Sunni Awakening resolute in face of Iraq bombing
A suicide bomber on Sunday killed at least 43 in an attack on members of the Sunni Awakening, which helped turned the tide against Al Qaeda in Iraq. Iraqis are concerned Al Qaeda could regain ground as the US pulls out its combat troops next month.
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But senior US and Iraqi officers say that Iraq is less susceptible today to renewed civil war, and that efforts by Al Qaeda and other militants to intimidate and reestablish control over former bastions such as Anbar province have so far been largely ineffective.Skip to next paragraph
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“We have days when there are spikes in attacks, but then we have quite a few days go by with little or nothing,” says Brig. Gen. Kenneth Tovo of the US Army 1st Armored Division, in charge of Anbar Province. Attacks are down to an average of two per day in the province.
“Our assessment – and the Iraqi forces are in agreement with this – is that most of the violence right now is not Al Qaeda-generated or -directed,” said Brig. Gen. Tovo, in an interview before the Sunday suicide strike on the edge of Baghdad. “My Iraqi counterparts believe that most of this is political opportunism, in this uncertain period when we are working on national government formation. They feel that when [the new government is formed], a lot of this will settle down.”
Many Awakening members now paid to stay home
The Awakening Councils – often made up of former insurgents who then sided with the government against Al Qaeda, and also known by their Arabic name, Sahwa – have been a frequent target of revenge attacks by Al Qaeda in Iraq and other hardcore Sunni militants, since they were raised with American backing in 2007.
Despite playing a significant role in suppressing Al Qaeda in villages and towns across a swath of central Iraq, they have always been viewed with suspicion by the Shiite-led government of Nouri al-Maliki.
The Sunni militiamen complain they are neglected by an uncaring government, which has failed to fulfill promises to integrate 20 percent of the roughly 92,000 Awakening members into the regular security forces, to find jobs for others, and to keep paying salaries – never mind to keep them safe.
The risk of infiltration is a constant problem, says Khalid, the Awakening commander of Baghdad's Radwaniya district, where Sunday’s attack took place.
Al Qaeda has mounted a “continuous effort to target us from the inside. We know this and take what precautions we can, but suspicion is not a good colleague in a fight like this,” says Khalid, who would only give one name. He lost a cousin in the suicide attack, and spoke on Monday while attending a funeral.
“The [Iraqi] army has good relations with us and is cooperative, but there is no support from the government,” says Khalid. “I used to command 1,240 men, each one an important part of a security net, and now I command 400 only. The rest have become either porters or cleaners or are simply paid a monthly salary and stay at home. They should be here on the ground, holding their weapons and securing the area.”
Fallujah police chief: They will not defeat our resolve
Among examples of attacks, two separate roadside bombs in December killed two Awakening commanders. In March, armed men broke into the house of a Sunni militiaman, shooting him and his wife. In June the house of a member was blown up on the outskirts of Fallujah. Also last month, gunmen raided the home of a man who belonged to a tribe vocal in its anti-Al Qaeda views, killing five members of the family.