing cooking gas and other necessities to needy families.
Now, three years later, many members have left violence behind, taking jobs in local and national government, while others have plunged into crime, dealing in cars and houses taken from dead or displaced victims of both sects.
Even the demographics have changed. Now, street fighters tend to be young teenagers from errant families, in part the result of American military success. Last fall, the military began an aggressive campaign of arresting senior commanders, leaving behind a power vacuum and directionless junior members.