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Mar 29th, 2009

Gunfight Erupts as Iraqi Sunni Leader Arrested

At least four people killed and 21 wounded in two days of fighting

Image: Militia
Members of the Sahwa militia surrender to Iraqi troops in Baghdad’s Fadel district on Sunday, March 29, 2009. (Photo credit: Ali Yussef / AFP — Getty Images)

March 28, 2009

BAGHDAD — Authorities arrested the local leader of a Sunni group that had broken with al-Qaida, sparking a gunfight Saturday in central Baghdad that killed four people and wounded 10, Iraqi officials said.

Adil al-Mashhadani, the head of an Awakening Council group, was detained Saturday along with an aide after a warrant was issued for his arrest, Iraqi military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said.

The shooting started after Iraqi army and police units served the warrant in Fadhil, a Sunni enclave on the east bank of the Tigris River that was run by al-Qaida until U.S. and Iraqi soldiers regained control in 2007. …

How the Shiite-led government deals with the Sunni security volunteers, known variously as Awakening Councils or Sons of Iraq, is widely seen as a test of its ability to win the loyalty of disaffected Sunnis — an essential step in forging a lasting peace in Iraq.

Reduction in violence

Fadhil resident Hazim Hussein said about a dozen vehicles loaded with police special commandos entered the neighborhood about 2:30 p.m. and headed toward al-Mashhadani’s home.

About a half hour later, as word of the arrest spread through the neighborhood, heavy gunfire broke out, sending residents fleeing the streets, Hussein said. Police reinforcements rushed to the area and shooting tapered off after about two hours, he said. …

The rise of the Awakening Councils is widely seen as a major contribution to the sharp reduction in violence following the U.S. troop surge of 2007.

Volunteer fighters, many of them ex-insurgents, man checkpoints, provide intelligence to Iraqi and U.S. forces and take part in joint security patrols.

But many Shiite politicians view the councils with deep suspicion, believing they switched sides for money and could turn their weapons against the majority Shiite community again someday.

On Saturday … leaders of several Awakening Council groups complained that the government has not paid them in months, with some threatening to quit a movement.

“We have not received our salaries in two months,” said Ahmed Suleiman al-Jubouri, a leader of a group that mans checkpoints in south Baghdad. “We will wait until the end of April, and if the government does not pay us our salaries, then we will abandon our work.”

Similar complaints were also raised by Sons of Iraq groups in Azamiyah, a former al-Qaida stronghold in north Baghdad, and in Diyala province near the capital.

“The fighters in Diyala haven’t been getting paid since three months ago,” said Khalid Khudhair al-Lehaibi, leader of the volunteers in the province. “We appeal the government to pay our salaries, and if they won’t, we will organize demonstrations and sit-ins in the province.” …

U.S. officials say the process has been slowed because the drop in world oil prices has cut deeply into the government’s revenues, prompting a freeze on army and police recruiting. …



Iraqi Troops Quell Baghdad Uprising

March 29, 2009

BAGHDAD — U.S.-backed Iraqi forces swept through a central Baghdad slum Sunday, disarming Sunnis from a government-allied paramilitary group to quell a two-day uprising launched to protest the arrest of their leader.

At least four people were killed and 21 wounded in the two days of fighting between government troops and the Awakening Council in Fadhil, a ramshackle warren of narrow, fetid streets on the east side of the Tigris River where al-Qaida once held sway.

The confrontation in Fadhil could be explosive if it leads to a split between the Shiite-led government and the Awakening Councils, made up of Sunnis who abandoned al-Qaida and joined forces with the Americans to fight the insurgents.

Distrust runs deep between the Shiite-led government and the Awakening Councils, which the U.S. calls Sons of Iraq, because many of them are ex-insurgents. There have been fears that some fighters may return to the insurgency if they feel threatened by the government.

Could undermine withdrawal plans

That could undermine U.S. plans to remove all combat troops from Baghdad and other cities by the end of June and end the U.S. combat role in Iraq by September 2010.

Members of the Fadhil council said Sunday they decided to give up the fight and hand over their weapons to spare the neighborhood, whose bullet-pocked buildings bore witness to intense combat there two years ago.

Most of the top council members fled the neighborhood as Iraqi troops searched house-to-house, according to residents who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared for their safety.

Nevertheless, a few fighters were still holding out. An Iraqi patrol, accompanied by an Associated Press photo and video team, came under heavy fire, sending them ducking for cover as bullets sheared off bits of mortar from the buildings lining the narrow alleyway.

Members of the councils maintain that they are being unfairly singled out and targeted by the Shiite-dominated security forces because they are Sunnis. But none of the past arrests drew the kind of explosive reaction that followed Saturday’s detention of Adel al-Mashhadani.

“In our view, all these arrests and assassinations … is part of Iran’s plan to dominate Iraq,” said Shogaa al-Aazami, commander of an Awakening Council in west Baghdad. “We think the arrests and the assassinations will continue.”

Clashes broke out Saturday

Clashes broke out Saturday when Iraqi troops seized al-Mashhadani, accusing him of terrorist activity and leading an armed group loyal to Saddam Hussein’s ousted party.

Awakening Council fighters, who a few days earlier had been manning security checkpoints, opened fire on Iraqi troops, setting off gunbattles that persisted into Sunday. U.S. soldiers rushed to support the Iraqis, and U.S. helicopters patrolled above the neighborhood, once notorious as the place where a U.S. contractor’s helicopter was shot down in January 2007.

“Why does al-Mashhadani become a terrorist when before they used to consider him a hero,” said a member of the Fadhil council, who gave his name only as Abu Abdullah. “We are not going to submit to any terms from the Americans or the Iraqi authorities since we are afraid that they will stab us in the back as they did to our leader.” …

Iraqi officials sought to dampen fears that the move was part of a plan to disband the Awakening Councils. A government adviser to the councils, Thamir al-Tamimi, told Al-Sharqiyah television that the crisis needed to be contained to avoid “pulling the Awakenings into confrontation with government forces.” …

Five Iraqi soldiers missing

Five Iraqi soldiers were missing after Saturday’s fighting and were presumed captured by Awakening Council fighters, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not supposed to release the information. …

Roadside bomb blast

Also Sunday, a roadside bomb exploded near a security patrol in the southern city of Basra, killing one security guard and three civilians and wounded nine others, police said. Eight Iraqi policemen also were wounded when a roadside bomb struck their patrol in the northern oil city of Kirkuk, police Brig. Gen. Burhan Tayeb Taha said.



Analysis: Weekend uprising shows Iraqi tensions


Security Developments in Iraq

Following are security developments in Iraq on Sunday, March 29, 2009, as reported by Reuters.

QAIYARA – A car bomb in a market wounded 17 people in Qaiyara, 180 miles north of Baghdad, police said.

BASRA – A roadside bomb killed five people and wounded nine when it targeted a patrol of oil installation police south of the city of Basra, 260 miles south of Baghdad, police said. The dead included one of the police officers.

KIRKUK – A roadside bomb wounded eight policemen when it exploded near their patrol in central Kirkuk, 155 miles north of Baghdad, police said.

FALLUJA – A roadside bomb wounded police major Mohammed Jar, head of an emergency response unit, and six policemen when it targeted their patrol near the city of Falluja, 35 miles west of Baghdad, police said.

Following are security developments in Iraq on Saturday, March 28, 2009, as reported by Reuters.

BAGHDAD – Three people were killed in hours of clashes between Iraqi security forces and Sunni Arab neighborhood guards in Baghdad, and the guards captured five soldiers, medical and security sources said. At least 15 people were wounded in the clashes.

MOSUL – A roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol wounded an officer in eastern Mosul, 240 miles north of Baghdad, police said.

MOSUL – Gunmen wounded an off-duty policeman when they shot him in the streets of eastern Mosul, police said.

2 Responses to “Iraqi Army Battles Sons of Iraq”
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