BAQUBA - The conflict between Sahwa forces and the Iraqi government in Diyala
has resulted in more power for the Sahwa.
Tensions rose in early February when men dressed in Iraqi security personnel
uniforms kidnapped two women. Their naked bodies were found later.
Before and after that incident, Sahwa forces have accused the police chief
of Diyala province, Ghanim al-Qureyshi, of allowing Shi'ite militiamen and death
squads to operate with impunity against Sunnis.
The Sahwa, referred to as Concerned Local Citizens, and Awakening Groups, by
the US military, were formed to battle al-Qaeda. Members are paid 300 dollars
a month by occupation forces, and 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 Shi'ite militiamen.
After the case of the women, the Sahwa in Baquba, 40 km northeast of Baghdad,
gave Qureyshi a deadline to apologize, and to arrest the men responsible.
"We hereby declare suspension of all cooperation with US military, Iraqi
security forces and the local government," Abu Abdullah, spokesman for
the Awakening Council in Diyala province announced after the deadline passed.
Shortly thereafter hundreds of members of the Awakening Council shut their
offices and held three separate demonstrations in Baquba. The government in
Baghdad promised to send a committee to investigate the incident, following
which the Sahwa of Diyala resumed security duties in the city.
This did not last long, as the Sahwa accused government security forces of
carrying out further attacks against Sunni people in and around Baquba. Sahwa
forces then cut all ties with government and occupation forces, and left their
But after March 1, the provincial government seems to have agreed to many of
the demands made by the Sahwa. This development shows the increasing power the
Sunni group has against the Shi'ite-dominated government.
A Sahwa member said they have been promised the resignation of Qureyshi, the
nomination of four Sunni assistants to be available to the new police chief,
employment of 5,000 members of the Sahwa as government security personnel, and
for the government police to stay out of predominantly Sunni districts.
Sahwa members returned to their posts and security duties, and have held street
parties featuring a popular music band, in a show of defiance to police chief
Recent comments by Iraqi security officials underscore the wide gap between
them and the Sahwa.
General Mahdi Subeih from the interior ministry told the Saudi-owned al-Hayat
newspaper in London Mar. 3: "The growth of the security role of members
of the Awakening Councils has made them a third security force in the country
alongside the army and the police."
Subeih said "the rebellion by some of the members of the Awakening Councils
and the confrontations that erupted between them and the security forces reveal
the depth of the chasm between the two sides."
(Inter Press Service)