BAQUBA - As violence continues in Baghdad and southern Iraq, it seems quiet
on the surface in Baquba, the volatile city 25 mi. north of Baghdad. But few
believe the truce between the U.S.-backed Awakening Groups and the government
security forces can last.
The Awakening Groups, known locally as the Sahwa, were formed to battle al-Qaeda.
Members are paid $300 a month by occupation forces, and they now number over
80,000 across Iraq. The Sunni-dominated groups form a counterweight to the
government security apparatus, which has long been known to comprise primarily
In Baquba and elsewhere in Diyala province the Sahwa are deployed around residential
areas and streets. But the checkpoints are manned by Iraqi police and army.
"Our task is to provide protection to the people and to cooperate with
the security forces in a way that does not cross with them," local Sahwa
member Abu Hamza told IPS.
In late February, the Sahwa accused government security forces of carrying
out further attacks against Sunni people in and around Baquba. Sahwa forces
cut ties with government and occupation forces, and abandoned security posts.
But last month the provincial government agreed to many of the demands made
by the Sahwa, an indication of the increasing power of the Sunni group against
the Shia-dominated government.
In a new development, Sahwa groupscomposed of Shia men are being set up. "They
are not necessarily fighters but notable members of the tribes," Sahwa
member Harith al-Ansari told IPS.
Ansari said the new Sahwa in Baquba are being created by the local government,
as in the western Anbar province. This development further complicates the
relations between locals and the national government in Baghdad.
A meeting was held two weeks ago at the house of tribal sheik Dra'a al-Fayadh
20 mi. south of Baghdad to work out ways of incorporating Shia men into Diyala's
Sahwa. Fayadh has ties with the U.S. military.
The meeting was attended by the governor of Diyala, Raad Hameed Mulla Jawad,
U.S. military officers, and leaders of tribes from districts and towns around
Money was a key issue. "A week ago, a number of popular committees in
Qatoon district and al-Mualimeen quarter, one kilometer from Baquba, decided
to quit because the coalition forces were late in giving them their salaries,"
Abu Hajir, a fighter in a local popular committee, told IPS. "When they
received the salary four days ago, they returned."
Despite progress in local collaboration between Sahwa and government forces,
unresolved demands remain on a national level for Sahwa members to be incorporated
into government security forces.
"We want to be included in the forces as the Shia are," a local
Sahwa member told IPS on the condition of anonymity. "We want to put an
end to unemployment for the Sunnis, and to take part in the running of our
Tension between the Sahwa and the Iraqi army and police continues in Sunni
towns around Baquba such as Tahreer and Buhriz. "Members of the police
can't give up their sectarian bias and their allegiance to Iran," a local
trader told IPS.
Some want the delicate balance of power to continue between government forces
on one side and the Sahwa on the other. "We all hope to have a law that
governs all people, because we've seen the injustice of the government in this
province," Abu Ethar, of an Awakening Group unit in Baquba, told IPS.