Thursday, July 3, 2008

Sons of Iraq Update

Adhamiya and Amiriya Sons of Iraq

Recently, the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki went after two Sons of Iraq (SOI) groups in Baghdad. In April and June 2008 the government arrested leaders of the Adhamiya SOI for murder, kidnapping, and working with Al Qaeda in Iraq. In April the head of the Amiriya Knights was charged with four murders, forcing him to flee to Jordan. Maliki and the Shiites have never been happy with the SOI program organized by the U.S. With the improvement in security and his crackdowns against the Sadrists and Al Qaeda in Iraq, Maliki may now feel that the SOIs have run their course, and Baghdad can start moving against those they feel are outlaws.

Background And Arrests

Abu Abed was the ambitious leader of the Amiriya Knights. Abed was a former intelligence officer under Saddam. In May 2007 he turned his insurgent group against Al Qaeda in Iraq. He aligned with the U.S. to fend off attacks by the Islamists. They gave him the power to patrol his neighborhood and conduct arrests. Abed met with high government officials, and was able to convince them to take in 100 of his fighters into the security forces. When new provincial elections were announced, he helped form the Iraqi Karama (Dignity) Front with other SOIs to run for office. In April 2008 he traveled to Sweden for a reconciliation meeting when he was told that the government was investigating him for several murders. An Iraqi government spokesman said that Abed was responsible for sectarian violence and that he needed to be turned over to the country’s courts. Abed fled to Jordan as a result.

The SOI in Adhamiya, originally called the Awakening, and later the Lions of Adhamiya, was formed in mid-2007. Adhamiya was one of the most hotly contested areas of Baghdad with Sunnis originally supporting Al Qaeda in Iraq, while the Shiite Mahdi Army militia tried to expand into the district. Most of the SOI fighters originally came from the 1920 Revolution Brigades insurgent group. They too aligned themselves with the U.S. By November they had driven out Al Qaeda in Iraq after heavy fighting. Unlike the Amiriya Knights they have not been able to join the security forces, despite attempts by the local U.S. commander. Instead, they have had several confrontations with them, as they continue to battle the insurgency. In the winter of 2007 for example, they got into a shoot out with a Shiite police unit that arrested their commander and beat him before the U.S. was able to get him released. On another occasion they tried to stop the Iraqi army from conducting raids in their area and got into another fire fight. In January 2008, an insurgent suicide bomber assassinated the Lions’ commander. By early 2008, there were reports that the group was splintering. One checkpoint commander claimed that some elements of the SOI were turning towards Al Qaeda in Iraq. In April, a commander was arrested for carrying out assassinations and working with the insurgency. Finally, in June the army arrested their leader for kidnapping.

Baghdad and the SOIs

Since the SOIs were first formed, the Shiite parties and the Maliki government have been weary of the program, especially in the capitol. In October 2007 the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance told the U.S. to stop recruiting Sunnis into the SOIs warning that they were terrorists and could undermine the government. That same month Maliki’s national security advisor said that the SOIs were dangerous because they were loyal to the U.S., not Baghdad. In November Maliki said that the Sunni units were causing trouble in the capitol, and accused many of being former Al Qaeda fighters. The next month the Defense and Interior Ministries held a joint press conference where they said that the security forces were the only legitimate security forces in Iraq, and that they would not accept the SOIs. These criticisms have continued into 2008. Despite these statements, the government has accepted 10% of the SOIs into the security forces, but the distrust between the two runs deep. The government is opposed to the SOIs because many of them are former insurgents that have killed Shiites. They were also organized and work for the U.S., outside of formal government control. The Shiites are also afraid of any attempt by the Sunnis to reassert themselves in Iraqi society.

With this history of animosity, it’s no surprise that the government has started arresting certain SOI leaders like the ones in Amiriya and Adhamiya. Maliki feels more powerful than ever, now that he has launched successful crackdowns in Basra, Sadr City, Mosul and Maysan province. The Surge is also ending, and the U.S. has said that they will only pay for the SOIs until the end of the year. After that, they have to find work with the government or fend for themselves. The SOI movement maybe coming to an end, so the government may feel emboldened to take care of some of their old enemies. The U.S. has officially said nothing about the government’s actions. Instead of the improved security leading to sectarian peace, it could be leading to the same old divisions.


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Yates, Dean, “Iraq government wants to pay neighborhood police units: U.S.,” Reuters, 11/26/07

Zavis, Alexandra, “Sons of Iraq? Or Baghdad’s Sopranos?” Los Angeles Times, 5/20/08

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