BAQUBA - New military operations in Diyala province north of Baghdad have exacerbated
a growing conflict between U.S.-backed Sunni fighters on the one hand and Iraqi
army and police forces on the other.
The U.S. military commenced a large military operation Jan. 8 in the volatile
Diyala province. Seven U.S. battalions led an offensive to push out fighters
affiliated with "al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia" from the area.
In the current operation, U.S., Iraqi, and local fighters have faced no serious
resistance. U.S. military commanders admitted shortly after operations began
that anti-occupation fighters were likely tipped off and fled the area. But
the operation has thrown up conflicts within the ranks.
"The military forces comprise the coalition forces, Iraqi police and army,
and the popular forces [commonly called Kataib]," political analyst
Akram Sabri told IPS in Baquba, capital of Diyala province. "It was found
that the local forces are more truculent fighters who can always be relied on.
This has made the coalition forces increasingly reliant upon these fighters
to the extent that they will one day likely be joined to Iraqi police and army."
The Kataib Sabri speaks of are what the U.S. military calls "concerned
local citizens." Most are former resistance fighters, now being paid $300
a month to stop attacking occupation forces and to back them instead.
The groups, which the U.S. military claims are 82 percent Sunni, are viewed
as a threat by the government in Baghdad led by U.S.-backed Iraqi Prime Minister
Nouri al-Maliki. The PM has said these groups will never become part of the
government security forces. But while seen with suspicion in many places, these
forces are also being welcomed in some.
Residents of Baquba, 25 mi. northeast of Baghdad, say the Kataib have
brought a decrease in violence and now enjoy a respect that the Iraqi army and
police never have.
"The new prestige that Kataib enjoy has enraged the Iraqi police
and army," an officer in the directorate-general of police, speaking on
the condition of anonymity, told IPS. "In one operation in a village near
Khalis 10 mi. west of Baquba, the directorate-general of police contributed
just 20 men, while the Kataib fighters numbered 450. This shows how the
Americans now rely more on the Kataib than on us."
Adding to the growing rift between the U.S.-backed fighters and government
security forces is the increasing disgust with the mostly Shia-backed government
"The coalition forces have to correct what they have done in bringing
in such a sectarian government," a Baquba resident said. "The existence
of militants is the result of the bad performance of the government and the
ruling council of Diyala in particular. Enemies are created by injustice and
"Everything has been affected by the lack of security, and the only reason
behind that is the occupation and its feeble government," the resident
Residents remain leery of traveling outside of Baquba. Armed groups, often
with unknown allegiance, control the roads.
Hded district, 5 mi. south of Baquba, is situated on the road to Baghdad. "The
violence here has prevented people freely using the highway," 43-year-old
bus driver Muhsin Muhamed Kareem told IPS. Government forces have failed to
provide security, he said.
Muqdadiya area, about 20 mi. north of Baquba, has become a danger spot on the
road to Sulaimaniya province in the Kurdish north. Many want to go there for
business because Kurdish areas have better security, but militiamen from the
Shia Mahdi Army often target Sunni travelers around Muqdadiya.
"The military operations which started two months ago cleared out the
militants but did not control the militia because they are the police and army,"
a Muqdadiya resident said.
"A policeman at an official checkpoint in Muqdadiya asked a person, who
was sitting beside me in my van, what his sect was," a frequent traveler
on the route said. "Passengers know that the police behavior is sectarian."
A resident of Aswad village, 5 mi. west of Baquba, told IPS that people have
reason to support the U.S.-backed Sunni fighters rather than the government
"The Iraqi army is hardhearted with the people because they think that
all the villagers are terrorists. People feel safer with the other forces."
(Inter Press Service)