Integration of Sunni Awakening Councils a Challenge; Some Mahdi Army Fighters Reject Ceasefire; Khanaqin Crisis with Kurds Unresolved

Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that hundreds of members of the Mahdi Army of Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr are rejecting his call for a long-term ceasefire with US troops and their transformation into a service organization. The militants say they cannot conceive of their mission in life as anything other than violently opposing the presence of US troops in their country.

The US military is turning security in al-Anbar Province over to a largely Shiite government and army that “hates” the Sunni Awakening Councils that now provide much of the bulwark against radical Salafi fundamentalist guerrillas. Nevertheless, the Iraqi government is slated to take over payments to 55,000 of the Awakening Council fighters in October. Some doubt that this process will go smoothly.

One little-noted aspect of the struggle between the central government and the Awakening Councils is, as Sawt al-Iraq reports in Arabic, the conflict between the Iraqi Islamic Party (the Iraqi branch of the Muslim Brotherhood). Awakening leader Sheikh Mu’ayyad al-Hamishi complained Sunday that the Iraqi Islamic Party had attempted to piggy back on the Awakening movement by forming its own Awakening Councils, some of whom he implied were indisciplined and damaged the reputation of the movement as a whole. The Iraqi Islamic Party and its fundamentalist allies have 44 seats in Parliament and control several Sunni-majority provinces, and the IIP fears that the Awakening Councils as a political force will displace it in the upcoming provincial elections.

Al-Anbar Province will be a major test. US troop levels there have already declined from 37,000 in February to 28,000 today.

AFP profiles two members of a radical fundamentalist cell in Dhuluiyyah who have accepted an amnesty and laid down their arms, in part out of disgust at the foreign vigilantes’ attacks on young Iraqi men they saw as collaborators.

The Iraqi government is mounting a campaign against what it calls ‘squatters,’ families who have moved into homes vacated because of ethnic cleansing. The campaign is part of PM Nuri al-Maliki’s press for the return of Iraqi refugees from abroad. The some 200,000 refugees in Jordan are resisting al-Maliki’s pressure on them to return. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees in Amman told me a couple of weeks ago that they do not consider it safe for Iraqis to go back. One big problem is that so many mixed neighborhoods have been ethnically cleansed of Sunnis that the latter do not actually have anywhere to return too– their old neighborhood has been abolished in favor, of, e.g. a new Sadrist reality. That is why chasing the ‘squatters’ out won’t do much good (and the squatters themselves are often victims of ethnic cleansing elsewhere. I doubt there are many Shiites left in al-Anbar province, e.g.). Al-Zaman says that a Sunni fundamentalist guerrilla attack on Sunday on Wathba near Baladruz in Diyala forced 48 families out, so that the ethnic cleansing is continuing. Al-Sharq al-Awsat says that ‘al-Qaeda in Iraq’ attacked the family of a local leader of the Awakening Council, killing 4, including two children, and frightening the other families into departing for provincial capital of Baquba. Many of these families had only recently returned to Wathba, in hopes security had improved.

Iraqi troops in Khanaqin ordered Kurdish political parties to vacate their offices, which apparently are in government-owned buildings. Khanaqin in northern Diyala Province was a stonghold of Faili Kurds, Shiites, who had been forced by Saddam over the border into Iran but who have returned in the tens of thousands since his fall. Many Kurds in Khanaqin want to join the Kurdistan Regional Government [KRG]. Ever since the Iraqi army went into Khanaqin and other Kurdish areas of Diyala Province, there has been tension between it and the Kurdish fighters or Peshmerga that had provided security to Kurdish areas. Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that parliamentarian Humam Hamudi of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (the main party backing al-Maliki) said al-Maliki had threatened any Peshmerga forces discovered in Iraq proper outside the KRG with prosecution. Hamudi implicitly threatened the Kurdistan government, saying that it is given 17% of Iraqi government revenue (from which the Peshmerga are paid) but that it should only be 13%.

Iraq’s Chief of Staff, Gen. Babakr Zibari, insisted at a news conference on Sunday that Khanaqin is an indivisible part of Iraq and that the Iraqi military has the right to conduct operations in the city at will. Zibari is himself a Kurd.

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