BAQUBA - The Awakening Councils in Diyala province are stepping up their protests
against the government in Baghdad.
The Awakening Councils, or the Sahwa as they are called, are a mostly Sunni
Muslim force set up by the US to draw in resistance fighters into their ranks,
and then to help US forces fight other anti-US groups.
The Sahwa have been engaged in growing conflict with the largely Shi'ite Muslim
forces of the Iraqi government.
The new conflict was sparked off by the rape and murder of two Sunni women,
allegedly by members of Shi'ite militia that are backed by the government. The
Sahwa in Diyala province, just north of Baghdad, have been demanding dismissal
of police chief Major General Ghanim al-Qureyshi.
"We demand the resignation of Qureyshi because he is sectarian, and every
crime against Sunnis has been committed in his knowledge," Sahwa leader
Abu Qutaiba told IPS. "We also want to put the issue of prisoners on the
table of debate. Their cases should be reviewed by fair people. All prisoners
were arrested on the basis of sectarian information."
Qutaiba added, "Prisons are filled with Sunnis while Shi'ites enjoy jobs,
power and authority. We blame Americans for relying on false Shi'ite information,
which serves the sectarian appeal and Iranian agenda. We want the truth to see
The government, far from rebuking the provincial police chief, has given him
Following a demonstration led by Sahwa members Feb. 8, Qureyshi said people
do not want to demonstrate. All that had happened was that some people carrying
protest banners had joined others leaving a mosque in Tahreer district after
Following this, Sahwa members led another rally Saturday, hoisting banners
that said "Today is Saturday." Other protest rallies followed.
On Feb. 11, hundreds of Sahwa fighters demonstrated again in Baquba, 40 km
northeast of Baghdad, demanding dismissal of Qureyshi, a Shi'ite. The protesters
threatened they would quit their jobs as neighborhood guards if this was not
done. Many have already left their posts in protest. Sahwa members are paid
300 dollars monthly by the US government.
The demonstrations have drawn in people from all around Iraq's volatile Diyala
province. The streets have filled with people hoisting protest banners. The
Sahwa here want to show they are a power that Baghdad cannot ignore.
A rally last Sunday led to armed clashes between Iraqi police and Sahwa members,
in which three policemen were killed.
Abu Haider al-Katib, spokesman for the 1920s Revolution Brigades, the largest
of the Sahwa components, told reporters that if their demands were not met,
they would "take up arms" against the police "and US troops
if they support the police."
"We want jobs, that have been denied to Sunnis," Abu Haider, another
Sahwa leader in the city told IPS. "Americans and the Prime Minister (Nouri
al-Maliki) promised that members of the Sahwa would be included as permanent
Iraqi security forces. People want us to be official forces because they trust
our seriousness in protecting our province. We restored life to streets and
made people feel safe again."
So far only 10 percent of nearly 80,000 Sahwa members have been admitted into
training for police and army jobs.
A member of a local Sahwa, referring to himself as Abu Noor, told IPS that
their demands also included "an end to the licentious behavior of the sectarian
"From the time the militants left the streets, the police have behaved
badly. We want the police and army to respect people. We want all Iraqis to
feel that they are of great value in their country."
The police, he said, "do not show this bad behavior in the Shi'ite districts
of Baquba like Khirnabat and Hwaider."
The Sahwa are clearly gaining respect and power in areas like Baquba – a phenomenon
which threatens the government, and its army and police forces.
"The majority of the new police and army are ignorant," retired teacher
Abu Yarub told IPS. "They do not know how to read and write. The Americans
will see how big a disaster they put us in when they allowed Iranians to establish
the new police and army. This province refuses to be ruled by Iranians or their