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    Middle East
     Jan 31, 2009
Fallujah the hotspot once more
By Dahr Jamail

FALLUJAH - The threat of violence again hangs over Fallujah, where local leaders of the Awakening Councils have threatened to react violently should results in Saturday's provincial elections not go their way.

The Awakening Councils were initially set up in 2005 by the US military to battle then spiraling insurgency in Iraq. Most of its recruits were former resistance fighters and the militia grew to a strength of about 100,000 men, with each paid $300 a month by the American taxpayer.

But US aid to the councils was cut off in October on the understanding that the members would be absorbed into Iraqi 

government forces. To date, less than a third have been given government jobs.

The Awakening Councils, now more political movements than militias, control most of al-Anbar province. Covering about a third of the country, Anbar is Iraq's largest province and considered the heart of the Awakening movement.

Anbar has a largely Sunni population of about two million, and is of great strategic importance due to its borders with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria. The province saw some of the worst violence throughout the US occupation as two sieges in 2004 destroyed most of Fallujah and violence perpetually plagued the provincial capital of Ramadi.

The Awakening Councils are largely responsible for the stabilization of the security situation, but now could become the problem as they jostle for control with political rivals and amongst themselves ahead of the vote.

Saturday's poll will decide control of 444 seats in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces and be contested by 14,431 candidates from more than 400 parties. Some 15 million of Iraq's 25 million population have registered to vote.

The vote is widely seen as a test of the nation's stability ahead of parliamentary elections later in the year and the planned withdrawal of US troops in 2011. Observers have hailed the participation of the Sunni groups, many of which boycotted Iraq's last elections, as a positive sign.

But in Fallujah council leaders are threatening violence if they do not win. The president of the Fallujah Awakening Council, Sheikh Aifan Sadun, like many other Awakening leaders, has hundreds of security personnel under his control.

Sadun, standing as a local representative, is accusing rivals from the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) of planning to defraud the upcoming vote.

"The Islamic Party is placing their people as observers in the voting centers in Fallujah," Sadun told IPS. "They are also pressuring people who they think will be voting for Awakening members like me."

Sadun, speaking in his heavily armored BMW while driving in a convoy around Fallujah, said he would use "any means necessary" to fight the IIP if they "stole" the elections.

The IIP have been in power here because most other Sunni political groups boycotted the last elections in 2005.

In some places rivalry has developed between competing council leaders. In Ramadi, Sheikh Ahmad Abo Risha is president of the Awakening Council for the entire province. Abo Risha's rival, Sheikh Hamid Al-Hayis, is also a council leader in the city, and from the same tribe.

Abo Risha does not have kind words for Al-Hayis. "Al-Hayis has relations with government people and oil contracts, and he gets money from this by using his position which we helped him acquire," Abo Risha told IPS at the Awakening Council of Ramadi headquarters.

"I'm from a long line of sheikhs, but Al-Hayis has only been a sheikh since 2006, when we started the Awakening," Abo Risha said. If Al-Hayis were to win the elections, he added, "there will be a revolution".

And, he told IPS, it will be a disaster if the IIP takes the election by fraud. "It will be like Darfur," he said.

(Inter Press Service)

Fragile hope ahead of Iraqi elections
Jan 29

Maliki papers some cracks, opens others
Jan 23

Fallujah fights a never-ending battle
Apr 16, 2008



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