Sunni Awakening Update

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 1:01 PM EDT

SUNNI AWAKENING UPDATE....A couple of days ago McClatchy's Leila Fadel reported "Key U.S. Iraq strategy in danger of collapse":

A key pillar of the U.S. strategy to pacify Iraq is in danger of collapsing because the Iraqi government is failing to absorb tens of thousands of former Sunni Muslim insurgents who'd joined U.S.-allied militia groups into the country's security forces.

...."We cannot stand them, and we detained many of them recently," said one senior Iraqi commander in Baghdad, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the issue. "Many of them were part of al Qaida despite the fact that many of them are helping us to fight al Qaida."

He said the army was considering setting a Nov. 1 deadline for those militia members who hadn't been absorbed into the security forces or given civilian jobs to give up their weapons. After that, they'd be arrested, he said.

This has always been the risk in the bottom-up strategy of arming the former Sunni insurgents in hopes of giving them enough ground-level influence that Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite government wouldn't have any choice but to deal with them. After all, maybe Maliki would decide not to deal with them after all. What then? The New York Times picks up the story today:

West of Baghdad, former insurgent leaders contend that the Iraqi military is going after 650 Awakening members, many of whom have fled the once-violent area they had kept safe. While the crackdown appears to be focused on a relatively small number of leaders whom the Iraqi government considers the most dangerous, there are influential voices to dismantle the American backed movement entirely.

"The state cannot accept the Awakening," said Sheik Jalaladeen al-Sagheer, a leading Shiite member of Parliament. "Their days are numbered."

....The Shiite-dominated government has never been pleased with the continuing American plan to finance and organize Sunni insurgents into militia guards, charging that they will stop fighting only as long as it serves their interests.

"These people are like cancer, and we must remove them," said Brig. Gen. Nassir al-Hiti, commander of the Iraqi Army's 5,000-strong Muthanna Brigade, which patrols west of Baghdad, said of the Awakening leaders on his list for arrest.

That doesn't sound very promising, does it? Gen. David Petraeus, however, says Maliki has promised to get with the program. "This is how you end these kinds of conflicts," he said. "That's why they call it reconciliation. It's not done with one's friends, it's done with former enemies."

This is absolutely something to keep a close eye on. If Maliki continues to believe his own PR and figures that he's strong enough on his own to renege on his promise to incorporate the Sunnis into Iraq's security forces, the tribal leaders are almost certain to start the insurgency right back up. And if they do, Muqtada al-Sadr might decide to rejoin the fight as well. And who knows? Maybe the Kurds would decide that chaos in the south was a perfect cover for retaking Kirkuk.

Surge supporters have long been eager to play down everything that's happened in Iraq other than the surge, and even Petraeus isn't immune to that. Yesterday he spoke about the Sunni tribal leaders who teamed up with American forces before the surge to kick al-Qaeda out of Iraq. "They have made an enormous contribution," he said, before catching himself: "or a very significant contribution, to improved security." If Maliki continues to stonewall and the Sunni leaders finally get tired of it, I suspect that "enormous" is going to turn out to have been the proper adjective after all.

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