Iraq’s Awakening Council, a Sunni fighting force whose control the US military has just transferred to the Iraqi government, has warned the Shi’ite dominated government against any attempt to abandon the force’s membership. The group wants its members to secure permanent spots in the government’s security forces, and has warned that withholding support risks returning the war torn nation to chaos.
The forces spokesman Abu Merna says “we don’t have complete confidence in government, because it does not have confidence in us. Without the Sahwa, al Qaeda would return within hours, not days.” Indeed, several Iraqi officials have expressed considerable doubt as to the loyalty of the forces.
The Iraqi government has also arrested an increasing number of the group’s leadership during crackdowns in Sunni regions. Top Shi’ite MP Jalaladeen al-Sagheer insists “the state cannot accept the Awakening,” and warned “their days are numbered.”
Assuming control, the Iraqi government also becomes responsible for paying the forces, which were previously directly paid salaries by the US. The Iraqis have expressed doubt over the number of the forces, however. The US was paying some 99,000 members, whereas the Iraqi government has insisted the number is closer to half of that.
The dispute is just the latest example of the simmering tensions remaining between Iraq’s various ethnic and sectarian factions. Indeed, in its quarterly report to Congress, the Department of Defense says the fundamental character of the conflict remains unchanged, in spite of the decreased violence. If the Iraqi government does attempt to destroy rather than integrate the Awakening fighters, some of the members may rejoin the insurgency rather than continue to fight against it.