RAMADI, Iraq - A semblance of calm belies an undercurrent of violence, detentions
and fear across Iraq's volatile Anbar province.
The province which occupies one-third of Iraq's geographic area
has been a bane to authorities since the beginning of the occupation.
"The Americans talked about our province as the deadliest enemy, and suddenly
they are marketing us as their best friends," Sa'doon Khalifa, an
independent politician in the capital city of Anbar Province, Ramadi 110
km west of Baghdad told IPS. "They were lying to their people and to
the world in both cases as we were never terrorists nor their friends now,"
Khalifa explained that resistance fighters in Anbar did fight occupation
forces, but now they are standing down from launching new attacks against U.S.
This is due in large part to U.S. military payments to collaborating tribal
sheikhs already totalling over 17 million dollars. The money funds tribal
fighters who are paid 300 dollars per month to patrol their areas, particularly
against foreign fighters.
The military refers to these men as "Concerned Local Citizens," "Awakening
Force," or simply "volunteers," even though it is well known
that most of them used to carry out attacks against the occupation forces.
"Those Americans thought they would decrease the resistance attacks by
separating the people of Iraq into sects and tribes," a 32-year-old man
from Ramadi speaking on terms of anonymity told IPS, "They
know they are going deeper into the quicksand, but the collaborators are fooling
the Americans right now, and will in the end use this strategy against them."
As of Wednesday, the U.S. military counts 77,000 of these fighters. It plans
to add another 10,000. Eighty-two percent of the fighters are Sunni.
In spite of this mass recruitment, sporadic attacks are continuing against
U.S. forces in the province.
"It is true that hundreds of fighters were killed or detained by the so-called
Awakening Forces, but there are thousands who will never quit fighting until
this occupation is ended," Ali Khamees, a former major of the Iraqi army
told IPS in Ramadi.
Khamees believes that the de-escalation is a "new technique by the resistance
to reduce the suffering of people in Anbar and move somewhere else to fight."
Attacks against U.S. forces have increased in other Iraqi provinces like
Diyala, Saladin and Mosul.
The U.S. army reported dozens of soldiers killed throughout November while
local reports insisted that the U.S. casualties are much higher than declared.
A female suicide bomber wounded seven U.S. soldiers Wednesday in Baquba
the capital city of the volatile Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad when
she detonated her explosive vest near the troops.
On Tuesday in the same city, another suicide bomber detonated his explosives-filled
vest in front of the police headquarters killing six people and wounding
seven, according to Iraqi police.
Underscoring how tenuous the peace in Anbar is, on Nov. 22 a car bomb exploded
in Ramadi, killing at least six people in what was one of the deadliest attacks
there in recent months.
Ramadi police officials said the bomb exploded near the city's courthouse
in the late morning detonated by a suicide bomber. At least 30 civilians were
injured, Iraqi police officials said.
"I was just leaving the bank 80 meters away from the explosion the moment
it took place," Doctor Ahmed al-Aani told IPS in Ramadi, "I did not
notice any car coming to the spot, so I think it was parked there. The strange
thing was that an American Army convoy passed exactly thirty seconds after the
blast. The thing I found even stranger was that they passed without any action
like closing the area or trying to help the wounded."
Another two eyewitnesses told the same story with slight differences in details
like the number of casualties and how many seconds later the U.S. military convoy
Iraqis across the province are complaining about harsh tactics being meted
out by the new "Awakening Forces" supported by the U.S.
"We will behead anyone who carries a gun in this province," Wussam
Hardan, a senior leader of the Awakening Forces in Ramadi told sources very
close to IPS in the city. "No court, no lawyers, no nothing. We have our
own ways to get those criminals to confess," Hardan said.
The people of the province fear the recent developments, despite the relative
improvement in the security situation.
"It is quieter because the Americans stopped many of their activities
in Anbar," Shakir Mahmood, a human rights activist in Ramadi told IPS
on condition that his false name be used. "There were so many arrests
by U.S. forces, police and the Awakening during the past month and we cannot
even talk about it because we feel threatened by all three of them," he
"So many of the detainees are well known to be innocent people taken into
custody according to false information by others who have a personal feud with
them or their families," Mahmood added, "It is the same old story
being repeated and God knows what is going to happen next."
Arrests are being made after individuals are accused of being al-Qaeda members
or of having links with Iran. Thousands have been detained for a year or more
without any court procedures, while the police and the Awakening militias have
executed many others.
On Nov. 13 the International Committee for the Red Cross estimated that there
are around 60,000 people detained in U.S. and Iraqi prisons in the country.
(Inter Press Service)