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Disarming awakening councils threatens security

Muhammed Abdullah
Security services announced that the licenses given to Diyala Awakening Council members have been withdrawn because leaders of the council were accused of being behind the assassination of some religious figures in…
15.06.2010  |  Diyala

Khalid al-Lahibi, the leader of Diyala Awakening, said 9,837 council members in the provinces were notified that they were affected by the decision.

Security officials gave contradicting statements regarding the disarmament decision. Muthana Muhammad, the head of the security committee on Diyala provincial council, said that this step came after a verdict issued by Diyala's court.

The court ruled that members of the awakening council should be disarmed "in case there are suspicions that this has links with armed groups carrying out acts of violence in the province." He stressed that "the court's verdict shall only be applied to members of the awakening councils with arrest warrants."

A spokesman for Diyala's province command said that "these people (members of the awakening council) are now considered civilians, and it is illogical to grant nearly 10,000 people in Diyala alone licenses to carry guns."

With such statements, the security conditions in the volatile, ethnically and religiously mixed province are probably going to witness serious consequences and repercussions. It is expected that armed attacks and acts of violence will witness an increase after a decline of 60% during this year compared to 2006 and 2007.

The majority of people who live in the Sunni Buhruz neighborhood, which was the scene of large-scale civil unrest in 2006, believe that the decision to disarm the awakening council members will only lead to increased sectarian tensions similar to those seen three years ago.

Fadel Rasheed, who lives in the neighborhood, objected to the decision.

"The security forces should rescind this decision; otherwise the awakening members will refuse to adhere in response. This will only incite a renewed civil war."

The Awakening councils were created in 2006 by tribes who left al-Qaeda Organisation. With the support of US troops, who supplied them with arms, the awakening councils were able to defeat al-Qaeda's Islamic State Organisation in Iraq and to kill and arrest its members and several leaders.

Later, the government sought to integrate the awakening councils with the security services. The local government in Diyala concluded security contracts with a number of the awakening council's members. To protect the people of Diyala from terrorists' attacks, car bombs and suicide bombing, members of the awakening councils were deployed in a number of checkpoints in the province. Throughout the past years, al-Qaeda has been threatening awakening council members. Prominent leaders of the council are seriously afraid of being killed by al-Qaeda. For them, the government by denying them the right to carry guns to protect themselves is only inviting al-Qaeda members to kill them.

Abu al-Fawz al-Iraqi, a leading member of the al-Tahreer council, told Niqash that "disarming us is an explicit attempt to dissolve our organisation. It will only expose us to al-Qaeda which issued a fatwa legitimising attacks against us and on our property."

Pointing at his Kalashnikov, which he keeps in a corner in his room, Abu al-Fawz said "if we give this gun away it means we are committing suicide," adding that this will never happen. "The security forces should be aware of the repercussions of its decision on us as fighters."

Members of the awakening council have denounced the accusations of their involvement in terrorist acts and said that it was them who liberated Diyala and other Iraqi provinces from terrorists and terrorism.

"Contrary to what has been said, members of the council have no intention to withdraw and leave their checkpoints empty because this will only create a chaotic security condition in the province," said Khalid al-Luhaibu, the leader of Diyala's Awakening Council .

However, other tribal leaders said that the security forces decision was irresponsible.

Sheikh Nasser al-Hathal, a prominent Sunni leader in Baquba, the province's center, said, "security forces are still not qualified to take over the security file. They should win our support instead of our animosity,” adding that "the council members may be obliged to withdraw from all areas that fall within their responsibility in order to avoid being easy targets of al-Qaeda's attacks."

Al-Hathal said that some of the awakening members, in response to the government decision, may attempt to form armed forces under the "Iraqi Resistance" title like they did in 2007.

"The government decision to disarm the awakening council shows that the government did not learn the lesson and is committing the same mistakes as in the past," he said.

A security source said that the government's decision was "based on investigations which have revealed that some leaders of the awakening councils were involved in crimes against citizens and of murdering two Sunni clerics known for their anti al-Qaeda positions and their opposition to the strategy adopted by the Islamic State of Iraq Organisation." The source, who said that he is officially involved in the investigation, wanted his name to remain nameless.

Abu Azzam al-Tamimi, the most prominent Awakening Council leader in Diyala, called the government decision “a very dangerous one."

He said: "The damage that will be inflicted on the awakening councils’ members is massive. The government justifications are not convincing. Disarming us is an act of genocide and will endanger the life of 10,000 council members."

Observers fear that the decision will only lead to a state of lawlessness and to the escalation of violence across the province, particularly in al-Muqdadiya district, in Buhruz and in Hay al-Tahreer. In these areas, fundamentalist groups such as the Iraqi Islamic Army, al-Rashideen Army Cells, and the armed Naqshabandiyah Group, who support the Iraqi Islamic State Organisation, are still active and they are desperately waiting for the opportunity to come in order to attack and end the presence of the awakening councils.

The possibility of renewed sectarian conflict is the main concern of families who returned to their homes after being deported by Sunni, Shiite and al-Qaeda militias in the past.

"We returned five months ago. Now we feel the danger again,” said Furat al-Mansouri, a restaurant owner who was displaced before. “I don't believe that the security forces are capable of providing us with the necessary security protection. We are so afraid now of being obliged to leave our cities and homes.

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