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Iraq: The Awakening Council Has Awakened

By: Meir Javedanfar


One of the biggest security factors, which led to the success of the recent surge in Iraq, was the participation of Sunni Arab fighters, from tribes in places such as the Anbar region. They are known as members of the Awakening Council. These people were former enemies of the US. They took part in many anti-coalition attacks. But they decided to switch sides due to a number of reasons. One was the financial reward which the US started paying them. Many had joined the insurgency because they were former soldiers of the Iraqi army or Baathist members, who were kicked out of the Iraqi army by the new administration. Having no work and blaming the Americans, they saw Al Qaeda insurgents as suitable allies.

More important than that, was what they saw as the invasion of Iraq by the “Iranian enemy.” They saw that by working with the government, many Shiite groups such as Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) were achieving political success by having a bigger say in Iraq’s affairs. So by assisting Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri Al Maleki’s crackdown against Al Qaeda, they expected to be rewarded politically, by allowing them to have a bigger political say over the country’s affairs. They would then use this to counter the Shiite parties in Iraq, many of whom they see as “agents of Iran“.

The Awakening Council paid a heavy price for turning against Al Qaeda. One example is the assassination of Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, former leader of the council by Al Qaeda in September 2007. This was days after he met with President Bush in the Anbar region.

President Bush is very grateful for the support of the council. It took the heat off his administration, especially as the number of attacks against his forces dropped. So was Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, at least until April this year.

However, in a surprise turn around, Al Maliki is now turning against his former allies, by allowing the Tawfigh party, which is a rival Sunni party to enter the cabinet, instead of people from the Awakening Council.

He has also gone against his promise of integrating all of the Council’s members into the Iraqi army. He is now saying that only 25% will be allowed in. Some believe this is because Maliki believes that Al Qaeda has infiltrated the ranks of the Council members.

This is a huge gamble by the Iraqi Prime Minister. He may have turned against his former allies too soon. He has every right to get rid of militias in his country, and to replace them with a single legitimate security force. But I doubt that he currently has the political and security strength to take such a step so soon after beating the Mahdi Army in Southern Iraq.

Should these members turn their guns against the army again, many in Iraq will find that they have lost their recent gains in politics and security.

Al Maliki may have gambled too much this time.

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Posted on : Aug 31 2008
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