Thursday, February 28, 2008

Grumpy Awakening

By Cernig

The WaPo reports that Sunni members of the Awakening in Iraq are losing patience with the Iraqi government and US occupation in increasing numbers.
Since Feb. 8, thousands of fighters in restive Diyala province have left their posts in order to pressure the government and its American backers to replace the province's Shiite police chief. On Wednesday, their leaders warned that they would disband completely if their demands were not met. In Babil province, south of Baghdad, fighters have refused to man their checkpoints after U.S. soldiers killed several comrades in mid-February in circumstances that remain in dispute.

Some force leaders and ground commanders also reject a U.S.-initiated plan that they say offers too few Sunni fighters the opportunity to join Iraq's army and police, and warn that low salaries and late payments are pushing experienced members to quit.

...U.S. efforts to manage this fast-growing movement of about 80,000 armed men are still largely effective, but in some key areas the control is fraying. The tensions are the most serious since the Awakening was launched in Anbar province in late 2006, according to Iraqi officials, U.S. commanders and 20 Awakening leaders across Iraq. Some U.S. military officials say they are growing concerned that the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq has infiltrated Awakening forces in some areas.

"Now, there is no cooperation with the Americans," said Haider Mustafa al-Kaisy, an Awakening commander in Baqubah, the capital of Diyala province, an insurgent stronghold that U.S. and Iraqi forces are still struggling to control. "We have stopped fighting al-Qaeda."

..."They should make me stronger. They should not weaken me," said Kassim, a former commander in the Islamic Army, an insurgent group. "We need weapons. We need vehicles. We do not even have gas for the few cars we have. When we joined, the Americans promised to provide all necessities. Now we know those were only words."

In the past two months, he said, 20 of his fighters have quit. Many felt their monthly salary was no longer worth the risk of fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq. His men also have not received their salaries in two months, he said. "We'll all be patient for another two months. If nothing changes, then we'll suspend and quit," Kassim said. "Then we'll go back to fighting the Americans."
It's not as if this kind of talk was unexpected. DoD and military types from Gates on down have been warning that the window of opportunity the Awakening opened was a temporary one that needed to be taken advantage of. Yet the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government dragged its feet, probably fearful of arming too many Sunnis who could still turn their guns on their fellow Iraqis. Despite the military's warnings, it must be said, the Bush administration hasn't exactly hold the Iraqi government's feet to the fire over this either. Lots of talk, but no carrots and no sticks. I think that comes from their being no effective domestic pressure on the White House to do so - it's supporters, the only people it appears to listen to, were too busy cheering "victory' at last.

However, there's still, by the looks of things, time to get those carrots and sticks out. Maybe the White House will now have an incentive to do so. Although arming the Awakening comprises a potential long-term problem, by creating yet another armed group with no loyalty to the central government and a governing ideology that appears to see itself as the natural ruler of Sunni regions, in the short term it's one of the things keeping violence down in Iraq to admittedly horrible 2005 levels.

I suppose the theory is to put a bandage on the currently bleeding wound and hope to treat the body's cancer once the bleeding stops. But unfortunately the US occupation, as a paramedic, is like Edward Scissorhands. Putting a bandage on one wound seems to keep opening others. Maybe it would be better for Dr. Scissorhands to leave the patient to self-administer first aid. It would certainly seem to be the right time to try to arrange for another set of medics, rather than extending the US presence with Bush's agreement that won't be a treaty.

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