The New York Times
Six members of a pro-American Sunni Awakening militia died in an explosion while waiting in line for their salaries near Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, on Thursday. The attack highlighted growing Sunni frustration with how the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government deals with their security.
The Sunni Awakening militias were originally created and paid under U.S. military auspices, but the job of disbursing their pay has gradually been handed over to the Iraqi government over the past three years. Tensions have developed over what militia members say has been late pay and other shabby treatment.
On Thursday, the militiamen arrived early in the morning at an Iraqi army barracks outside Baquba and were told to stand in line and wait. Such lines of security service employees at recruiting stations or elsewhere are known to be a favored target for insurgents.
“What happened today was a clear security breach,” Ziyad Ahmed, an official in the Diyala provincial council, said in an interview.
A second bomb, planted in a car parked nearby, blew up a few minutes after the first, hitting people who were trying to help the wounded. Together, the two bombs killed six and wounded 35, a regional health official said.
Although Awakening members are still staffing checkpoints, and being attacked, the militia’s future after the U.S. pullout at the end of the year is unclear.
The Iraqi government has said it intends to replace militias with police officers where it is feasible to do so, and to offer civilian jobs in government agencies to militiamen who stand down.
Awakening members, though, complain of grudging treatment by the central government, including the hassle in being paid. A prominent militia leader in Baghdad, Ali Hatim Suliman, said members were now receiving salaries as irregularly as once every three months. Back pay is owed to about 5,000 members, he said.
“They deal with us just to satisfy the Americans,” he said.
In a sign of the tension between the authorities in Baghdad and prominent Sunnis, the police Monday raided Suliman’s office in a villa in the capital, after he criticized Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in a television interview last month and called al-Maliki’s cabinet members “animals.” The police denied that the raid was retaliation and said they were merely investigating whether Suliman had proper title to the building.
About 50,000 Iraqis now serve in Awakening units, the Al-Mada newspaper reported Wednesday, down from about 180,000 at the peak of the movement in 2007. The Ministry of Water Resources said this week that it had hired 559 militiamen, a meager contribution to the job of winding down the militias.
How the Awakening ends is an important legacy of the war. The U.S. military’s decision to form alliances with tribal militias turned the tide in Sunni areas of Iraq, many U.S. commanders say.
Not all Shiite officials want them disbanded. Tawfik Yasseri, a member of Parliament and candidate for interior minister, told Al-Mada that the militia units should remain in place in case of a “security gap” when U.S. forces pull out.
In another sign that violence persists in Iraq, bombs killed four policemen and one civilian in Karada, a Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad. The first explosion killed the civilian and wounded five others, luring the police. When they arrived, the second bomb detonated. To the south, three bombs hidden in motorcycles exploded outside cafes in Basra, killing four people and wounding 30.
The New York Times