A new force flexes muscles in
Iraq By Ahmed Ali and Dahr
BAQUBA, Iraq - The Awakening
Councils in Diyala province are stepping up their
protests against the government in Baghdad.
The Awakening Councils, or the Sahwa as
they are called, are a mostly Sunni Muslim force
set up by the US to draw in resistance fighters
into their ranks and aid US forces.
Sahwa have been engaged in a growing conflict with
the largely Shi'ite Muslim forces of the Iraqi
It was sparked off by the rape
and murder of two Sunni women, allegedly by
members of Shi'ite militia that are backed by the
government. The Sahwa in Diyala province, just
north of Baghdad, have been demanding dismissal of
police chief Major General
Ghanim al-Qureyshi, a
"We demand the resignation of
Qureyshi because he is sectarian, and every crime
against Sunnis has been committed in his
knowledge," Sahwa leader Abu Qutaiba told Inter
Press Service (IPS). "We also want to put the
issue of prisoners on the table of debate. Their
cases should be reviewed by fair people. All
prisoners were arrested on the basis of sectarian
Qutaiba added, "Prisons are
filled with Sunnis while Shi'ites enjoy jobs,
power and authority. We blame Americans for
relying on false Shi'ite information, which serves
the sectarian appeal and Iranian agenda. We want
the truth to see the sun."
far from rebuking the provincial police chief, has
given him a promotion.
On February 11,
hundreds of Sahwa fighters demonstrated in Baquba,
40 kilometers northeast of Baghdad, demanding
dismissal of Qureyshi and threatening to quit
their jobs as neighborhood guards if he remained.
Many have since left their US$300 monthly posts in
The demonstrations have drawn in
people from all around Iraq's volatile Diyala
province with streets filled with people hoisting
protest banners. The Sahwa want to show they are a
power that Baghdad cannot ignore.
last Sunday led to armed clashes between Iraqi
police and Sahwa members, in which three policemen
Abu Haider al-Katib,
spokesman for the 1920s Revolution Brigades, the
largest of the Sahwa components, told reporters
that if their demands were not met, they would
"take up arms" against the police "and US troops
if they support the police".
jobs, that have been denied to Sunnis," Abu
Haider, another Sahwa leader in the city told IPS.
"Americans and the Prime Minister [Nuri al-Maliki]
promised that members of the Sahwa would be
included as permanent Iraqi security forces.
People want us to be official forces because they
trust our seriousness in protecting our province.
We restored life to streets and made people feel
So far only 10% of nearly
80,000 Sahwa members have been admitted into
training for police and army jobs.
member of a local Sahwa, referring to himself as
Abu Noor, told IPS that their demands also
included "an end to the licentious behavior of the
sectarian police. From the time the militants left
the streets, the police have behaved badly. We
want the police and army to respect people. We
want all Iraqis to feel that they are of great
value in their country."
The Sahwa are
clearly gaining power in areas like Baquba - a
phenomenon which threatens the government, and its
army and police forces.
IPS's correspondent in Iraq's Diyala province,
works in close collaboration with Dahr
Jamail, IPS's US-based specialist writer on
Iraq who travels extensively in the region.