Attacks Imperil U.S.-Backed Militias in Iraq
Now it was never really a question of if this would happen but when. The Bush administration was hoping it would not happen for a year and the rest of the Republicans hoped it would not happen before November. There are signs it may not wait as long as they hoped it would.
BAGHDAD — American-backed Sunni militias who have fought Sunni extremists to a standstill in some of Iraq’s bloodiest battlegrounds are being hit with a wave of assassinations and bomb attacks, threatening a fragile linchpin of the military’s strategy to pacify the nation.The Iraqi government itself is partly to blame.
At least 100 predominantly Sunni militiamen, known as Awakening Council members or Concerned Local Citizens, have been killed in the past month, mostly around Baghdad and the provincial capital of Baquba, urban areas with mixed Sunni and Shiite populations, according to Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani. At least six of the victims were senior Awakening leaders, Iraqi officials said.
Violence is also shaking up the Awakening movement, many of whose members are former insurgents, in its birthplace in the Sunni heartland of Anbar Province. On Sunday, a teenage suicide bomber exploded at a gathering of Awakening leaders, killing Hadi Hussein al-Issawi, a midlevel sheik, and three other tribesmen.
But the recent onslaught is jeopardizing that relative security and raising the prospect that the groups’ members might disperse, with many rejoining the insurgency, American officials said.
Killings of guardsmen are mounting even as Awakening members are becoming increasingly frustrated with the Iraqi government, which has yet to fulfill its promise to integrate 20 percent of the volunteers into the Ministries of Interior and Defense and give nonsecurity jobs to the rest — a process that American officials say could take until the end of the year.And if al Sadr ends his cease-fire all bets are off.
“If I give you a gun and tell you to stand at a checkpoint but I don’t give you support, how long will you stay?” asked Khadum Abu Aya, one of the Awakening leaders in Adhamiya, a neighborhood in northwest Baghdad that was once dominated by Sunni insurgents.
Officials in Baghdad who support the movement worry that if attacks on the tribal forces continue without faster progress by the Iraqi government, Awakening members could begin to fall away, harden into antigovernment militias or even rejoin the Sunni Arab insurgency.
Despite their opposition to Al Qaeda, Mr. Abbas says, most Awakening members feel even more alienated from the Shiite government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. “Fifty percent of Al Qaeda in Adhamiya has joined the Awakening,” he pointed out.