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Baghdad bombings: A Sunni backlash?

At least 86 people were killed in the worst bombing since February 2008, presenting a serious challenge to the Shiite-led government.

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And in a July report to Congress, "Measuring Stability in Iraq," the Pentagon warned of increasing disputes between the Shiite-led government and Sunni groups:

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Sunni groups demand increased pensions, amnesty, and advisory positions within the [Iraqi security forces] for former Ba’athist military officers in return for a cease-fire, and the [government] demands a cease-fire and promises little to bring the Sunni groups into the political process.

Sons of Iraq, instrumental in curbing violence, now disgruntled
One example of that is the growing unhappiness of the so-called “Sons of Iraq (SOI),” Sunni Arab militias that were organized and used against the country’s Al Qaeda-inspired insurgents by American forces. When the US transferred responsibility of the SOI program to the Iraqi government – a phased transition that was completed May 30 – payments to SOI members were repeatedly delayed, causing many to become disgruntled. In its July report, the Pentagon said that the Iraqi government was not providing promised jobs to the group and that "the slow pace of integration has the potential to undermine Sunni confidence in the [Iraqi government]."

Iraq’s minority Sunni Arabs were a privileged class under Saddam Hussein, and dominated the country’s bureaucracy, officer corps, and monolithic Baath party. Sunni Arabs afraid of a new Shiite hegemony have been the principal fuel for Iraq’s 6-year-old insurgency.

The US decision to reach out to nationalist Sunni insurgents and create the Sons of Iraq in 2006 was instrumental in curbing Iraq’s violence and sectarian warfare. About 100,000 were promised government jobs. But those jobs have been slow in coming, and Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has appeared reluctant to give a larger political or economic role to his old Sunni Arab enemies.

“I’m inclined to believe we’ve cut way back on their payments,’’ says Pat Lang, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Middle East desk. “The idea is to transfer all of this to the Iraqi government and of course they don’t like the Sons of Iraq very much.”

Are SOI less willing to providing intelligence on Al Qaeda types?
But he doubts that the recent surge in violence is being directly caused by the nationalist Sons of Iraq. Instead, he suspects they’re simply not providing as much intelligence as they once were.

The Maliki government is “squeezing their subsidies all the time and not delivering on the promises we made. So what’s happening is the Sunnis out there are turning a blind eye to the depredations of the remaining takfiri jihadis,’’ says Lang, referring to the Al Qaeda-type militants whom the SOI helped control. Eventually, Lang says, the Sunni nationalist groups probably will take up arms again unless Maliki and other Shiite leaders reach out to them.

“The problem is they’re the enemies of his blood – that’s how Maliki feels about it. I think the fear among many Shiites is real that if you give them [Sunnis] too much money and power they’ll try to get back on top.”

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