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Government and Awakenings Play with Fire

Kholoud Ramzi
The arrest of the leader of Fadhil’s awakening council, Adel al-Mashhadani, has once again raised the question of trust between the government and awakening councils. The latter have accused the government of…
14.04.2009  |  Baghdad

Al-Mashhadani, who was arrested on charges of involvement in terrorist acts, is the second council leader to be sought by the government. In the middle of last year an arrest warrant was issued against Abu al-Abed, the leader of the al-Amiriyah awakening council, on charges of sectarian-based assassinations.

Following al-Mashhadani's arrest government attempts to reassure awakening members that only a few councils with links to al-Qaeda and Baathist elements were being targeted were far from successful. The councils dismissed allegations of infiltration by al-Qaeda.

"We admit that some awakening members were affiliated with al-Qaeda armed groups but they later abandoned them and proved their loyalty by fighting al-Qaeda,” said Sheikh Mahmoud al-Fallahi, leader of the Taji awakening council.

Many awakening members believe that al-Qaeda is to blame for the recent clashes with the government. “Al-Qaeda was able to infiltrate the confidential informants system in order to fabricate charges against awakening leaders,” said al-Fallahi.

Al-Fallahi warned the Iraqi government "to think twice before striking the awakenings who are responsible for security in heated areas of Baghdad," and warned of "a real security crisis between the two sides."

Some government security leaders pointed to the violent clashes with awakening councils following al-Mashhadani's arrest are a "scary warning" of the potential for increased violence once U.S troops withdraw from Iraq next year.

According to Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Karim Khalaf, “the mutiny by awakening members has contributed to the sudden awakening of al-Qaeda sleeper cells in the vicinity of Baghdad, causing increased violence during the months of March and April.”

Khalaf told Niqash that “security leaders, from awakenings and the government, know that awakenings are infiltrated by al-Qaeda and by other armed groups… The government has repeatedly asked the awakenings to get rid of outsiders. It is impossible to tolerate those who are involved in sectarian killings and who support terrorism only because they are awakening council members," he said.

Since the government assumed responsible for the awakenings councils in June 2008 fears have arisen that it is not doing enough to integrate the 100,000 fighters into government security forces and government jobs as was promised.

On the back of al-Mashhadani’s arrest, however, it seems that awakening councils may focus their attention on establishing their own political presence rather than integration into the security forces.

At the same time leading awakening figures have called for compromise to calm tensions.

Thamer al-Tamimi, the general advisor of awakening councils in Iraq, told Niqash that “agreements reached with the government, which have led to the integration of a large number of awakenings members into security-related ministries, have contributed to the creation of stable relations between the two parties.”

He said that the awakening councils are currently preparing to hold a joint conference with government security chiefs in order to encourage loyalty to the government and fair government treatment towards the councils.

“Playing with fire is not permissible and targeting the awakenings is a dangerous game; standing against the government is another dangerous game. There should be a point of convergence where the two parties can meet and where every party’s expectations can be met,” he said.

It is clear, however, that strong tensions remain between the two sides, both of which see each other as a threat to their authority and independence. It remains to be seen whether the two sides can come together and reach a compromise or whether the crisis of confidence will provoke further clashes threatening Iraq’s relative stability.