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IRAQ: A close call for a knight

April 27, 2008 |  6:27 am
Abuabed_2

Abu Abed isn't your typical knight. As we wrote back in December, he is suspected of being a former Sunni Muslim insurgent, and his past is shady at best. But Abu Abed now is working alongside U.S. forces as head of a paramilitary force known as the Knights in the Land of the Two Rivers, a role that nearly cost him his life Saturday.

Two of Abu Abed's guards were killed and he suffered shrapnel wounds in the head, eye, back and other parts of the body when a bomb went off outside a building where Abu Abed had been summoned for a meeting with local leaders.

Abu Abed described the dramatic event in a phone call Sunday.

Speaking in a sad voice, he said he was sitting in his office about 11:30 a.m. Saturday in his Baghdad neighborhood of Amiriya when the phone rang. It was someone advising him of the upcoming meeting of local dignitaries. By the time Abu Abed arrived, most of the expected dignitaries were inside. He immediately noticed something strange: There were none of the usual guards at the building's front gate.

"I found one of them standing some meters from the gate. I called him, asking him to open the fence. I asked him about the rest of the guards and he said they were inside the building," Abu Abed said. "I asked him why had they left their posts to sit inside."

As soon as Abu Abed stepped out of his vehicle, he said, a huge explosion threw him about 30 feet. It blew a 12-foot-wide crater into the ground, breaking a pipe and sending water spewing into the air.

Two of his guards were killed on the spot. Eight were injured. Abu Abed's security chief late Saturday said two men employed as guards at the building had been detained.

Abu Abed is one of about 90,000 volunteer paramilitary guards deployed across the country to bolster U.S. and Iraqi security forces. Like Abu Abed, many of the so-called Sons of Iraq soldiers are suspected of having once supported insurgents, but now the U.S. military credits them with a dramatic drop in violence in former hot spots such as Amiriya. Abu Abed's Amiriya force consists of about 600 men.

Scores of these foot soldiers nationwide have been killed in attacks blamed on Al Qaeda in Iraq, which considers them traitors. In September, the man considered the founder of the movement, Sheik Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, was killed by a bomb planted outside his compound in the western city of Ramadi.

But Abu Abed said he remained committed to his work, despite the obvious danger. He said he got up as usual Sunday morning and drove himself to work, despite his injuries. "I consider this a challenge," he said. "It will make me double my effort 10 times over. I will keep chasing the wanted and the terrorists, day and night."

— Tina Susman and Raheem Salman in Baghdad

Photo: Abu Abed, far right, with some of his Knights of the Land of Two Rivers. Credit: Ned Parker / Los Angeles Times

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, the war in Iraq and the frictions between the West and Islam. You can subscribe by registering at the website here, logging in here and clicking on the World: Mideast newsletter box here.

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