Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Squeeze Play against the Sunni Awakening

The NYT's Alissa Rubin has a very insightful report today on the tremendous pressure the Sunni Awakening Councils are under in Iraq. In short, they're caught in the middle of a sectarian squeeze play. On one side, the central government is sending its (mostly Shiite) forces to round up and detain Awakening leaders, whom the Maliki government doesn't trust to begin with and hasn't paid very punctually, which puts the Awakening leaders and their men in an economic bind. On the other side, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), though Sunni themselves, are jihadists who are angry with the Awakening for turning against them during the "Surge" and siding with the US, whose forces, once upon a time allies of the Awakening, have lately been backing up the Iraqi military when they go out to arrest the Awakening leaders. AQI people are evidently going to the Iraqi officials to "snitch" on Awakening people, or are suing Awakening people for having killed relatives of AQI people (which indeed they may have done during the bad days of 2007 and 2008, when they believed themselves to be fighting in defense of the Iraqi state).

So, again, the Awakening guys don't know which way to turn. One of their big leaders, Sheikh Abu Risha, is loudly proclaiming his allegiance to Maliki's government, supposedly in the interests of the Iraqi nation. He will expect, of course, some kind of reciprocity here, in terms of how Maliki's forces treat him and his people in the Anbar region, and a lot may hinge on how all that works out.

But for the time being, we can expect more violence against members of the Awakening, both at the hands of AQI and at the hands of the Iraqi security forces. At some point, will members of the Awakening lash out? And against whom? A couple of weeks ago, in Baghdad, they fought street battles with Iraq troops, who were backed by US soldiers and air cover.

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