In a dramatic turnaround, more than 3,000 Iraqi families driven out of their Baghdad neighborhoods have returned to their homes in the past three months as sectarian violence has dropped, the government said Saturday.
But Azawi said things began changing, becoming more peaceful, in August when radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his Mahdi Army fighters to stand down nationwide.
About the same time, the Khadra neighborhood Awakening Council rose up against brutal al-Qaida control — the imposition of its austere interpretation of Islam, along with the murder and torture of those who would not comply.
The uprising originated in Iraq's west and flowed into the capital. Earlier this year, the Sunni tribes and clans in the vast Anbar province began their own revolt and have successfully rid the largely desert region of al-Qaida control.
At one point the terrorist group virtually controlled Anbar, often with the complicity of the vast Sunni majority who welcomed the outsiders in their fight against American forces.
But, U.S. officials say, al-Qaida overplayed its hand with Iraq's Sunnis, who practice a moderate version of Islam. American forces were quick to capitalize on the upheaval, welcoming former Sunni enemies as colleagues in securing what was once the most dangerous region of the country.
And as 30,000 additional U.S. forces arrived for the crackdown in Baghdad and central Iraq, the American commander, Gen. David Petraeus, began stationing many of them in neighborhood outposts. The mission was not only to take back control but to foster neighborhood groups like the one in Khadra to shake off al-Qaida's grip.
...the U.S. military working with the neighborhood council is handing out $2,000 grants to shop owners who had closed their business. The money goes to those who agree to reopen or first-time businessmen.
Al-Azawi said he's trying to get one of the grants to open a poultry and egg shop that his brother would run.
"In Khadra, about 15 families have returned from Syria. I've called friends and family still there and told them it's safe to come home," he said.
Sattar Nawrous, a spokesman for the Ministry of Displacement and Migration, said the al-Azawi family was among 3,100 that have returned to their homes in Baghdad in the past 90 days.
"In the past three months, the ministry did not register any forced displacement in the whole of Iraq," said Nawrous, who is a Kurd.
The claim could not be independently verified, but, if true, it would represent a dramatic end to the sectarian cleansing that has shredded the fabric of Baghdad's once mixed society.
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