BAQUBA - US backed Sahwa forces threaten to destabilize US-backed Iraqi government
forces in Iraq's volatile Diyala province.
The "Awakening Councils," known locally as the Sahwa, have left their
centers in cities and districts around the capital of Diyala province, located
40 km northeast of Baghdad.
After seeing better security and stability brought about by the Sahwa, most
of whom are former resistance fighters, residents are concerned what their absence
will now mean.
The Sahwa are protesting against kidnappings, rape, and killing of Sunnis by
the Shia-controled police in Baquba.
On the other hand, Shia politicians of Diyala, like those in Baghdad, have
always shown their resentment against the fighters of the Sahwa. They often
accuse the fighters of being "terrorists".
Many residents see this as more of the sectarian view of the predominantly
Shia government of Baghdad that does not want to share power with Sunni groups.
According to the US military, 82 percent of the 80,000-strong Sahwa are Sunni.
"Police vehicles are used to kidnap Sunni people, and when asked, the
police chief and government members say it is difficult to control the mistakes
of all of the police and army," Abu Saad, a member of a local Sahwa group
in Baquba told IPS. "We have to put an end to the bad conduct of the police
and army. They have done enough bad things to the people of this city. The suffering
of this city is because of them."
An employee who works in the provincial government office told IPS on condition
of anonymity that corruption is compounding the problems between the Sahwa and
government security forces.
"The politicians and leaders are more concerned about collecting and saving
money rather than about the security and needs of the people," he said.
"There is a hidden race towards money, and this money is used for their
personal needs and to support militias. This is why there is a Shia person on
the top of every office."
Locals have become increasingly resentful about the corruption and lack of
government action to improve security and infrastructure in the city. "The
members of the government in Diyala themselves do not want the city to be secure,"
said a local trader, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They want to
keep ruling the province one-sidedly. People do not trust them, and suspect
The trader added, "Shia politicians of the Baghdad government want to
keep their domination over Diyala, even though it is mostly Sunni." In
2003 estimates showed that Diyala province was roughly 85 percent Sunni.
As a result of rallies against the provincial police chief, Major General Ghanim
al-Qureyshi, who the Sahwa say is a part of the corruption and anti-Sunni behavior
of the government security apparatus, the fighters of the Awakening Councils
have earned more support from residents.
"We are currently protecting Sunni people from the government police and
army," Sahwa member Abu Laith told IPS. "An Iraqi police Hummer entered
the New Baquba district and kidnapped a Sunni person recently. Before it left
the district, the fighters of the Sahwa blocked the way and freed the kidnapped
person, and arrested the four persons who were dressed up as policemen."
Laith, like most residents of Baquba, believes that most of the Iraqi police
and army are members of various Shia militias.
"After a day, US troops came and took the four policemen to prison,"
Laith said. "When we asked (Diyala police chief) Qureyshi about them, he
replied that he does not know. Of course we know he is lying."
The Sahwa in Diyala refuse to cooperate with the government, but maintain ties
with coalition forces. The US forces are backing the Sahwa now more firmly
This has brought a growing divide between the US armed and funded Sahwa,
and the US-backed predominantly Shia government in Baghdad. Reconciliation
seems remote within this seemingly contradictory strategy of the occupation
forces, that many here call a "divide and rule" strategy.
US backing of the Sahwa members, who are each paid at least 300 dollars per
month, is provoking resentment among Shias.
"The commander of the Sahwa, Abu Hader, has been given huge authority,
and his bodyguards are Americans," a resident of the New Baquba district,
speaking on condition of anonymity told IPS. "American snipers are posted
over his house for his protection."
People of the New Baquba district feel safe with Abu Hader, he said. "He
cares for the displaced people by giving them money and food, he cares for widows
who lost husbands during these last few years, and he gives to and hires the
In a move sure to enrage the government of US-installed Iraqi Prime Minister
Nouri al-Maliki, who has opposed the Sahwa from the beginning, many groups are
forming their own battalions, and conducting their own training, independent
of the government.
"A group of the Awakening Councils fighters traveled to Sulaymaniya province
in the north for training to become officers for the newly-formed battalion,"
Abu Ahmed, a member of the local Sahwa told IPS. "The Americans have finally
replied to the cries and sufferings of Sunnis, who were unfairly treated through
the period of occupation."